VW presents a sleeker new Beetle
More powerful but less cute, car is aimed at men
NEW YORK — In its 73-year history, the Beetle has evolved from the hippie ride of choice to a cute chick car. Now Volkswagen is reinventing it again.
The company introduced an edgy design yesterday for its signature model, giving it a flatter roof, a less bulbous shape, narrowed windows, and a sharp crease along the side. Gone is the built-in flower vase on the dashboard.
It’s the first overhaul since 1998, when Volkswagen came up with the New Beetle. VW, which wants to triple its US sales of cars and trucks over the next decade, says the changes will appeal to more buyers, especially men.
But the changes could also anger fans, who love the little four-seater for its huggable curves and perky attitude.
“I hope they keep the fun in the car, and all the round angles,’’ said Howie Lipton, who owns a computer repair business in Hamilton, Ontario, and helps organize an annual New Beetle show in Roswell, N.M.
Lipton was hoping VW would update the spare interior, and his wish has been granted. VW’s lead Beetle project manager for the United States, Andres Valbuena, said the 2012 model will have a navigation system, a significantly larger trunk, more luxurious materials, and ambient lighting.
“It ties in more with our other products. It’s more upscale,’’ Valbuena says. The 2012 Beetle goes on sale this fall. VW won’t yet say how much it costs.
The design is based not on the New Beetle but on the original Beetle, which was created in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, came to the United States after World War II, and became a counterculture favorite because of its low cost and unusual look.
It was the antithesis of the land yachts being churned out in Detroit, and baby boomers loved it. In 1968, a Beetle with a mind of its own, Herbie, starred opposite Dean Jones in the hit Disney movie “The Love Bug.’’
But sales slowed as VW faced tough competition in the small-car segment from Japanese and US automakers and money problems back in Germany. US sales of the original Beetle peaked at 200,000 in 1962. VW stopped selling the car in the United States in 1979.
In 1998, the company introduced the New Beetle, an overhaul of the original that became a huge hit. For a time, the Beetle was outselling such stalwarts as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Impala. When a convertible version was released in 2003, US sales rose to almost 93,000.
In addition to an upgraded, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter gas engine, VW will offer a sportier, 200-horsepower, turbocharged gas engine and a fuel-efficient diesel. VW estimates that the new basic engine will be slightly more efficient than the current one, which gets 29 miles per gallon on the highway. The diesel will get up to 40 miles per gallon. Asked whether VW will offer an electric version, spokesman Corey Proffitt says, “Not yet.’’
Even if it satisfies its fans, the third incarnation of the Beetle will have to compete in a US small-car market that is bigger and much more competitive than it was in 1998.
Buyers who want a funky design have new options like the Mini Cooper, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, and the Scion xB. VW sold about 16,500 New Beetles in the United States last year, down 82 percent from the 2003 peak.
VW will depend on high-volume sellers like the Jetta and Passat sedans to meet its ambitious sales goals, which call for selling 1 million vehicles in the United States and 10 million worldwide by 2018.