VW Hopes Men Will Catch The Bug

If you grew up in a certain time, there are few consumer products that carry as much baggage, if you'll pardon the oxymoron, as a Volkswagen Beetle. Casey Williams, writing in The Indianapolis Star Saturday, opens by recalling the day in 1998 when Ferdinand Piech, chairman of Volkswagen, unveiled the "New" Beetle in Detroit's Cobo Hall:

"To the music 'Dream the Same Dream,' Piech recalled people's reactions upon first seeing the car: They would smile, then walk up and touch it as if wanting to give it a hug," Williams writes. "It was the only time I cried at a press conference. Something seemed more right with the world having a Beetle in it."

There's yet another new Beetle on the way in a few weeks, and a TV spot for it with the tagline "It's Back" breaks today. As Shirley Ellis' "Clapping Song" plays in the background, "a fellow cruises urban streets winning universal smiles -- as well as high-fives, low-fives, waves, fist-bumps, hand slaps -- even a high-paw" from a dog, Fred Meier writes in USA Today.

A black car is featured in the commercial, as it has been in earlier teasers, suggesting that black may be the new black (although that's certainly not the only color available). There's a gallery of photos and lots more information available at the Beetle website. A blog has features such as a YouTube interview (in German with English subtitles) of the three designers "who were tasked with bringing the beloved Volkswagen Beetle into the 21st Century."

"Beyond its familiar shape, the car is entirely new," the Star's Williams reveals. "Windshields are more upright for a normal driving feel. Interior features like painted windowsills and dashboard tie it to its ancestors, as does a top "kaeferfach" glovebox with aluminum pull. Check the chrome hubcaps that hail to the original."

Since the "reveal" before the New York Auto show last April, Volkswagen has been talking about the vehicle's more masculine character. The 1998 version, and its successors, had a reputation as being a chick magnet.

"It's conventional wisdom that, in the U.S. market, a car will founder if it gets an image as a 'girls' car,' USA Today's James R. Healey wrote at the time. "Conventional auto industry wisdom, like it or not, is that -- at least in America -- you can sell girls a boys' car, but you can't sell boys a girls' car."

The car is six inches longer and three inches wider than the previous model, which VW stopped producing last year. Pricing for the base model will start around $19,000. The 2.5-liter manual version gets 22 mpg in the city, 31 mph highway, which the company says is standard for a vehicle of its size.

"On any planet in dim starlight you could identify the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle," writes Williams. "It's obviously the successor to the New Beetle, but also borrows cues from the original Type 1." After testing two models, he says that they are "peppier" and "sportier" than previous models.

Meier concurs, writing that both the interior and exterior details are better than before and that the car is "fun to drive, even in its tamer, non-turbo form. It's now stylish rather than cute, but still retro-cool -- we like the body-color dash panel that evokes the Beetle of yore."

Meanwhile, there's some speculation on the Internet that a company named iCon will bring back the original rear-wheel-drive Beetle with an air-cooled all-electric drivetrain. But Earth & Industry's Timothy Hurst is skeptical.

"Both Porsche and VW have invested decades building their brands into the powerhouse brands they are today," Hurst writes. "They are not about to sign away the licensing of those vehicles unless they are totally certain that: a) The iCons are of a sufficient quality that they won't threaten the Porsche and VW brand positions, and; b) They are going get a serious chunk of change from iCon out of the licensing deal."

While we're on the subject of Volkswagen, check out this video report about the new glass factory in downtown Dresden that's assembling VW Phaetons as if they were computers or high-end audio equipment. It gives new meaning to the word transparency, even as VW's marketing aims to create a sense of mystique around the luxury vehicle

Tags: automotive
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