Volkswagen's New Beetle never could have equaled the performance of its predecessor - the original Beetle sold 21.5 million units over fifty-eight years - but, in modern terms at least, its eleven-year run has been a long one. First introduced in 1998, the New Beetle initially met with great fanfare (in the United States, if not in Germany), but by 2009, sales dropped to an all-time low of fewer than 15,000 units in the U.S. So the marketing strategists have decided to pull the plug, effective this summer.
The car's sales, however, were still good enough to earn an encore. The new New Beetle is due to appear in spring 2011 and will, like its predecessor, be built in Puebla, Mexico. It will adopt suspension components from the last-generation Golf. U.S. buyers will choose from three familiar engines: a 2.5-liter five-cylinder (170 hp), a 2.0-liter turbo unit (200 hp), and a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel (140 hp). Transmission choices will include manuals and dual-clutch automatics with up to seven speeds.
The new version grows by 3.5 inches in length and sports a flatter roofline, a more upright windshield, a wider track, and a reduced front overhang. The extended rear end accommodates a larger cargo area, and the roomier passenger compartment offers more headroom. The overall shape is reminiscent of the Ragster concept from the 2005 Detroit auto show. The cabriolet retains the old-fashioned stacked roof (when lowered). A speedster spin-off is under consideration for the midcycle update.
Things get more interesting when we look further out, to the third-generation car due around 2017. That version could see the Bug return to its boxer-engine roots, given some cooperation from Porsche. Porsche has proposed a new horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine for use in its upcoming entry-level model and as a base engine in the Boxster/Cayman. Four years ago, when VW chief Martin Winterkorn approached Porsche's then-CEO Wendelin Wiedeking seeking to use that boxer engine for a sporty variant of the New Beetle, Wiedeking refused. Just recently, though, Winterkorn again went to Zuffenhausen, obviously in a much stronger position now that the VW Group controls Porsche. If Winterkorn gets the small boxer engine this time, it would become the mainstay powerplant for the third-generation car, which would switch to a rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine layout. How's that for a metamorphosis?
The Beetle's Metamorphosis
ONE WILD CONCEPT
Initiated in secret at VW's California design studio by J Mays and Freeman Thomas, the Concept One proved to be a smash hit at the 1994 Detroit auto show. But our own design editor, Robert Cumberford, sniffed: "At least in space inefficiency, the Concept One is true to its origins." Still, even he had to admit, "It's a wonderful show car." As to its production potential, Cumberford's assessment proved highly prescient, saying, "Were it to be put into production as it is, there would no doubt be a surge of buyers who would take a couple-hundred thousand of them in the first year or two, and then an abrupt falloff."