Will electricity save the Beetle? Icons Electrified Part 2
Will the Beetle make a return in an electrified form?
Welcome to Icons Electrified, a mini-series where I explore the possible electrification of some of the most iconic vehicles and what it could mean for the reputation of the model. In the second part, the future of the Volkswagen Beetle is explored with the possibility of a new electric model being the only hope of a return for one of the most iconic cars ever.
A Brief History
The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the best-selling vehicles of all time, with 23 million units sold over 81 years of production and across three different generations. The Beetle's history is well known with Adolf Hitler asking Ferdinand Porsche, a Nazi member at the time, to build a Volkswagen (people's car). The car had to be reliable and cheap, which it was. The Beetle, officially known as the Type 1, got its name from the informal German name Käfer (meaning beetle). Production began in 1938 in Wolfsburg, Germany, but mass production was halted at the start of World War II. After the war, the British took over the factory and produced 10,000 cars in a year. It arrived in the USA in 1949 and the UK in 1952. And famous advertising from Bill Bernbach in the USA made the Beetle a success by showing off its simplicity. Another form of publicity was the Herbie the Love Bug film franchise, which began in 1968 and the Beetle officially became the best-selling car of all time in 1972. Sales largely slipped during the 1980s, despite success in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa at this point. However, in 1998, the New Beetle went on sale. This new generation featured recognisable styling and was largely based on the Golf and had some success. In 2011, an updated version was revealed, which was larger, but had little success compared with the previous generations. In 2019, the last Beetle rolled off the production line in Puebla, Mexico.
Why is the Beetle so iconic?
The original Beetle was iconic because of its happy design and reliability. It's also famous for being one of the first truly accessible cars and also one of the most important cars of the 20th century. The customization available is another factor as well as its simplicity and and the way that they can be maintained simply due to their lack of complexity mechanically.
The Next Generation
There has been a lot of rumours of the Beetle returning as an electric vehicle, but the electric Beetle concept car revealed in 2012, the E-Bugster, has been largely forgotten. The electric hard-top convertible was just a concept according to Volkswagen but some people believed it would go on sale. Since the Beetle ended production, many have speculated a possible return as an electric car, which seems the only way as the VW Group have become very environmentally-conscious after the DieselGate scandal in 2015. The VW Group CEO, Herbert Deiss, has denied that there are plans to bring back the Beetle and said if there was a new Beetle. it would have to be something special. Despite this, it has been reported that the name 'e-Beetle' has been recently trademarked.
Questions about the next generation
The main question would be if a new Beetle would really fit in with what made it so successful in the first place: being affordable. Electric cars are notoriously expensive, with the cheapest new EV in the UK being the Seat Mii electric at around £20,000 and the cheapest ICE car is the Dacia Sandero at around £11,000. Volkswagen's cheapest EV is the e-up! at just under £21,000. Also, would enthusiasts be happy? It could just be another example of a brand bringing back a famous name to sell a car that isn't really suited to that name, just like the new Ford Puma. Furthermore, the Beetle was ultimately discontinued due to a lack of demand; the market had shifted from wanting a small car to wanting SUVs and crossovers.
Unfortunately, we may not see another Beetle, as Volkswagen have denied plans when being asked about this. However this could be seen as fortunate, since the Beetle will be remembered for what it really should be rather than as an electric car. Unless there is a gap in the market for an electric convertible, then the trend for SUVs will have killed off the Beetle and an electric Beetle will be nothing more than a group of rumours and concept cars.
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