AUBURN HILLS, Michigan: Volkswagen of America is hitting the airwaves bigtime in a bid to convince Americans that it is truly "the people's car" and not - as is widely perceived - an overpriced brand.

In a national TV campaign launched Monday, the German automaker rams home the fact that three of its key models - Jetta, Rabbit and Beetle - carry price tickets below $17,000 (€13,115; £8,730). Says a company spokesman: "We're addressing a perception that Volkswagens are expensive and out of the reach of an entry-level buyer."

VW's mid-range Passat, currently backfiring in sales terms, hopes to retune trading by lopping $1,100 from its basic price. It now retails at around $16,400 complete with a so-called 'Wolfsburg package' of extra features including alloy wheels.

Volkswagen sales in the US in 2006 rose 4.9% year-on-year to 235,100 units. Despite which its 'expensive' image remains, largely due to its top-of-the-range models - the Phaeton saloon and Touareg SUV. The former has been withdrawn from the US market, while the latter continues to languish.

Comments VW fan-site webmaster Jamie Vondruska: "Phaeton and Touareg gave the impression that VW had abandoned its roots. They left VW purists scratching their heads and wondering where are they going."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff