July 17, 2007 in Idaho

Volkswagen brings show to CdA

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
Kathy Plonka photo

German engineers Alex Rossi, right, and Peter Weinrich, rear, work on Volkswagen’s new Touareg 2 at North Idaho College’s automotive technology shop Monday. The engineers were preparing for a road test.
(Full-size photo)

Volkswagen representatives say they’ve long recognized the affluent resort feel of Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding mountain terrain to be a nice fit for their targeted customers, which is why they chose North Idaho for the release of the company’s new luxury sport utility vehicle, the Touareg 2.

“There’s great driving and there’s great off-roading, and it’s a part of the country that not a lot of people have discovered,” said Steve Keyes, public relations general manager for Volkswagen.

The Idaho debut intrigued national media and car reviewers – car companies typically debut vehicles in major markets such as Seattle or Los Angeles – and the 60 available spots filled in three days, Keyes said.

“(They said) ‘I’ve never been to Idaho. I don’t know why Volkswagen’s going there, but I’d like to find out,’ ” he said.

Automotive writers from across the United States and Canada will be testing the vehicles today and Thursday, driving the same route Volkswagen representatives drove Monday with local media: Thirty miles down Interstate 90 to Pinehurst, then up miles of winding logging roads to the top of a 4,000-foot mountain overlooking the town. Volkswagen representatives staked out the spot in February with the help of a local off-roading group.

The Touareg 2 – costs range between $39,000 and $68,000, depending on the engine type – targets the affluent and outdoors-loving crowd the Coeur d’Alene area has become known for, Keyes said. Coeur d’Alene’s urban center quickly gives way to mountainous terrain, making it an ideal spot to showcase all the car is capable of, Keyes said, from smooth freeway and in-town driving to buckle-up and hold-on four-wheeling.

North Idaho College helped make the debut possible. Volkswagen used NIC’s automotive shop, where German technicians inspected each vehicle before test drives. The nearest Volkswagen dealer is in Spokane; using NIC’s shop saved time.

“We’ve got all the necessary tools and equipment to accommodate them,” said Mark Magill, an NIC automotive instructor.

And it’s a good thing they did – Volkswagen’s supply shipment didn’t arrive last week as scheduled.

Watching the Volkswagen technicians work and studying the technological amenities of the car will help the college’s automotive instructors prepare their students for automotive jobs, said instructor Mike Swaim.

“It’s nice for us to be able to have that exposure so we can relate the information to our students and incorporate it into our lesson plans,” Swaim said. “We can say we have seen that, this is coming.”

The North Idaho media event is part of a multimillion-dollar marketing plan.

The event will bring publicity for the vehicle and for North Idaho, Volkswagen representatives said. One reviewer is known for analyzing not only the vehicle but also where he stayed in town and where he ate, Keyes said. He’ll take pictures and post them on the Web, Keyes said.

Also, the Coeur d’Alene Resort plans to photograph the mountain test drives from a helicopter and use it in promotional materials, Keyes said.

“So many people have the image of Idaho being potatoes, which is unfortunate, because this place is something to be discovered,” said Patrick Saint-Pierre, spokesman for Volkswagen’s Canada operation.

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