What VW Could Have Done

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If you’ve read my review of the just-launched (and butched-up) 2012 VWBeetle, you’ll know how disappointed I was. It’s not a bad car in the sense that it’s well-built, not-ugly and everything seems to work well. But it has lost its Beetleness – the quality that made the original Beetle such an enduring favorite for generations.

Beetleness is not synonymous with cuteness, by the way.

Many cars are cute, but that was only part of the reason why people bought Beetles in the past.

An incidental reason, too.

The main reason for the original Beetle’s popularity was its frugality. Here was a car – the basic essentials: A simple, air-cooled engine that almost anyone could service themselves and cheaply, too. No extras except those the owner added later, on his own – like a radio, for example.

The new Beetle, in contrast, is a high-performance sporty car with an available turbocharged engine and a standard engine that only gets you 22 MPG. It also carries a base price of $19k. It may (kinda sorta) look like a Beetle, but this car has little, if any, Beetleness. There is no good reason to buy the car that has anything to do with the reasons for buying a Beetle except maybe that it (kinda sorta) looks like one.

That’s a problem, I think. Or will be – for VW.

This car is set up for failure because it’s destined to be stacked up against other sporty largish compact coupes – of which there are multitudes and several of which have more power or cost less or handle better or get better mileage or have some such advantage over it – as opposed to being a Beetle and thus, in a category by itself.

Here is what VW could have done but didn’t:

Stick with the basic look of the previous gen. Beetle, which had cute covered (and hold the macho – please). Lose about 500 pounds to get the curb weight down from close to 2,900 lbs. to around 2,400 lbs. This could be done, legally, by de-contenting the car of features such as power everything, GPS and maybe even AC, which could be made optional. Engineer in a good manual venting system like the old Beetle (and many other old cars besides) used to have and which made it feasible to live without expense-and-weight-adding AC. It’s outrageous and plain shitty that no new cars come with manual vent systems. There’s no reason for this other than the manufacturer’s desire to push AC by making the car unlivable in hot weather without it. Make the power windows optional, too – and forget about the high-end “audio system” with music storage hard drive. Pre-wire the car so that the owner can plug in whatever he wants later on. This was routine in the ’70s and people survived.

Think no one would accept such a Spartan car today? Think again. Nissan is selling its little Versa sedan faster than they can stamp ’em out and that car – in base form – does not come with a radio, just a block-off plate for where a  radio could go, with all the wiring already there for your convenience. Plug and play.

No AC, either – unless you want it.  MSRP $9k and change, brand-new.

But the Versa has a vulnerability. Two, actually.

First, it’s a Versa. What is that, exactly – and who cares? The Beetle has history – nameplate-wise, at least.

But it’s number two that VW could exploit: The Versa is pretty good on gas  (27 city, 36 highway) but nowhere near as good as a Beetle could be if one could order a Beetle with a diesel engine. In the Golf – the Beetle’s corporate cousin – a 2.0 liter TDI delivers 30 city and 42 highway. And the Golf weighs just under 3,000 lbs.

Imagine this same engine in the Beetle – after cutting the curb weight down to around 2,400 lbs. Now imagine making the TDI engine a little smaller, a bit less powerful, which would probably be very doable without any adverse effect on performance  – or at least, retaining enough performance for everyday driving.

We’d be looking at 55-60 MPG on the highway – and better city mileage than the Versa manages on the highway.

Wrap that up and put a $17k or so sticker on the thing and see what happens. Dealerships would probably have to hire Pinkertons to maintain order. At one stroke, VW would have re-established itself as the carmaker for these times. Versas would languish unwanted. Fiat 500s would have to get by on their cuteness and ability to fit comfortably in your back pocket. No one else would have anything competitive.

Beetleness would be restored – and perhaps others would follow the example.

I’ve already heard from dozens of people who agree with my not-so-enthusiastic review of what VW did instead. Many – like me – are former (old) Beetle owners who would be ecstatic to see a real retro reincarnation of the original – the concept, not just a skin job.

It’s by no means too late and perhaps VW will see this and, if I flatter myself, take the hint in the spirit it’s intended. Millions of people out there remember what Beetleness was all about and would be eager to snap up a car that delivered it.

Unfortunately, the 2012 Beetle isn’t that car.

I hope that someday, it will be.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Love it…here’s what I’d also do:

    1. Simplify manufacturing as much as possible. For example, the accelerator should be operated by a cable or other physical link, not drive by wire.

    2. At the risk of sounding like a green clover, the New Beetle diesel versions should be biodiesel compatible, and non-diesels should be flex fuel – including METHANOL, not just that corny ethanol bit, and a natural gas version should be available too. People are willing to buy these things and a lot of people make buying decisions along these lines.

    3. Follow Scion’s lead and offer a wide range of customizable options, such as wheels, spoilers, etc. for those who want it.


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