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SURPRISE STICKER SHOCK IS LOOMING: SOME AUTO PRICES ARE COMING DOWN

SHARE SURPRISE STICKER SHOCK IS LOOMING: SOME AUTO PRICES ARE COMING DOWN

If you are in the market for a new car, you could be in for sticker shock of another kind: Some auto prices are coming down.

Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and even Toyota are lowering costs on some of their slower-selling vehicles.Those foreign automakers make up only a small percentage of the new-car market, however. Of the 16 million new vehicles expected to be sold in the 1994 calendar year, only about 1.2 million or so will come from the six automakers who are lowering prices.

The lower prices do stand out, though, in an industry where the average price of a vehicle goes up at least several hundred dollars each year. Japanese automakers raised prices an average of $458 per vehicle, and Chrysler, Ford and General Motors raised their prices an average of $369 on their 1995 vehicles.

Most of the price reductions are on expensive luxury cars, although a few vehicles priced in the $20,000 to $30,000 range have lower sticker prices for 1995.

The Audi line of German-made luxury cars shows some of the deepest price cuts.

Audi, which has been struggling in the United States for years, lowered prices on every vehicle in its 1995 lineup.

The biggest cut lops 19.7 percent off the price of the Audi A6 Quattro wagon - essentially the same car as last year's 100 CS Quattro wagon. The 1994 model had an asking price of $47,020; the 1995 model is priced at $37,750.

The Audi wagon competes against BMW's $37,700 530iT wagon.

Audi has chopped the price of the Sport 90 Quattro from $34,420 to $30,190. The price of the 1995 A6 Quattro sports sedan plunges from $43,820 to $36,080 - an 18 percent cut. No other European all-wheel-drive cars are available at that price.

Audi believes the price cuts will see sales jump from 14,000 cars sold in the United States in 1994 to 20,000 in 1995, Fitzgerald said.

Speaking to reporters at the recent Paris Motor Show, Audi vice president Gerd Klauss predicted the price cuts would signal "the comeback of Audi in America."

At Volkswagen, the price of the 1995 Passat GLX sedan is 10 percent less than the 1994 model.

The price drops from $23,075 to $20,890, despite that the 1995 Passat has been outfitted with a new interior that features dual air bags, a powerful V-6 engine and fresh styling.

Volkswagen spokesman Tony Fouladpour in Michigan said VW is counting on the Passat's lower price to double sales. In 1994 VW sold 15,000 Passats in the United States. VW is aiming for at least 30,000 in 1995.

Fouladpour said VW has been able to lower prices on the German-built sedan because the company has reduced the cost of building the Passat.

VW has forged new, less costly deals with its parts suppliers, and it has cut by 30 percent the amount of time needed to build the Passat, said Fouladpour.

Volkswagen is the only European automaker that sells a midsize sedan in the $20,000 price range.

The company's sales have been declining for years but have recently started to improve with the introduction of new Golf and Jetta models.

Increased efficiency at Mercedes-Benz also allowed the company to reduce sticker prices, said Mercedes spokesman Bill Ussery in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Mercedes-Benz has spent the last three years improving the production process, improving overhead and cutting the cost of building cars," Ussery said.

Ussery said Mercedes has reduced its production costs by $3 billion since 1991 and aims to cut another $3 billion. Mercedes-Benz, he explained, had to lower its costs and reduce prices in order to compete with Japanese luxury cars, such as Lexus, Acura and Infiniti as well as new cars from the recovering domestic automakers.

Those in the market for a premium luxury car might be surprised at deep cuts on Mercedes' lineup of S-Class luxury sedans and coupes and on the SL series of roadsters.

These cars are rolling into the 1995 model year sporting price cuts in the thousands of dollars.

Even the prices of Mercedes-Benz' two hottest-selling roadsters have been lowered. The 1995 SL500, priced at $89,900, is down almost $10,000. The SL320 now sells for $78,300, down from $85,200 last year.

Rolls-Royce - traditionally immune from recessions and other economic turmoil - has dropped prices on some of its cars for 1995.

The 1995 Silver Spur sedan is priced at $169,900, down from last year's asking price of $189,900.

The price of the Bentley Turbo R, another luxury sedan made by Rolls, drops from $208,300 to $188,000 this year.

Porsche has dropped prices by as much as $12,050 on its 911 line. The 1995 911 Carrera Coupe sells for $59,900, down from the $64,990 asking price of the 1994 model. The convertible version also gets a sizable price cut. Porsche has placed a sticker of $68,200 on the 1995 model, down from $74,190 in 1994.

And even Toyota, battered by the soaring Japanese yen, has seen fit to drop prices on its Previa minivan. The 1995 DX model, at $22,318, is $500 less than the 1994 model.