Volkswagen of America Inc. introduced its 1979 models yesterday in an event that featured a lot of news, but no new cars. Among the items at the automotive press show:
VWoA and the United Auto Workers have a new agreement with the approximately 2,000 employes at the company's New Stanton, Pa., assembly plant near Pittsburgh. Both the union and VWoA are confident the employes auto assembly plant will accept the agreement.
Volkswagenwerk AG, the parent company in Germany has approximately $3 billion in liquid funds. Despite that full cash box, the company is borrowing money in European markets - and intends to use the money for acquisitions, possibly in the U.S.
VWoA is confident it has turned the corner on sales, and expects to sell "more than 300,000" vehicles here in 1979 compared with an anticipated 242,000 this year.
Of that 300,000, the Rabbit - the successor to the Beatle - will account for 210,000, and "a minimum" of 60,000 of the Rabbits will have diesel engines.
VWoA officials refused to confirm either item, but it was common knowledge here yesterday, that a mini-pick-up version of the Rabbit is due perhaps within a year. Japanese-made mini-pickups are the only ones now sold in the U.S.
After the mini-pickup, a convertible version of the Rabbit will be the next new product from VW. The German company will continue to import the convertible version of the venerable Beatle so long as sales volume is adequate. VWoA expects to sell 17,000 of the Beatle convertible next year.
The "passive" seat belts, standard on a higher priced Rabbit and a $40 option on others, have proven substantially safer than the ordinary lap and shoulder belt. That is essentially because of the "knee bor," a dashboard-like device that absorbs passenger energy from the knee in a frontal impact.
The basic 1979 American-made Rabbit will sell for $5,000 approximatley $275 more than the 1978 base model of the German-made Rabbit. Prices also will increase by $675 to $6,650 for the Dasher two-door hatchback aby by $450 to $6,545 for the Scirocco. The sales-weighted price is $4.1 percent, VWoA said.
James W. McLernon, president and chief executive officer of VWoA and prviously a high-level executive with General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Division, said the American subsidiary "cannot afford to match the Big Three wages at this time and survive with our current debt load."
Richard L. Mugg, vice president for marketing of Volkswagen, said he is confident of the 300,000-plus projection for 1979 because VW cars powered by diesel engines "finished one, two, three in the EPA fuel economy derby" and the Rabbit is the car "everybody's trying to copy."
McLernon was asked if, and when, VWoA might start making engines and/or transmissions in the U.S. He said a plant to make 200,000 to 300,000 engines a year would require roughly $140 million in tooling.