Back in March, several automotive outlets reported that at the Geneva Auto Show, Volkswagen confirmed that the Beetle won’t be replaced when the current model goes out of production. This announcement made some people sad — increasingly fewer people than ever before, but some people nonetheless. Not me. I’m thrilled — and I think it should’ve happened a long time ago.
I still remember when the New Beetle launched, back in 1998 or so. At the time I considered it to be basically the coolest, most exciting thing on the road, largely because it was an automaker being "cool" at a time when nobody was doing that. That, and because I lived in Denver before it got "cool," and nobody had any exotic cars at the time. When it came to cool, the New Beetle was it.
I also remember what subsequently happened to the New Beetle. After a few years, people started to lose interest. So they came out with a convertible version, which helped — but then, after a while, people started to lose interest. So they facelifted it for the 2006 model year with new powertrains, updated styling and new technology, which helped yet again — but people started to lose interest. They finally canceled the New Beetle in 2010, and it seemed very clear this cool, fun thing had happened, but it had run its course, and now it was over.
Except, it wasn’t over. After skipping the 2011 model year, Volkswagen came out with yet another New Beetle for 2012, pitched as a more thrilling, more modern take on the New Beetle. This was, in my opinion, one of the most unusual decisions in the car industry in the last decade or so.
When the New Beetle started to die the first time in the mid-2000s, it was clear to everyone who observed the automotive industry that Volkswagen really wanted to improve sales and become a Toyota or a Honda, and the way to do that was by creating a popular midsize SUV. Everyone else had done it: The Toyota Highlander came out in 2001. The Honda Pilot came out in 2003. Mazda had gotten in with the CX-9. The Ford Explorer was popular, blah blah blah. Volkswagen needed to be next. And when the New Beetle died in 2010, it was very clear that the thing should end and that Volkswagen should focus its energy on mainstream success. A midsize SUV would be smart.
But, strangely, this didn’t happen. Volkswagen — which, for years, has insisted it wanted to be the largest automaker in the world — instead focused its energy on sideshow cars like the Eos, the CC and, indeed, a newer New Beetle, none of which had any sort of mass appeal. A midsize SUV existed, in the Touareg, but it was priced and marketed to compete with luxury vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Volkswagen sales dropped — and no car saw worse declines than the New Beetle.
Here’s what I mean: In 2000, the Beetle’s peak year, Volkswagen sold 81,600 units in the United States. The best year the second-generation model ever recorded was 2013, when it moved 43,000 units — about half of its previous high. And last year, Volkswagen sold just 15,200 Beetle models here in the U.S. Whatever novelty the Beetle had when it was first revived back in 1998 has worn off, and the market has spoken: We’re done with the Beetle.
It seems Volkswagen is finally listening, as it appears the brand is finally killing off the Beetle — an announcement that was made with surprisingly little fanfare or disappointment. A few years ago, Volkswagen also finally came out with the midsize SUV we’ve all been waiting for, the Atlas — a decade late, but finally here. Volkswagen is finally turning into the mainstream brand it has always insisted it wanted to be — and, along the way, it seems to have realized the Beetle doesn’t fit into that plan. Sorry, Beetle fans, but it’s for the best.