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Rabbit season! Golf season! Rabbit season!

Volkswagen changes name of its compact back to Rabbit after disappointing 22-year run with the Golf name it uses elsewhere.

April 18, 2006; Posted: 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT)

VW is bringing back the Rabbit name, 22 years after it renamed the Rabbit as the Golf.
VW is bringing back the Rabbit name, 22 years after it renamed the Rabbit as the Golf.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The Volkswagen Golf is going back to its Rabbit roots.

The company announced at the New York Auto Show Wednesday that it will start using the Rabbit name on the car that it has been selling as the Golf since 1984, when the company dropped the Rabbit name in favor a global name plate. The vehicle will still be sold as the Golf outside of North America.

But the Golf has always been a disappointing seller in the U.S. market, despite its success elsewhere. Last year the Golf had U.S. sales of 15,690, down 36 percent from 2004. That represented only 5 percent of its U.S. sales for the company's best-selling worldwide model, with about a third of its global sales.

VW officials are hopeful with a new design of the vehicle, the reintroduction of the Rabbit name in the North American market will help breath life into the vehicle.

"In recent years we've seen that our sales of Golf were not what we expected or wanted compared to the rest of the world," said VW spokesman Steve Keyes. "We felt there was an opportunity to reinvigorate the nameplate."

The original Rabbit was the company's successor to the much-loved original Beetle. Introduced in late 1974, the less distinctive looking Rabbit also suffered in comparison to the Beetle due to greater competition from Japanese economy car imports.

Still with the rising gasoline prices of the 1970's, the Rabbit was generally a sales success. VW sold 1.3 million Rabbits in the United States between 1974 and when the name was changed to Golf with the 1985 model. Its high water mark was sales of nearly 225,000 Rabbits in 1979.

"The reintroduction of the Rabbit represents Volkswagen's commitment to this market and is a nod to the passionate North American enthusiasts who have an emotional connection with the Rabbit name," said a statement from Kerri Martin, Volkswagen's director of brand innovation. "Volkswagen customers want a relationship with their cars. Names like The Thing, Beetle, Fox, and Rabbit support this."

Volkswagen needs a hit in the U.S. market. Its 2005 U.S. sales fell 12.5 percent, at time when most import brands were making gains in the U.S. market in the face of rising gasoline prices. Most VW models saw lower U.S. sales in 2005.

The company is hoping they can catch the same nostalgia buzz that gave it its last big U.S. hit-the reintroduction of Beetle in 1998. That model had sales above 80,000 mark the first two full years on the market. But sales have cooled since the initial excitement, even though the introduction of a convertible version in late 2002 gave it a second bump. U.S. sales of the two versions of the Beetle fell nearly 20 percent to just over 34,000 in 2005.

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2006 Volkswagen Golf

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