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VW to Start Selling the Beetle in India

On sale—A slice of history for Rs 20 lakh apiece. The Volkswagen Beetle, the world's longest running and most-produced car of a single design, will be available in India in three months, offering a Nano-sized ride with the frills of a top-notch SUV.

The car that has meant various things to various people—once the quasiofficial vehicle of Germany's hated Third Reich in the 1940s, the Beetle went on to become the darling of California beatniks in the Swinging 60s—is being imported as a completely built unit from its Mexico plant, and is currently undergoing technical testing ahead of its India launch.

Its hefty price tag, which pitches it in the luxury car segment alongside Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Skoda Superb and the MercedesBenz C Class, is due to the 110% import duty and high safety specifications.

The Indian unit of Volkswagen said pricing the Beetle competitively was a big challenge for the company and blamed taxes and logistics for the high price. "But we are working very aggressively on Beetle's debut in India," said Neeraj Garg, Volkswagen India's director for passenger cars.

The German carmaker, now owned by Porsche Automobile, which already sells the Passat and Jetta models in India, expects the Beetle to have a product segmentation of its own and instead of competing with other imported smaller hatchbacks, most notably the Fiat 500, which costs Rs 15 lakh exshowroom price in Delhi.

Also known as Bug, the Beetle will sport a 1.9-litre TDI diesel engine and a 5-speed manual transmission. Its other features will include rain sensors and cruise control, along with acoustic rear parking sensors to fit into small parking spaces. Its safety features will include ABS, traction control, anti-skid system and standard front and side airbags.

Mr. Garg said Volkswagen was not looking at high volumes but hoped to leverage its brand value before launching its mass-market Polo hatchback, expected to debut sometime later this year. Fiat's model 500, (also called the Cinquecento) launched last year, has managed to sell just 58 units to date.

"We are expecting a much better response for the Beetle, which carries a very high iconic value," Mr. Garg said.

Volkswagen's decision to launch the Beetle comes at a time when rival BMW has put on hold its plan to launch the equally iconic small car Mini in India. BMW, which does not see it as a viable proposition yet, has pushed back the India rollout of Mini beyond 2010 and will continue to focus on bigger sedans and sports utility vehicles for now.

ROAD RUNNER• Hefty price tag due to 110% import duty & high safety specifications.

• To have 1.9-litre TDI diesel engine and 5-speed manual transmission.

• Features include rain sensors, cruise control, acoustic rear parking sensors.

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