Volkswagen will do the improbable next month: It will return to the U.S. minivan market, a shrinking segment dominated by players that have been building the vehicles for two decades.

To compete, the German auto maker is offering an incentive that it hopes will resonate with a typical minivan owner's "real-life" concern: paying for college.

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For customers who make a down payment on the new Routan minivan, Volkswagen will deposit $1,500 into an account. The money — held by Upromise Inc., a subsidiary of SLM Corp., which also owns Sallie Mae Bank and is the largest maker of college-funding contributions — can then be moved into a college savings fund known as a Section 529. VW says more than 6,000 people have signed up for the offer.

VW's approach highlights the innovation in incentives car makers must now consider to create a "consumer buzz" in an industry where cash rebates are the norm. Earlier this year Chrysler LLC, responding to rising fuel prices, took the unusual step of introducing a gasoline card that locked in costs for buyers of new vehicles at $2.99 per gallon for three years.

Click here for more on this story from The Wall Street Journal.