For the second time, Volkswagen is killing off the Beetle. But will a third time for the People’s Car be the real charm?
On Thursday, Volkswagen of America announced that production will end on the New Beetle in 2019, and that a special Final Edition model will be part of the runout of production.
“The loss of the Beetle… will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle’s many devoted fans,” confessed Hinrich Woebcken, president and chief executive of VWoA.
However, he continued, “As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S. and ramp up our electrification strategy… there are no immediate plans to replace it.
“But,” and here’s the aha moment, “as we have seen with the I.D. Buzz — which is the modern and practical interpretation of the legendary Bus — I would also say, ‘Never say never’.”
And what delicious irony an electric-propelled third-generation Beetle would be, since the Concept One that rekindled the Bug craze in 1994 was, indeed, a body shell designed to draw attention to Volkswagen’s new electric powertrain.
Except the body shell drew so much attention, and such positive attention, that VW put the New Beetle into production and is just now making electric vehicles available.
The original Volkswagen Type I (aka “the Beetle”) was designed in the 1930s as the “People’s Car” that would provide basic motorized transportation for German citizens. However, production didn’t begin until 1946 and then as a vehicle to be exported as Germany rebuilt after World War II. Those exported cars became so popular, especially in the United States, that by 1972 they surpassed the famed Ford Model T in all-time global sales.
But time and technology overtook the basic platform. Sales in the U.S. market ended by 1980 and Volkswagen ended all Beetle production in 2003.
Which brings us to the early 1990s and VW struggling in the U.S. market to the point of considering a full withdrawal.
As perhaps a last-gasp measure, the company wanted to show off the electric powertrain it had developed as it looked toward the 21st Century. It knew that a naked chassis with a bunch of batteries wasn’t going to draw much attention at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, so it asked its design studios to come up with a concept car to wrap around its breakthrough technology.
Perhaps realizing the pent-up interest in the Beetle, a couple of rebellious car designers — Freeman Thomas and J Mays — working in VW’s West Coast outpost created Concept I, an updated, modern interpretation of the vintage Beetle.
Showgoers were drawn almost magnetically to the bright-yellow car with all of its semi-circular shapes, though few probably took the time to notice or care about the chassis that underpinned the bodywork.
The auto show took place in January 1994. That November, VW announced a New Beetle would go into production, to debut in the spring of 1998, albeit with a standard gasoline engine ahead of rather than mounted behind the passenger compartment.
And now, 20 years later, it ends yet again. But for how long this time?
Like all automakers, VW is moving toward electrification. It will bring back its beloved “bus” as the electric-powered I.D. Buzz and it set all-time speed records recently for the annual race to the summit of Pikes Peak with its electric-powered I.D. R Pikes Peak.
VW has said it will launch its I.D. line of electric vehicles in 2020. We shouldn’t be too surprised if sometime thereafter, the Beetle returns, and this time with the electric powertrain that was hidden beneath the Concept 1 way back in 1994.
And wouldn’t that be a delicious irony?