The Volkswagen Beetle is possibly the most recognisable car of all time.
Yet, after three generations and more than 22 million units sold – produced over eight decades no less – Volkswagen decided to cull its brand-shaping car. On 10th July 2019, with the final unit of the car, painted in Stonewashed Blue rolled off the production line, destined for Volkswagen’s museum In Puebla.
Created by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche under instruction by the Fuehrer himself as part of a grand social mobility project by the Nazi party, the car was never officially known as the Beetle until much later. It was known simply as the KdF-Wagen, and later the Volkswagen Type 1.
The original Beetle was best known for its reliable air-cooled flat four-cylinder engine and rugged dependability.
The second-generation model came around in 1997, officially known as the ‘New Beetle’; tighter regulations on exhaust emissions meant that it was no longer possible to make Beetles with air-cooled engines so the New Beetle adopted regular water-cooled four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive layout.
The third and final generation model, simply called the ‘Beetle, was introduced in 2011 and remedied most of the drawbacks of the second-generation car with a sharper design, new interior architecture, better driving dynamics.
From starting out in the 40s as a means to mobilise the nation and provide jobs, to being a style icon of pop culture and living large on the silver screen – the Beetle has done it all.
So why did Volkswagen discontinue the Beetle? Well, there are a few reasons for this…
- A lot of it has to do with demand. In much the same way that vinyl records were purged from the shelves of record stores after the introduction of the compact disc (and radio cassette), the Beetle is a fond memory from a bygone era and market place, which has now gone SUV crazy.
- There isn’t a strong business case (especially for a carmaker as massive as VW); sales have steadily declined – the second generation Beetle sold around 1.13 million units, the final iteration managed just 530,000, a far cry from the 21.5 million units of the original Beetle Bug.
- The Beetle also faces competition from its other Volkswagen models. Models like the Golf, Tiguan, even the cutesy Up! (depending on market), are the new status quo for young buyers and small families alike. Hence there’s is little space for a compact 2-door, regardless of the style, heritage, and fanfare.
For the time being, the excess production capacity afforded by the discontinuation will be taken up by a new crossover positioned below the Tiguan. Rumoured to be sold as the Tarek, the yet to be confirmed crossover is said to be a variation of China’s Volkswagen Tharu, and the model will first go on sale in the USA/Canada market this year.
But there might be still light at the end of the tunnel… while Volkswagen has confirmed there are no plans to review the Beetle for now. They have said they are "leaving the option open for some elements of the car’s identity to be reinterpreted on a future, electric Volkswagen".
An Electric Beetle?
Volkswagen’s I.D. series of vehicles based upon the electric-only MEB platform gives Volkswagen the ability to consolidate its electronic drivetrains, electronic controls, drivetrain software, and allow for further integration of driver-assistance and safety functions to be integrated across the group’s electric vehicles.
This allows the development and production costs to be shared across all VW group brands and dramatically reduces the lead-time for new model introductions and prototype testing. In the short time since the MEB’s introduction, VW has already an array of vehicles across its Audi, Skoda, and Seat brands in addition to its own I.D. lineup, with many more in the pipeline between 2020 and 2025.
In addition to the Golf-looking I.D. 3 which began production in Q3 of 2019, Volkswagen also introduced two retrospective concepts: the I.D. Buzz and the I.D. Buggy. The first a futuristic take on iconic Volkswagen Kombi van and the second concept puts an electric spin on the original Beetle Dune Buggy: essentially a fibreglass buggy body on top of a Beetle chassis, produced in the mid-sixties.
There are a few reasons why we think Volkswagen will revive the Beetle as an electric vehicle:
- The Beetle was always known for its simple yet rugged drivetrain. An electric drivetrain does away with the complexity of an internal combustion/hybrid engine (and also negates the need for a multitude of drivetrains to cater for differing markets). This keeps things simple and efficient, vis-a-vis cutting down development costs.
- The MEB platform allows for greater room inside the cabin, another hallmark of the small Beetle.
- The MEB offers greater flexibility for designers to create futuristic designs that are safer and integrate new connected technologies.
- As electric drivetrains become more prevalent, the overall costs of electric cars will allow prices of electric cars to fall as well, making the Beetle more accessible for a greater number of buyers.
- The Beetle’s longtime rival, the MINI Cooper has already received electrification as part of its product strategy with the MNI Electric.
So there could very well be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Beetle, but its resurgence will likely revolve around Volkswagen's ability to evolve it from being the people's car to being a stylish icon of future electric mobility.
However, there's still one last chance to own a Volkswagen Beetle...