No. 770,
October 29, 2014

About The Autoextremist

What do you do when when you've been immersed in all things automotive since before you took your first steps? When you're the scion of an automotive family in an automotive town in its very own automotive universe? When you've forgotten more about cars and motorsports and everything and everyone involved in the business than most people will ever know? When cars aren't just in your blood, but also in your bones and your brain and the very air you breathe? If you're Peter M. De Lorenzo, you ramp it up a bit further. National commentator, industry consultant and author (as well as former superstar ad man), De Lorenzo's daily (and nightly) focus for the past 15 years has been Autoextremist.com, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Translation: De Lorenzo likes to tell the truth about what's really going on behind the scenes in the car business. And sometimes, things get ugly. Real ugly. But he is as passionate with his praise as he is with his critiques, and Autoextremist has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals in all industries. De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today. It's the very definition of a high-octane life. And it's what fuels De Lorenzo to keep the pedal down - hard. He won't stop because he can't stop. A bit tired, perhaps? No way. De Lorenzo is one of the most untired people we know.

De Lorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. De Lorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Tuesday
Apr192011

THE AUTOEXTREMIST

April 20, 2011

 

A “Beetle” in name only.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 4/19, 4:30 p.m.) Detroit. With the VW Group’s take on the 2012 Beetle, I think we can safely say that any long-held association between the iconic German “People’s Car” that captured the hearts of American drivers back in the 50s and 60s and the idealistic “Flower Power” image that grew up around it is officially dead and buried. At least the previous generation New Beetle made a stab at visual continuity (even though critics derided its poor space utilization and other shortcomings). But the 2012 version? This is an entirely different animal altogether.

This 2012 Beetle is visibly slicker and more sophisticated inside and out, and it has more in common with some of the less expensive Audi models in the VW Group than it does with anything else. It’s almost unfortunate that it’s even called “Beetle” at all, as it seems to be deserving of a completely different moniker befitting its newly sophisticated character and grownup stance.

It’s no secret that the VW Group is hell bent on global automobile industry domination, and everything it touches in every segment it chooses to play in resonates with its burgeoning philosophy of giving customers more of the premium look and feel they expect, while sharing development costs under the skin where they can get away with it to the point that huge profits result.

And the 2012 version of the Beetle is perfectly attuned to that mission. Longer and wider, the 2012 Beetle has about as much in common with the original concept of Dr. Porsche’s “people’s car” as it does with a '57 Chevy. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. When the New Beetle was brought back over a decade ago its nostalgia factor was high but its real-world automotive performance was only so-so. And for the most part that was okay because people didn’t care, they were buying into an aura and that was good enough.

But this is 2012, and the global automotive universe has changed. Hyundai/Kia, Ford and an intermittently re-energized GM have aggressively attacked the U.S. market, and the Japanese traditionalists Toyota and Honda don’t hold nearly the sway over the American consumer that they once did. And VW dealers, who have long persevered through the delusions of their German overlords when it comes to marketing here in the U.S., and who are now saddled with an even more unfathomable and overly ambitious sales goal of 800,000 units by 2018, need all of the ammo they can get their hands on, which means yet another take on a nostalgia-infused Beetle isn’t going to cut it.

Not to mention the most obvious change to the automotive landscape, and that is that the world now rotates around China’s axis, and every future product decision by every automaker begins with the question: Will it sell in China and if not, can we make a case for it to live somewhere else?

So the VW Group has “reimagined” the Beetle in its new corporate likeness, and that means it is sophisticated and polished like its other corporate offerings. And the clearly more aggressive design language is calculated to appeal to masculine tastes, so that VW’s reach into the market can be expanded even further. But in doing so VW has seen to it that it bears no resemblance to any Beetle of any era, no matter how hard they try to spin it otherwise.

Will the 2012 Beetle turn-off the Beetle “purists?” At least the smattering of those left anyway? Yes, of course it will. To them it will be viewed as an affront to everything pure and tie-dyed and yet another nail in the coffin of a bygone era (an era that wasn’t all that hot to begin with if you must know, but I digress).

But will it matter in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely not. The fact that the 2012 Beetle is calculated to be different, with its more aggressive stance, look and feel - inside and out - is completely understandable. In a world of $25,000+ Mini Coopers and shockingly competitive Hyundais, Chevys and Fords, VW clearly had no choice.

Will they be able to convince consumers here and around the world that the 2012 Beetle is worth owning? Probably, but only up to a point. With each new product offering VW is running hard up against the oversaturation axiom that still dominates this business. And that is when too many models are stuffed into a given market segment, there are more “have nots,” than “haves.” That’s just the law of the automotive jungle.

In that regard you’d think that the 2012 Beetle would have a leg up on its competitors with the recognition factor of the Beetle name. And that would be the case if the 2012 Beetle actually looked like a Beetle. But it doesn’t and that means that VW will be basically starting over with trying to convince people to give the car a serious look.

If they try to do it with Beetle nostalgia marketing they’re going to get killed, because there aren’t enough Shiny Happy smiley faces and stick-on rainbows to make that happen, and consumers just aren’t going to buy it.

If they try to position the car as an alternative to the Mini they might just have a shot, especially given its level of sophistication and the potential of its newfound sporting appeal.

But that’s only if it wasn’t saddled with all of the preconceived notions and nostalgia of the Beetle name.

The VW Group remains resolute in the fact that they know absolutely everything there is to know about in the car business. And they rarely make mistakes, and even if they do they rarely ever acknowledge them.

But they’ve clearly out-thought themselves on the 2012 Beetle. With its look and feel and level of sophistication, this car deserves a new name along with its new contemporary point of view.

Because it’s a “Beetle” in name only.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

 

 

 

 

 

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