2012 Beetle: new design showcased at Volkswagen show
2012 Beetle makes its debut in New York. Traditionalists miss its huggable curves but others are excited about an updated interior and more powerful, fuel efficient engine.
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"Every car manufacturer faces this when they do a facelift, but in the case of the Beetle, you've got something people feel fairly strongly about," says Erickson, who now teaches at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. "It has a certain personality to it, an endearing quality."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Bodacious VW Beetles
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Valbuena says VW believes the new design stays true to the name but will broaden the car's appeal beyond the 1998 version, which appealed heavily to women in their 50s and 60s. In focus groups, men liked the more aggressive design.
The vase won't even be an option this time, Valbuena says, dumped in favor of more universally appealing options such as color-coordinated dashboards and an extra glove box.
In addition to an upgraded, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter gas engine, VW will offer a sportier, 200-horsepower, turbocharged gas engine — Volkswagen hopes it will appeal to guys — and a fuel-efficient diesel. VW estimates that the new basic engine will be slightly more efficient than the current one, which gets 29 mpg on the highway. The diesel will get up to 40 mpg. Asked whether VW will offer an electric version, spokesman Corey Proffitt says, "Not yet."
Even if it satisfies its fans, the third incarnation of the Beetle will have to compete in a U.S. small-car market that is bigger and much more competitive than it was in 1998.
When the New Beetle was introduced, European cars like the Mini Cooper, Smart Fortwo and Fiat 500 weren't sold in the United States. By last year, the Mini Cooper was outselling the Beetle almost three-to-one.
And buyers who want a funky design have new options like the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and the Scion xB. VW sold about 16,500 New Beetles in the United States last year, down 82 percent from the 2003 peak.
Working to Volkswagen's advantage are higher gas prices and fuel-economy standards, which make small cars a smarter choice, along with a population boom of young buyers. Their parents, the Baby Boomers who fell in love with the Beetle 50 years ago, are also looking to trade down in size.
Rebecca Lindland, director of strategic review at the consulting firm IHS Automotive, says U.S. sales of small specialty cars like the Beetle dropped during the recession as buyers went for bigger, cheaper options like the Toyota Corolla. The Corolla costs almost $3,000 less than the Beetle, which starts at $18,690.
But Lindland says U.S. specialty car sales are expected to more than double to 350,000 cars per year by 2013.
But it still sees the Beetle as a key part of the brand, as it showed Monday with simultaneous unveilings of the car in New York, Berlin and Shanghai. To many people, VW is synonymous with the Beetle.
"It is an iconic vehicle," Lindland says. "It represents, for most Americans, a very positive image."