'12 Beetle Not Niche As VW Aims For Global Appeal


Volkswagen's official U.S. unveiling of the 2012 Beetle had reporters talking. Sure, there was the car, which is only the third major redesign of the Bug since it has been in the U.S. but there was also the location of the event: Volkswagen rented out the warehouse on Pier 36 in the nowheresville north of the Manhattan Bridge and south of the East Village. A good amount of idle chatter among the attending press was about how hard it was to figure just where the heck Pier 36 is.

Well, one might have thought the location ideal for a vehicle whose iconography includes a generous dose of quirkiness, niche appeal irony. But the real irony is that Volkswagen wants the 2012 version of the Beetle to be anything but the above. Yes, U.S. head of marketing Jonathan Browning pointed out that the new iteration of the 60-year-old nameplate is a "modern interpretation of an iconic design," but the company's global head of marketing, Luca de Meo, also said that the new design is more masculine, more sports car-like and reflects VW's desire to make it a huge seller not just in its core market -- the U.S. -- but also in Asia and Europe (Indeed, the launch event in New York was timed with similar events in China and Germany.)



According to de Meo, the most important market will continue to be the U.S. "Our global ambition is reflected in launch. It shows global scope of the product and, from a strategic point of view, its popularity in the U.S., Europe and China is an upside for us. We are going to try to make it central to these markets."

De Meo also said that the company is aiming to appeal to more men with a car that has traditionally been more popular with women. Part of that involves the design, which is a lot less "pregnant roller skate" and more sporty: Volkswagen made the car look more aggressive by pushing the cabin toward the rear, lowering the roof, making the wheels bigger and widening the stance, according to Volkswagen brand design chief Klaus Bischoff. "From the side, the car has a much stronger presence," he said.

The 2012 model rolls into U.S. showrooms this fall but Browning says the current model is selling strongly, with 2010 sales up 23% and sales last month up nearly as much.

The marketing strategy will be a mix of global and local market, according to de Meo. "We are learning how to create a global approach for VW while respecting the local needs of the market," he said. "We started the launch in Shanghai but started the [marketing] in the U.S. and picked up on the tonality from Super Bowl [creative.] We are going to tell the same story around the world but in different languages."

He said there are 32 nicknames for the Beetle in various countries around the world and that the company will use those. "We will think global but like to act locally." Deutsch's Los Angeles office will handle the U.S. marketing for the car.

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