Sunday, February 3, 2013

Editorial: Are Future Generations of the Volkswagen Beetle Forever Doomed to be Chick Cars?

On the way to work Wednesday morning, I happened to pass by a new, 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo. When I looked over, I noticed the driver was a woman. I started to think back to all the other Beetles I have seen over the years, and I noticed a trend. Nearly every New Beetle and "A5" Beetle I have seen to date has been driven by a woman, while the original Beetle has a well diverse mix of drivers. Noticing this trend got me thinking whether every Beetle introduced after the New Beetle would be forever doomed to be a "chick car."

I was not around when the original Volkswagen Beetle was introduced back in the late 1930s. Heck, I was not even around for a good majority of the original Beetle's incredibly long life cycle, but the Volkswagen Beetle soldiered on until 2003, when the last Beetle rolled off the factory and in to the sunset. Throughout its life, the original Volkswagen Beetle has always attracted a very diverse crowd of people. Men, women, senior citizens, young teenagers, and people from all walks of life could be seen driving some form of the original Volkswagen Beetle. In 1997, despite the fact that the original Beetle was still on sale in some markets, Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle in an attempt to inject new life into the aging moniker.

The New Beetle was a fairly big departure from the original Beetle. Overall, the car was more round and bubbly than the original. Volkswagen's paint pallet for the New Beetle included bright reds, yellows and even a neon green color. Car buyers and the automotive press immediately identified the car as being "cute." Over the course of the New Beetle's life cycle, I noticed that nearly nine out of every ten New Beetles I've seen on the road are driven by women. Everyone I knew that ever owned a New Beetle was a woman (with the lone exception of one guy who later traded his Beetle for a 8th generation Honda Civic Si coupe). The car's inherent cuteness seemed to attract droves of women to Volkswagen showrooms, all there to see the cute little "bug." At some point during the New Beetle's life cycle, Volkswagen even introduced flower shaped hub caps, and a flower holder for the cabin. With all these cutesy little additions, it is no wonder the majority of New Beetle buyers were women. At the very least, Volkswagen was pleasing its unintended target audience.

With the New Beetle's production ended in 2010, Volkswagen soon introduced another new Beetle. On April 11, 2011, the 2012 Volkswagen "A5" Beetle, simply known again as just the Beetle, made its debut. Realizing that they needed to draw in a larger audience like with the original Beetle, Volkswagen's redesigned 2012 Beetle takes cues from the original Beetle of yore, mimicking the flatter roof line and overall shape while taking things in a more retro but modern direction. On the marketing front, Volkswagen attempted to market the car as more masculine, showing print and television ads of men driving and enjoying the Beetle. Admittedly, the 2012 Beetle does have more performance chops than the previous models with a revised Turbo model.

The Turbo model shares the Golf GTI's 2.0 liter, turbo in-line 4, an optional DSG transmission, and a sportier suspension tune. But despite Volkswagen's efforts, it seems to me that mostly women are still drawn to the car. Of the six or seven "A5" Beetles I have seen scooting around the road (including the one I saw this day driving to work), all of them, even the Turbo models I have spotted, were driven by women in their late 20s to early 30s. Even when Volkswagen had the car on display at the Los Angeles International Auto Show this past November, most of the interested parties looking at the car were women. Upon seeing the car, my girlfriend had commented on how cute it looked. It seems the previous Beetle's "cute" curse had carried over to the new one.

The "A5" Beetle has been on the market now for only a little under two years now, so it might still be a bit premature to pin the car as a "chick car." If my current observations about the previous Beetle and the current one are any indication though, the current Beetle is going to be forever doomed as a "chick car" as well. Considering the life cycle of the two previous Beetles, it is going to be quite a while before Volkswagen designs another Beetle. Perhaps next time, they will get closer to their goal of making it more masculine. Then again, maybe it just does not matter.