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Redesigned Beetle's challenge: Broaden the buyer base

Out with the flower petals. In with xenon headlamps, a sportier cabin and high-tech options.

By making the third generation Beetle bigger for 2012, VW is courting more men in a bid to shed the vehicle's "chick car" label.

A little less cute, a little more sleek.

More women than men buy the current New Beetle compact. In 2010, women made up 61 percent of U.S. New Beetle buyers, online shopping site TrueCar.com says. No other nameplate attracted a higher percentage of women buyers.

Now, VW doesn't intend to lose its female audience. It just wants to attract more men, says Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America.

And that's just one challenge for VW designers and engineers. The redesigned Beetle also has to appeal to the growing Chinese market. To emphasize that point, the 2012 Beetle was unveiled simultaneously today in Shanghai and New York City. It goes on sale this fall.

With the redesigned Beetle, VW doesn’t want to lose its female audience, but it wants to attract more male buyers. Photo credit: VW

Jason Kuhn, owner of Kuhn Volkswagen, which has three stores in Tampa, Fla., says VW executives have told dealers it expects to sell 50,000 Beetles in the United States in a full year. For some perspective, VW sold 16,537 New Beetles last year in the United States. Sales of the current New Beetle peaked at 83,434 in 1999 and hit a low of 14,085 in 2009.

Kuhn thinks the redesigned Beetle has a shot at re-energizing the compact segment for VW. It certainly will appeal to more men, he says, "because of its more aggressive styling and it is sleeker, lower and faster.

"It has the Audi TT's lines," Kuhn says.

But will it rekindle that "Love Bug" appeal, even as it becomes a little more "Bullitt"?

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