New campaigns: VW touts diesel in TV, print ads

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Volkswagen of America this week breaks its first advertising for diesel-powered cars since bringing them back to the U.S. six years ago.

While the vehicles are currently the rage in Europe, where they account for 60% of new-car sales, diesel never caught on in the U.S. That may explain why VW's new trio of :30 national TV spots and magazine executions tout VW's TDI engine and its excellent gas mileage-but don't state TDI stands for turbo diesel injection.

Karen Marderosian, marketing director at VW, described the TV and print campaign from Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston, as a brand effort that continues messages that started in late 2001 to tout VW's German engineering and technology. "We conceived this idea last year as part of our overall approach to communicate the things Volkswagen is engineering into its cars."

She said the effort isn't to sell unsold diesel Golf or Jetta cars. But she admitted the campaign "will help plant seeds for future products."

future models

VW of America is researching future diesel models from its German parent, Volkswagen AG, she said. The list includes the brand's first sport utility, the Touareg, which makes its debut in Europe this fall and is available in a diesel. Ms. Marderosian said VW will likely offer a diesel-version of the SUV in the U.S. when it arrives in the second half of 2003.

The spots break May 9 on national broadcast and cable networks and will occupy most of VW's media schedule this month before going into rotation. In the campaign, Arnold highlights three different 700-mile U.S. road trips to demonstrate that a VW with a TDI-engine can travel that distance on a single tank of fuel.

Alan Pafenbach, managing partner-group creative director at Arnold, said the assignment was to show good gas mileage. "That is usually done with dollar amounts and how much money you can save." These spots demonstrate "the kind of distances you could wrap your head around," he said.

VW spent $455.5 million in 2001 measured media, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. The automaker said last week it sold 105,251 cars in the first four months of the year, a 1% increase from the same period a year ago.

Diesel engines are wildly popular in Europe, where they account for roughly 60% of new-vehicle sales, said Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research.

Not Always Cheaper

Diesel's last U.S. heyday was in the early part of the 1980s, when diesel was much cheaper than gasoline. Diesel is frequently, but not always, cheaper than gas. (The average U.S. price for both diesel and regular unleaded gas was $1.42 per gallon April 19, oil industry newsletter the Lundberg Survey reports.) Mr. McAlinden estimated diesels were accounted for roughly 4% of the annual new-car sales in the 1980s. They included VW's Rabbit model and several large cars from General Motors Corp.

Today, diesels get 20% to 25% more fuel economy than gasoline, Mr. McAlinden said. They put out less soot than before, but they still release an enormous amount of nitrous oxide, a component of smog.

Fast Facts

4%: Percentage of new cars sold in the U.S. with diesel engines in their `80s heyday

60%: Percentage of diesel engines of new-vehicle sales currently in Europe

20%-25%: Percentage of fuel economy diesel engines get over gasoline

$1.42: Recent average price of diesel fuel per gallon in U.S.

2004: Year new federal fuel-emission standards are due

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