Squashing the Beetle

In 2003 the last classic VW Beetle rolled off the Wolfsburg assembly line. In 1998 the first new streamline Beetle was introduced (replete with budvase) – and it was beautifully designed. For the past half decade the Volkswagen designers have not mucked around with the body, but for 2012, well the muck is making mire.

The new VW (above) press office claims that the 2012 redesign looks more like the original Beetle. In fact, it looks more like the PT Cruiser than a contemporary VW; this Beetle is decidedly retro. And it bugs me.

Why o’ why was this necessary? By elongating the nose of the automobile, squashing the windows and adding a spoiler, the designers have destroyed the brilliant streamlining and “logo” shape of the new Beetle. The new version looks more like any old car from the 30s – the original commissioned by you-know-who.

Its kind of like the New Coke story, except I presume there will not be a VW Classic as a result.

Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle

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29 thoughts on “Squashing the Beetle

  1. Neil Binkley

    I enjoy the the new design for its sleekness and musculature, though it could just as easily be an Audi or Porsche hatchback, instead of The Beetle. I think the new design removes the Beetle from its status as an “icon”. But I’m not sure that the iconic are always best-sellers, and at some point there have to be market concerns. I agree that it seems to be in reaction-to the Mini Cooper’s successful design, as well.
    In a vacuum, however, I wish that you could still buy a new Studebaker (or Volvo P1800, or VW Thing) with the same design from the 1940’s-’60’s. Updated with things like better engines, better safety, and proper air conditioning, of course!

  2. Joe

    Hmm, I must be the typical male they are targeting with the redesign because when I first saw it I thought “maybe I actually could consider a new beetle, I like the more muscular look”. Though taking another look at the side profile of the pre’12, those circles are indeed beautifully brought together. Retro or not, I think I would only make the jump if they had also followed Porsche (and Beetles of old) and go with a rear engine, rear wheel-drive set-up. Now that would be a blast to drive paired with a 5-speed, plus set it apart from the other “retro-cruisers” mentioned.
    Thanks for bringing the designers into the discussion, Steve!

  3. Mattesque

    Steve, as always I appreciate the wide net you cast with the Daily Heller–Volkswagen, typography, clothing… but I have to agree with other commenters…
    The new New Beetle has more lines in common with the 911 family of Porsches than it does that awful thing they call the PT Cruiser. But maybe I am blinded by my love of most things Vee Double Yew.

  4. evelyn tickle

    WOW, I guess VW is getting what they want, ATTENTion!  Im a Mini Clubman driving Architect who loves the Old, and now Semi-New, VW.  I didnt buy a Beetle in ”09 bc they were not the car that the Mini is for multiple reasons – price, engine, DIY, gas mileage, drivablity, etc…  Recently, Mini showed the new COUP and I went balistic thinking, mistakenly, that they had done away with the real Mini and bestowed a new creature on us who looked like a Porsche.  Im extremely relieved that MINI is growing their line, instead of remaking it.  The new VW looks similiar to the COUP and IMO the COUP will be more popular than some hybrid design that has no iconographic appeal any longer.
    The Original VW looked like it did, with the dome shaped roof, bc the tall Germans could fit in it and have head room and be a very short, economical car, and the fenders allowed the main body to be smaller also.  Everything had a Reason for Being.  When the original concept disappears the car will too.
    VW looks desperate to me, and Ive been wrong a couple of times before.  Why dont they just add it to the collection and have a Boys & Girls version, if that is what they want.  Why ruin a good thing.
    P.S.  I love the fact, or fiction, that the original Beetle, had to piggyback onto the MG as an import to the US.  Long live the MG! (my first love!). 

  5. Leah

    I would have to disagree with the author of the article, and agree with the others who also disagree. I really like the new look of the Beetle. I don’t think it looks anything like the hideous excuse for a car that is the PT Cruiser (a.k.a. the eggplant car). In fact, I think it looks a lot more like a Porsche than anything else. I remember seeing the tv ad for this baby and thought, “Wow, this is going to be awesome.” And I still stand by that thought. Does this author realize that VW was founded and originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche? And that Porsche also founded the sports car line Porsche? Hmmm?? I guess not if he thinks the closest resemblance is that of a PT Cruiser. 

  6. Jim

    The 1998 Beetle was not designed it was slapped together. The car was a baseline golf with a different body. If they want to make another classic car like the original beetle then it needs to be designed from the ground up and not just created by using up left over parts. The reason the original beetle was is an automobile icon is that it was designed as the people’s car, created for the everyday man.

  7. Jayne Krensel

    Hopefully Converse won’t decide to change the design of their Chuck Taylors, and Harley won’t decide to come out with a more comfortable, quieter ride… drinking in that much change could be toxic.

  8. Jasmine

    I am female and found the 90-2000s Beetle design to be contrived and cutesy. This new design appeals to me because it looks sleeker and more sophisticated with just the right touch of retro. Perhaps the new design will appeal more not just to men but to women.

  9. Clint

    What a great conversation guys! I owned a 1961 beetle (my first new car ever) and loved it, drove him till Michigan’s salty roadds finally finished him off (yep I said him, his name was Bert) in the late 1980’s.
    Here’s the thing, I don’t look at all like I did in 61 why should the Beetle? I thought the little round New Beetles were cool and the new one is cool too. Change is good, drink it in and enjoy! Besides if you don’t embrace change your career as a designer is going to be pretty short! Keep on Truckin!

  10. Jayne Krensel

    Um.. being a female, and a long time Bug owner, I happen to whole-heartedly agree with Steven! I’ve been sick about this “redesign” after I saw the Black Betty superbowl commercial. My first car was a black, 1967 VW Bug that I bought in 1982 with over 180,000 miles on it. I’ve had several other classic beetles over the years, but currently drive a 2007 New Beetle Convertible (5 speed). Why, I ask, did they need to ruin the whole personality of the car? Why would one even consider messing with such a beloved, iconic design? Was greed the sole motivator for diluting the brand by trying to make it fit within too many demographics… i.e. men) Weren’t they selling enough already? It’s not a Beetle anymore. It’s New Coke. I’m hoping it will get the same reaction as that new Gap logo that lasted a day. I’m just hoping VW comes to their senses before it’s time for me to buy another one. Looks like I’ll be driving this one til I can’t find parts anymore.

  11. Stefan G. Bucher

    Thank you for the post, Steven. I agree with you and Caleb. I bought my first new Beetle in 1999, and my current one in 2004. I’ve never understood why people considered it a “chick car.” Vexing. I remember seeing my first New Beetle driving back from my ill-fated Oregon adventure in 1998. It was zooming through the desert on Interstate 5, gleaming silver in the sun. It looked like a spaceship.
    I bought one after my friend John, the Porsche Mechanic got one, because it had a good engine. But I guess for most people the bud vase just said “Not manly enough.” No boutonnieres for them, either, I suspect. 
    The New Beetle has the best headroom and nicest view of all the cars I’ve tried, and the design feels if not timeless then certainly more durable than most contemporary cars. The new New Beetle… meh. Very PT Cruiser. When I want to get a car that nicely frames my genitals I’ll buy the Camaro. Costs about the same.

  12. Rob Hutti

    Mini Cooper is right. I think VW saw a missed opportunity in the success of the Mini Cooper, and realized that their design (or its perception over the past 15 years) painted themselves into a “girly” corner. The 2012 redesign is clearly a more masculine car, meant for driving. It feels like a mid-life crisis waiting to happen. All the advertising out of DeutschLA has featured men or manish things… like the “Black Beetle” 2011 superbowl spot or the newer “High Five” spot. This is an undeniable contrast to the flowers, hearts and colors of the 1998 half-circle. 
    I understand many didn’t get a feminine vibe from the last redesign, and I would agree in the beginning. I saw the 1998 Beetle in the same camp as the iMac of the same era. Colorful, modern and generally unisex. But as the SUV became the standard in the US, the Beetle’s design got cuter in contrast. Cute is not a good selling point for most men. Enter the Mini Cooper redesign in 2001, its use in movies like the remake of the Italian Job and a marketing message that made it the ultimate “Toy”. Boys aren’t the only ones to play with toy cars, but Barbie drives a pink Beetle. Just say’n. Perception is 98% of fact.

  13. Guilherme

    Tbe point is that in today’s market they just HAVE to release a whole new model every year, even that it just changes a few ramdom things. And people get into this rush of being up to date with the current year model. I personally own an old 74 beetle and a pre 2012 new beetle. I love them both an I love how they made new beetle a tribute to the old one, but also being a new and great car on its own.
    Problem is, how do you keep changing a model year after year when its design is attached to the old one as a redesign and tribute? I think from now on this will only be market obligatory changes in the design to justify the release of a new model. It will stop being a tribute car and go on as an actual contemporary VW line. It has to, for it is the only way to survive.
    So new changes in the design from now on will not be as thoughtful and passionate as were the redesign concept that brought the new beetle alive inspired by the classic.

  14. Brian

    Obviously, VW is looking around, after 14 years of doing practically nothing with the Beetle’s design, and seeing a lot of retro styling competitors on the road. Camaros, Mustangs, PT Cruisers – only the Japanese seem to be avoiding the trend. Mini Coopers have slowly replaced the Beetle as the quirky retro hipster car since its reboot in 2001 thanks to BMW.
    Now VW is in the position of following design trends instead of setting them. The “design as a differentiator” strategy made VW popular, you used to be able to see a VW a mile away because they were so different in shape and detail. Over the past few years that strategy looks to be all but defunct after each new model seems to come out more vanilla than the last. It’s too bad, I guess the Beetle’s time has come. The GTI is next.

  15. Jon

    I too see the family resemblance with the Porsche. In fact, when I read this I started searching for 2012 911 photos, because the headlights on the new Carrera look awfully similarly shaped.
    However, in looking around the internet, I’ve noticed an interesting problem with the shape of the car, which is that it ONLY looks like it shares lines with the Porsche when photographed from the side, below the belt line, and the closer to the ground, the better.
    We all know (although car designers seem to be in denial) that we don’t experience cars from that angle. Ever. The PT Cruiser suffered a similar problem. It looked great in photos taken from a very specific point of view, but once you saw the thing in real life, the illusion was shattered.
    Interstingly, Caleb brings up Subaru as today’s “people’s car,” and I think Subaru is the only car company that seems to suffer the opposite problem. Their new designs tend to photograph very poorly, but be GREAT in person. [Full disclosure: I drive a 2006 B9 Tribeca, possibly one of the ugliest cars ever photographed, but lovely in person.]
    Bringing it back to the Beetle for a second: This design feels like a compromise, especially when viewed from a realistic angle. It seems like they’ve tried to graft a Porsche-ier profile onto the existing Beetle. I wonder how it would sell if they didn’t try and revise an existing model and just came out with a sports car. Maybe resurect the Corrado?

  16. Becky

    Okay, I own a 2007 Beetle and have a totally unrelated question for all the designer Beetle people out there. I have been trying to find the Beetle ad campiagn where the concept was a natural history museum bug box, but instead of real beetles, they were VW Beetles, with thier doors open, so they looked like wings. Anyone know where I can find an example of that campaign? I’m thinking it ran in the 90’s. I collect VW Bettle ads and I want that one to ad to my collection. Help!

  17. Tory

    I am glad to see someone else dislikes the redesign. I am a Graphic Designer. I am a female. I have always loved the original. I have owned a 2002 Beetle. Never thought it was a “girl” car. But on just seeing only the silohuette of the 2012 Beetle, felt something was off. This feels like a midway, half step in a design evolution between the two. That there needed to be a couple more drafts to get the right balance. When I needed a new car, I bought a MINI Cooper.

  18. Caleb

    I think you are spot on.
    The new one reminded me of a Porsche 911 of old. Which is nice if you want to run with the pack. Hey, why not make it puffy like so many of those awkward cars we see today.
    The whole idea of the New Bettle was that it was different and distinctive. It made a statement. I would compare it to the designs that Apple computers has come out with over the years. Maybe they should have done an I-Car.
    As to “macho”, well, I say it takes a secure man to drive a New Beattle. I do not own one, but considered it a few years ago. Lots of headroom, by the way (but not any more).
    These days I see the Subaru as the utilitarian “peoples car” that the old beattle was intended to be.

  19. jodi

    I agree with Josh.  and it does look more Porche-like – which makes perfect sense as Karmann designed for both Porche and VW.  I love this new design, and it looks very much more like my 1977 Superbeetle Karmann Edition than the new Beetle of the last several years.

  20. Inge

    I have to agree with Josh as well. This redesign “corrects” several awkward design concepts. The pre-2012 redesign was a pretty sad event. You almost couldn’t tell the front from the back. I do think that this redesign harks back to the original bug and it’s very appealing.

  21. Susan

    Sorry Steve, it is all about it’s market appeal to men–as Josh and Jason just reinforced. The “half-circle” beetle definitely appealed more to a female market share. And we all know women don’t count. I thoroughtly agree with you about how the new VW is a retro version and the resemblance to the PT Cruiser is striking. This has no resemblance the the real muscle of a Porsche. Could this be the start of a faux-muscle trend?

  22. Philip O’Neill

    Just before entering the Lincoln Tunnel yesterday, I noticed a billboard for the new Beetle proclaiming, “It’s a Boy.” Yes, it’s definitely an attempt to “masculinize” the car, the brand, whatever. It surprised me just how un-subtle it was. Aren’t contemporary Germans more enlightened than that? It hasn’t made me a convert either way. I don’t care for the earlier design, nor the newer. But then I drive a station wagon, so that puts me way off their demographic target!

  23. Steven Heller Post author

    Josh’s comment echoes many of the critiques of the pre-2012 redesign. The masculinity issue has been repeated over and over. But I never saw the original Bug as masculine or feminine. And I didn’t make the distinction with the revised version. Instead it was a beautiful adaptation for the 21st century. We all have preferences, and it’ll be fascinating to see whether or not men buy into the new VW design.

  24. Josh

    I personally couldn’t disagree more.  The half-circle beetle seemed like an awkward attempt to modernize an old design, cheaply and with little thought.  Bud-vases are a nice touch but the car never did well, and never looked very good going down the road.  There were several of the old-school body beetle body styles and the original had more of a “fast-back” style, more like what we see here. Definitely more masculine, the new car is a statement-maker.  It doesn’t look like a sweet-16 birthday present, and I’m betting the new model outsells the 90-2000s beetle by a landslide.  I for one couldn’t be happier about the redesign.  I can’t wait to see these on the road.