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Audi and Volkswagen Climbing a Steep Curve in the U.S.

The Volkswagen Group shows no sign of letting up on ambitious goals for bigger sales and market share worldwide, especially in the United States.

Results are mixed for 2009. The group's U.S. sales were down through November, but U.S. market share was up for the Volkswagen and Audi brands, according to AutoData Corp.

The latest announcement from VW is that Audi will invest more than $10 billion in the next three years in its factories, in new models and in new technologies including hybrids and electric cars.

VW disclosed earlier this year it wants to sell more than 1 million units annually in the U.S. market by 2018 for Audi and Volkswagen combined, at about 200,000 and 800,000 units, respectively.

That's far more than the group has ever sold in the United States, even in VW's heyday in the 1960s. It's a tough task to grow so much, so fast in a mature market like the United States, where the market is relatively saturated. In a developing market like China, households have a lot more potential to add cars, without having to replace another car already in the driveway.

U.S. sales for the Volkswagen brand were down 6 percent through November to 193,067. At the same time, the U.S. market overall was down 24 percent to 9.4 million.

For Audi in the United States, growth will have to come at the expense of much bigger rivals like BMW (NasdaqGS: BMW), Mercedes-Benz (DAI) and Lexus (TM).

Audi's U.S. total after 11 months was down 8 percent to 73,686. However, U.S. sales were down even more for its rivals. Through the first 11 months of 2009, Audi said it had its highest-ever share of U.S. luxury imports, at 8.3 percent, versus 7 percent a year earlier.

Axel Strotbek, Audi board member for finance and organization, said in a written statement on Dec. 28 that by 2015, Audi will have 42 models, up from the current 34.

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