Are Americans not buying Volkswagens right now because they’re too boring? That’s what VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn thinks, but I think he’s oversimplifying the issue.
In a recent interview, Winterkorn basically says the Passat that was engineered with the U.S. in mind missed the mark because VW rested on their laurels. Which is true. But then he went on:
Winterkorn also conceded that the brand still lacks a model that appeals to the American zeitgeist: “Our greatest successes in the USA, the Jetta and the Passat, are not exactly the most emotional of cars,” he told PS Welt. “They are very functional, practical and durable, but we need to find a different way to reach the souls of the Americans.”
It sounds like Winterkorn conveniently forgets cars like the Golf GTI and Beetle in order to prove his point. When they try, VW actually does emotion pretty well. The GTI is a damn fantastic machine that is all the car you could possibly want or need, and I have one, so I should know.
But the Beetle is a very different story.
When the New Beetle launched back in 1998, it used the polished base of the Mk 4 Golf and made it expressive and hopelessly cute. It worked for a few years at making VW a desirable brand in the U.S. again. But the current Beetle, based off of the already compromised Jetta, is a dud. And sales have reflected that. VW made a half-hearted tribute to their most iconic model.
Last week at the New York Auto Show, VW showed a bunch of Beetle special edition concepts and hinted at the possibility of them going into production. There shouldn’t be a question, they all should. The Beetle is VW’s most emotional product in the U.S. and it should have silly special editions like this pink one and the Denim edition that I so badly want to call the Beetle Levi’s Edition. None of them actually make the car better, but definitely more interesting. No amount of paint and fabric and wheel trims can actually fix the current Beetle. It’s a misfit and needs a rethink.
But it isn’t enough to damage the brand. And now that rumors of its demise have been disputed, with news of a new generation coming in three years, VW has a chance to rebuild the Beetle as its good, goofy car. Maybe they’ll make it lighter and more fun, maybe they’ll make it easy to see out of. And maybe they’ll make it cheaper. It shouldn’t be hard to make it better.
The Jetta and Passat will always be boring, that’s just their role in life. But when VW puts its mind to it, it can make very desirable cars that appeal to the soul more than the head. It’s just that desirability and cost-cutting have never made good neighbors.
Photos Carscoops.com / Zac Estrada