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Volkswagen Is Learning Chinese

Up Front: CAR WARS


JAPANESE AUTO MAKERS MAY have more to worry about than U.S. trade sanctions. Now, Volkswagen is after some of Japan's most loyal customers: Asian Americans. In a $1 million campaign, the German carmaker is running Chinese-language ads in papers and on TV in the San Francisco area. They aren't like the glamour promos of the U.S. industry, such as the one featuring soap opera queen Susan Lucci fawning over a Ford. Instead, VW's ads accent disk brakes and car frames. Stressing reliability and sturdiness, says VW's Ron Lee, is key to hooking Asian-American customers.

Volkswagen's initial ads, in such publications as The Sing Tao and The China Press, are aimed at Chinese Americans, the largest and wealthiest group of Asian Americans. A smaller effort courts Vietnamese Americans. But it will be a tough sell. In 1993, 59% of the cars a sampling of Asian-American drivers purchased were Japanese-made, with Toyota the most popular make, according to a survey by Asian Media Sales. By contrast, Japanese autos account for only 29% of the total U.S. market. Still, VW, which sells 97,000 cars in the U.S. annually, says its gamble could pay off big. The Asian-American population is expected to swell to about 11 million by 2000, up from 7 million in 1990.EDITED BY LINDA HIMELSTEIN, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI

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