Commentary

VW Squishing The Bug Once Again

The Beetle is puttering out again, although -- again -- it may not be for the last time. Volkswagen said yesterday that the car that launched one of the most memorable ad campaigns of the 20th century will be discontinued next July as it shifts its focus to electric vehicles.

“The car entered mass production after World War II, and it debuted in North America in 1949, and within two decades, became one of the world’s best-selling vehicles. Its fame was solidified with Walt Disney's 1968 film ‘The Love Bug,’ which features an anthropomorphic Beetle named Herbie that makes a splash on the California racing circuit,” writes Jackie Wattles for CNN Money.

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“The original version of the Beetle, a rear-engined vehicle that owners often decked out in colorful paints during the flower power era of the 1960s and '70s, ended production in Mexico in 2003. More than 21 million were produced over the car's 65-year lifespan,” Wattle continues.

“The revamped Beetle, which featured a dashboard flower vase and front-mounted engine, was replaced by a more muscular-looking version in 2011. But neither redesign caught on like the original among its baby boomer fans or younger generations of car buyers,” writes Chester Dawson for the Wall Street Journal.

“The [original] Beetle was a legend,” David Kiley, author of "Getting the Bugs Out: The Rise, Fall, and Comeback of Volkswagen" in America tells Dawson. “But the tepid response to this latest Beetle is proof that even Baby Boomers have moved on.”

“Even though the U.S. is the vehicle’s biggest market today, VW sold only 15,000 Beetles in the country last year. That is less than 5% of the 339,700 cars the company sold in the U.S. in 2017,” Dawson continues.

“U.S. consumers looking for a small Volkswagen vehicle overwhelmingly prefer the Jetta sedan, or the Tiguan compact sport utility vehicle,” the BBC reports.

“The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle’s many devoted fans,”  Volkswagen Group of America president and CEO Hinrich J. Woebcken says in a statement. 

“As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S. and ramp up our electrification strategy with the MEB platform, there are no immediate plans to replace it. But as we have seen with the I.D. BUZZ -- which is the modern and practical interpretation of the legendary Bus -- I would also say, ‘Never say never,’” Woebcken adds.

Here’s a two-minute National Geographic Channel video about the origins of the Beetle -- the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, who in 1934 told German engineer Ferdinand Porsche to create a car for the common folk along the lines of Ford's Model T.

Here’s an episode of “Jay’ Leno’s Garage” featuring an original and unrestored 1955 Beetle that was still chugging along in Manhattan Beach, Calif. (at least as of last year).

And this is an 18-minute retrospective, directed by Joe Marcantonio, about the classic VW advertising campaigns of the ’60s, featuring interviews with some of the Doyle Dane Bernbach alumni, such as George Lois and Helmut Krone, who created them. 

The 2019 version of the Bug will be offered in two special models: the Final Edition SE and Final Edition SEL. It “will include convertible and coupe versions, each powered by 2-liter gas engines with 174 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission and average fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon. Pricing starts at $23,045 for the coupe and $27,295 for the convertible,” Nathan Bomey reports for USA Today.

“The market is moving on,” John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto analyst and industry historian in Boston, tellsBloomberg’s Gabrielle Coppola, Christoph Rauwald and Keith Naughton. “The people who wanted them, mostly baby boomer women, bought them, enjoyed them, and they’re on to something else. Younger people don’t know what the point is.”

Digging even deeper, Wolkonowicz adds: “The nostalgia for the ’60s is going away as the baby boomer generation is going away. Most baby boomers are getting older and need something easy to get in and out of. Crossovers are easy to get in and out of. Cars are not.”

Volkswagen is planning a series of events over the next year to celebrate the vehicle and has created the hashtag #byebyeBeetle. 

“The Beetle is more than a car,” VGA CEO Woebcken says. “It’s what made Volkswagen an integral part of American culture.”

And, speaking as someone who toured Europe in a pale green 1959 Beetle that had flippers for turn signals, it has indeed provided lots of embedded memories in many a boomer’s mind.

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