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Bye-bye Beetle: Could VW have saved its most iconic car?

2018-09-17 05:30

Lance Branquinho

Image: Net Car Show

'VW has killed-off its most iconic car: the Beetle. Could it have been different?' asks Lance Branquinho

Production of the two-door Golf 7 (okay, Beetle) will end in July of next year and there is no successor planned. So why aren’t more people terribly sad at this news? Well, it is because the modern Beetle has been on a slide to irrelevance for quite some time. 

It has been the wrong car, with the right bits, for a while now. VW’s Golf platform and parts-bin have amongst it some of the very best components of any automobile in existence. The problem is how product planners chose to apply those mechanical bits: in the form of a two-door, front-wheel drive car with limited cabin space.

READ: Farewell to an icon - Volkswagen to stop production of the iconic Beetle in 2019

The market for small front-wheel coupes has been dying for a decade now. It’s worth remembering that Ford once had the Puma and Hyundai the Tiburon. None of those exists anymore. If buyers are now abandoning sedans and hatchbacks for crossovers and SUVs, they had long ago divorced their expectations from compact front-wheel-drive coupes – which is exactly what a modern VW Beetle is. It has only two doors and a curved roofline. 

Original is best

Beetle’s legend was established by its unique configuration and air-cooled engine durability. It was cleverly packaged and affordable. Rugged too. This is the car our parents made adventurous motoring memories with.

                                                                       Image: Wheels24

In a strange preview of that future which could never be imagined, Beetle was probably the first affordable crossover. It was rear-wheel drive, comparatively light and the air-cooled engine meant it would run in challenging environments.

Which is your favourite generation of the Beetle? Email us

For gravel travellers of the 1970s, the Beetle was a car you could go adventuring with. The Beetle was both a capable city car and one capable of adventuring. Americans finally realised the full potential of its off-roading promise, with their Baja Bug adaptions: huge rear tyres, ground clearance and more power gifting the Beetle enviable sand driving ability.

                                                                        Image: Motorpress

After the Beetle was revived with a water-cooled engine in 1998, its appeal has been as an art car and unfortunately, others did it better. Most notably Fiat, with the 500.

VW rarely makes an error in its product planning, but reviving the Beetle was one of those very infrequent misjudgements. Unable to evolve it into an SUV or crossover of some kind (rekindling the original Baja Bug), VW executives have finally realised that Beetle simply is no longer a compelling offering. 

Could an SUV have saved it?

The Dune edition was a weak attempt to differentiate Beetle and stem the tide of pending rivalry from crossovers and SUVs. Sadly, despite the excellent heritage, VW could call on in terms of off-roading Beetles there has never been a proper reinterpretation of that Baja legacy, which would have been hugely popular in a global market currently obsessed with all things SUV.

                                                                     Image: Net Car Show

VW should have tried to build a proper gravel travel capable Baja version of the modern Beetle. The original Beetle was so very adaptable, it could fulfil a great many more functions than mere that of an urban commuter. The modern one was purely a city car. 

Is the demise of Beetle all bad news and failure for VW? Only if they chose not to heed the lessons learned. VW’s air-cooled heritage is rich and cars which originally cooled themselves without a water-pump remain iconic – hence the terrific prices that original Beetles and T1/2 Kombis fetch. And the latter is possibly VW’s opportunity at retro redemption with a shot at real sales success: because a future production model of the I.D. Buzz concept, would not be compromised in the same way that new Beetle was.

Read more on:    lance branquinho  |  beetle

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