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VW Looking To Beetle To Save Its Brand Again

Posted by: David Kiley on February 1, 2008


Volkswagen, once again, appears to be turning to the Beetle to boost its fortunes.

Automotive News reported that a new brand campaign from Volkswagen hitting the airwaves and other media in February will feature a classic Beetle that talks, named “Max,” who plays the role of a talk-show host.

It is part of an advertising overhaul in which VW is changing its ad slogan to “Das Auto.” It had been using “Drivers Wanted” for more than a decade, but agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been de-emphasizing the line.

Of course, the Beetle is the undeniable iconic representation of the Volkswagen brand. In the early 1990s when Volkswagen’s future in the U.S. was so much in doubt because of tanking sales, it was the concept-car design of what became the “New Beetle” that saved Volkswagen. The debut of the concept, which led to the production car being sold today, generated so much attention and goodwill around the VW brand that people flocked to VW dealerships even before the car went on sale in 1999. After that, many went to VW dealerships to see the New Beetle, but manay went away with the Jettas and Passats.

Volkswagen in Germany has long been ambivalent about the Beetle. To many German executives, the car represents Germany’s past, and a dark past. The Beetle, of course, was hatched as Hitler’s “people’s car.” After the war, the cars dominated German streets, as well as those of other European countries. It became the top import sold in the U.S. in the 1960s and early 1970s. As beloved as the car was, German car executives by the late 1960s and 70s were anxious to turn the page on the utilitarian little car. It went out of production for the U.S. in 1979, but continued to be sold in developing markets—notably Mexico, where it was still built until 2003. But the car’s story has never been far from the surface of the brand no matter what the company does in terms of new products and marketing.

Today, VW is losing close to $1 billion a year in the U.S. And sales have fallen by more than 100,000 units a year in the last few years. The company no has a bold product and sales plans that calls for many more products for the U.S. market and 800,000 sales a year by 2018.

New Volkswagen America chief Stefan Jacoby has said that he plans to drive a refurbishment of the current New Beetle, and not turn the brand’s back on its Beetle heritage.

I’ll reserve judgment on the ads until I actually see them. But I’m wondering, without a fresh New Beetle design, how effective resurrecting the classic Beetle will be in driving VW’s sales. Part of the problem, as I have seen it, with VW’s marketing is a lack of consistency. In 2006, the company went from a funny campaign for the GTI featuring a blonde domintrix named Helga and effete engineer named Wolfgang to startling ads showing how well VW’s withstood side-impact crashes. Then there was a baffling effort featuring heavy-metal rocker Slash offering free guitars with cars.

I think the public has lost the plot with the VW brand.

And when they go to the Internet to comparison shop, they don’t find favorable ratings for quality, reliability and service. That is in stark contrast to the experience most people remember with their classic Beetles.

Reader Comments


February 1, 2008 2:00 PM

I think many people are already aware of VW's quality and reliability problems long before they hit the Internet. Internet research (and especially online reviews and ratings) only compounds this word-of-mouth problem.

Personally, I love German cars, but after owning a 2000 Jetta - and all its rattling - I'll probably never go back to VW.


February 2, 2008 9:48 PM

Why can VW's Audi division build reliable cars and VW can't? I had a VW rabbit and it was the worst car I've ever had. The dash kept bursting into flames and spewing out toxic black smoke.

At that time, VW's slogan was, "It's not a car, it's a Volkswagen," and I just wanted a car!

Finally, if the German's at VW don't like the history of the beetle, they kind of need to change the name of the company, don't they, since it is, after all, "People's Car," a name which comes from the same sorry heritage.


February 4, 2008 11:40 AM

I think it is Volkswagen that has lost the plot with its brand. The public can't help but be confused. The current Passat and Jetta are so bloviated and bland, they've kind of lost their German-car attributes, leaving only the bad reliablity reputation.


February 4, 2008 12:32 PM

I'm a VW enthusiast and I can tell you the company is frustratingly inconsistent. They will map out a grand strategy, only to have it scrapped in a year because of the constant turnover at the executive level.

They're years late to the crossover game, and there is no excuse for the lack of diesel availability right now. I know all about the 50 state requirements, but if it were Toyota, they would have started development way earlier.

Quality is hit and miss. My 2006 Jetta has been an exceptional car, and I have heard very few negative experiences regarding them in general. However, the Passat is still in the basement when it comes to reliability.

Dealer service is also hit or miss, but more misses than hits. It seems that in an effort to save money, VW has clamped down on authorizing warranty work so one really has to complain to get their supposedly "abused" alternator fixed. The obvious answer here is that if your cars don't break, you won't need to worry about warranty costs.

There is a disconnect regarding what "quality" means in Germany versus the USA. In Germany, quality means the car has tight panel gaps, a high level of fit and finish, and that the car doesn't break down on the side of the autobahn. In contrast, if ANYTHING breaks on a car in the USA, such as the glove compartment, radio, or trim pieces, it is perceived to be of low quality even though it may never leave you stranded. Hence the previous posters comment about the rattling.

Furthermore, the pricing of today's VWs is totally out of line with the market here. To Joe Carbuyer, a Camry is basically the same thing as a Passat. He looks and sees the Camry starts at $18,000 and is reasonably well equipped at $21,000. Then, he goes to the VW dealer and about falls over when he finds the Passat starts at $24,000, and well equipped models are about $27,000. Joe says "well the Passat is good, but it's not that good" and buys a Camry.

The grand strategy of selling 800,000 cars per year in the USA is basically doomed to fail without sweeping reforms at all levels of the company. They must keep their svelte European designs, excellent driving dynamics, and high levels of safety, while reforming their quality control, product pricing, and dealer network.

It's a tall order, and sadly I don't think they can do it. I hope I'm wrong though.


February 4, 2008 3:10 PM

I think Volkswagens are over-all very poorly built forms of transportation. They have terrible resale valus and many problems. The only time I have ever enjoyed them was the Beetles of the 70's my mom had. I feel sorry for Volkswagen. They should do well with their new micro-bus though! Passatt is a joke. Jetta is no bettah'! The New Beetle's are a hit and miss proposition.


February 4, 2008 7:03 PM

I think few realize just how solid the latest model line-up of Volkswagens are. The current body-style Jetta, Passat, Touareg, and Rabbit are of quality build, highest safety standards, with exciting German-engineered ride and comfort. Volkswagen has had their quality issues in the past, but I think they're on the right track to widening their product line-up with 5 new models scheduled for launch this year. Das Auto does play on the tradition that Volkswagen has had in Germany for being thee quintessential that has had few quality concerns in its home country. Continued tightening of quality of build will bring back the reputation this brand has had in the past. Max will underscore the heritage that has made this brand what it is today.


February 5, 2008 2:22 AM

Sadly, VW quality concerns are not limited to the US market. My current Golf was built at the Wolfsburg plant in Germany, unlike US Golfs. Despite this it has been a series of headaches. Golfs owned by friends have also been problematic and unreliable. My dealer had a solution which was to buy the extended warranty and then sell the car when the warranty expired. Not something you would hear from a Honda dealer, for example. On the other hand, Audi seem to be able to build cars which are reliable and high-quality. Why can't they help VW to do the same?


February 5, 2008 11:14 AM

While I know there are greater profits to be made selling cars to executives, I think VW needs to sell a whole range of vehicles in America just like they do in the rest of the world. Maybe that means they need to bring to America the cheaper Skoda and Seat Brands. Whatever the case they need to sell the Fox and Rabbit (why not leave it named the GOLF???) here as well as the Passat and Jetta.

They have interesting vehicles but they need to market them better. I don't mean they did not do a clever job. Clever they have done pretty well. I mean they need to sell them to the average American - the Chevy drivers - and not just to the young trendy folks. The Eurovan is a good example. GREAT minivan though very European with its unconventional 5 cylinder engine (early models only) but still able to carry a full load and a huge interior. We have friends with nearly 200K miles on their van with the original engine and automatic transmission (never rebuilt). The problem is that outside of the VW enthusiast circles nobody I know has ever been in one or gave it a thought when they went shopping for a minivan. VW could bring back the same last version van with a turbo diesel and sell them. I think it is rated at nearly 30 mpg in Europe. I'd love to have a TDI Eurovan on standby in the garage for travel. We prefer small cars for the daily commute...

Their lack of quality reputation is their biggest short coming for me. I drive a 1997 VW (Golf) Cabrio and as much as I like it I actually turn people away from the brand warning them of a laundry list of minor problems that costs me nearly nothing to fix but would cost the average person totally reliant on a mechanic a fortune just in labor costs. This car is solid but the leather interior creaks, exhaust vibrates, engine idles poorly (dirty throttle body or vacuum leak I think, am investigating this weekend), and the door panels are peeling away from the tops of the door (factory did not use enough leather to properly wrap it around the top edge of the backer board. Needed another inch at least). Disintegrating engine plastics such as the thermostat housing (on every VW I've known of lately - how about some aluminum in place of the plastic?), hoses, and a list of other minor problems.

We have a 1999 Honda CR-V with nearly the same mileage on it. This vehicle is aging flawlessly with no problems. In fact aside from normal maintenance and a leaky radiator it has been flawless. Same story with 3 other Hondas.

Why can't VW do this?

I'll buy a used VW again b/c I like their style but I won't recommend them to anyone. If VW (or Gm or Ford or Chrysler) want to change people's opinion of them they'll have to build a quality product for a long, long time. They can damage their quality reputation in a fraction of the time it takes to rebuild it.

Am seriously considering bringing our '65 Beetle or '78 VW Westfalia out of retirement/part time use and putting them back into daily service b/c my commute is so short...

Gordon Wagner

February 5, 2008 12:51 PM

Can I purchase and import a Brazilian bus? I understand they're still manufactured there. The ORIGINAL mini-van.

VW had a service organization that was second to none up until about 1975 -- and then they let it go to seed. Why? They threw away the most beloved vehicle ever to hit US roads. And replaced it with a "Dasher," I believe. When's the last time you saw a Dasher on the road?


February 5, 2008 7:54 PM

I've owned four VWs in my lifetime, including an '07 Jetta, and they have been very good cars. I know the 99-03 cars had poor qulity experience, but from what I've seen (my experience and comments of OWNERS on forums), the current generation cars are quite good. David, what is the likelihood of us getting the Polo in the U.S.? A 60-70 MPG car is what they need to get attention.


February 15, 2008 10:29 PM

The latest year long term reliability ratings are available for is 2004 (needs three years of service). 2/5 for feature/accessories dependability, 2/5 for body and interior dependability, 2.5/5 for powertrain, and owner overall dependability 2/5. I think that's the worst of any car sold.

John Barna

February 29, 2008 10:54 PM

According to Kelly Blue Book, The Volkswagen Brand has the highest resale value for 2008.

I have owned many Volkswagens and will always be a VW owner.

Andy B

May 21, 2008 12:51 AM

Just bought my 6th VW today - never had an issue with any of them - a car of character that keeps me from being like every other schmo (without getting gouged for a SAAB)


May 29, 2008 10:20 AM

I recently bought a 1970 Beetle and am restoring it with new parts. It is a great car and if they would just take this same design, modernize it SLIGHTLY...not like the 'new beetle' which is boring and looks like a pokemon character, people would go nuts for the car again. They could even introduce low gas sipping engine mods and it would be fantastic.

It seems blind that they can't see that. Hell, I wish I could buy the rights to the OG design and do it myself! If people wanted a everyday coupe or sedan, well...of course they will just buy the jetta or go to a different manufacturer.

Abd rahman hj mohd Hassan

June 19, 2008 2:26 AM

i love vorkswagen very much, its my late father car, he like's very much..
now im take care of it, its became haritage of my son's also like very hard to find the spare part in brunei.


June 25, 2008 10:36 PM

I'm pretty sure the cool Buggy on the Volkswagen commercial is black and talks like a sale's men about the new car

mitchell palen

July 18, 2008 11:26 PM


danny madayag

July 25, 2008 4:12 AM

I bought a 1973 VW 1300 Beetle here in the Philippines in April and the first time I drove it after buying it from the former owner, and since I just bought it cheap, it was in a very sorry state of condition. There was wide clearance play in the steering wheel, the tires were almost bald and spent out, the generator was not charging prompting me to just rely on a fully-charged battery, none of the gauges was working properly, the sound of the motor was so terrible that I was so embarassed to drive it home, the flooring had rust and holes on it, the body needed general repair, the sparkplug cables and the sparkplug themselves were of different types, the air cleaner and filter needed to be change and what have you. I drove it more than 100 kilometers all the way to our home. The car had not been driven for less than a year if I'm not mistaken but the oil seemed alright at least to negotiate the distance. At first, I tried to be gentle in handling it since I still doubted its performance, but after, say, twenty kilometers, I gradually began to have confidence in it and I tried to accelerate more and to my amusement it roared like a lion from a deep slumber. For a car that had been idle for less than a year that as quite a performance. Now, if this kind of car could perform that way in that condition, what more if it was properly maintained? True, as the joke goes, Volkswagen Classic Beetles were designed and manufactured by real engineers, while today's cars by lawyers and accountants. Need I say more?

danny madayag

July 25, 2008 4:37 AM

I bought a 1973 VW 1300 Classic Beetle here in the Philippines in April and since I just bought it cheap, it goes without saying that the car was in a verry sorry state of roadworthiness. None of the gauges was working properly, there was only one wiper functioning, there were loose contacts with the lightinngs systems, all the tires were almost bald, there was a play on the steering wheel's clearance, the flooring was coroded with rust, I had to rely on a fully-charged battery and had to travel at daylight to avoid using headlights since the generator was not functioning, the body needed repairs, the sound of the motor was so terrible as an offshoot of it having not in use for almost one year, the sparkplug cables as well as the sparkplug themselves were of different types and make, the air cleaner as well as the filter was so dirty and there were drags on first and second gear drives. I had to negotiate more than 100 kilometers of travel from the former owner's place to ours for me to bring it home. At first I had to handle it gently because of doubts on its roadworthiness. Yes, I test-drove it but not for this lenght of travel. After, say, 20 kilometers of not encountering engine quits, I decided to accelerate more and as I traveled farther, more acceleration. To my amusement it was quite a performance for a car which had been idle for almost a year. If this car could negotiate more that a hundred kilometers in that conditon, what more if it's in real tip-top condition? True, as the joke goes, VW Classic Beetles were designed and manufactured by real engineeres, today's cars by lawyers and accountants. Do I need say more?


January 8, 2009 8:40 AM

I have a 1975 1303j super beetle and it is great.It goes where you want on snow, on mud, winter, sommer makes no diference and I've never heard of a beetle owner compalaining about it.My father had one, my brother had one now I have one.And I love the idea of making beetles once again, I'd buy a new one imediatly and keep the old one as a souvenier from the good old times.Thanks:) Beetle RULES


August 18, 2009 12:02 PM

my first car was 09 jetta and ever since i have driven a vw, i never wish to drive any other car, its it was made for me, i have never had a single problem with, and my 2nd car wasthe old beetle 74 model its still going strong, with vw you will never go wrong!!!!

louie allen

September 4, 2009 11:41 AM

i love vw


September 20, 2009 9:12 AM

I wish VW company would go back to the basiics and start making the classic beetlecars all overagain.These machine were strong and reliabe compared with todaysbeetle cousins.Beetle makers should wake up and realize thatpeople are going to great lenghts in searching for old stalled cars andbringing them to life.the only disapointment is that even spare parts are difficult toget.VW Company should rethink theirposition and revive this sought for GOLDEN car.

Roy Arnold

September 12, 2010 3:56 PM

Restoring a 74 beetle. Have taken this vehicle completely apart. I'm amazed how well this little car is put together. I guess VW can't build like they used to in today's market. The Japanese and other Asian manufactures have put the squeeze on auto builders elsewhere. High labor cost must be offset with cheaper materials,manufactuing and design. Europeans dont work cheap. Shouldn't have to. I still love VW's though.

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