HARALD HAMPRECHT

A monster show for a small car with a long heritage and big goals

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News EuropeHarald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe
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Shanghai, Berlin, New York: Volkswagen is celebrating the world debut of the next-generation Beetle simultaneously in its three most important markets – China, Europe and North America.

With this global triple play, the automaker further underlines its clear intention to be the world's biggest carmaker by 2018 – if not sooner.

In Shanghai, VW invited 650 journalists to a white hall on the banks of the Huang Pu River. The spot offered spectacular views of the town from the city's famous Bund embankment.

It was a world premiere with a big movie star and some big bangs.

First, VW brand product chief Ulrich Hackenberg drove the "old" Beetle onto the stage – or to be more precise, he drove Herbie, the car star in Walt Disney's "The Love Bug" movie. Then VW CEO Martin Winterkorn welcomed a red and white version of the new-generation Beetle, which was accompanied by fireworks.

During interviews with MTV moderators, modesty was thrown out the window. The Beetle, new and old, was called things such as a cult car and iconic as the Coke bottle or Apple's iPhone.

They also said that the new generation is more masculine and most fuel efficient than its predecessor and referred to it as a "new original" and vowed: "The future begins today."

The comments sounded very similar as VW was just as bold and boastful in 1998 when it revived the Beetle.

After a fast start, however, that version of the car did not live up to the high expectations.

One common complaint was the car was too feminine. Another problem the Beetle faces is that retro-designed cars usually see a steep decline in sales during their final years on the market.

The Beetle also will have stiff competition. It must battle BMW Group's growing lineup of Mini models, which appeal to the people VW wants in its new Beetle, so-called lifestyle customers. Automakers covet these buyers because they are willing to pay a premium price for a small car that offers something special.

Despite all the fanfare, it's doubtful the new-generation Beetle will provide huge sales volumes or big profits, but it could become an attention magnet that pulls people into showrooms and gives VW's image a big boost, especially in markets such as the United States, where the next Beetle debuts in September.

The car will be launched in Europe in October/November this year. Then customers will decide whether this niche model deserves all of this week's mumbo jumbo.

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