I was a little surprised when new VW of America chief Stefan Jacoby told me in September that he was pushing for a new design of the New Beetle. Designed in the mid 1990s, the iconic car is long in the tooth to say the least.
So, it is with enthusiasm that I hear VW’s development chief Ulrich Hackenberg in Automotive News talking about a fresh look for the New Beetle.
Most of the Germans in Wolfsburg never liked the New Beetle. Alot of stateside pundits didn’t like it much either. But it definitely served a purpose—like saving VW of America. The hype and interest around the NB in 1997 and 1998 drove interest in the VW brand and its new Jetta and Passat models. And that energy continued after the NB launched in 1999. Without the NB, VW of America would have been in serious, if not fatal, trouble.
I’ve often thought it might be difficult to re-do the Beetle again and have it really look fresh. But here is a thought. Perhaps it doesn’t have to look so much like the original Beetle, or the NB. What if designers took the idea and purpose of the original Volkswagen Type 1 (later to be called Beetle) and stuck to that premise of affordable, durable transportation for the masses. Maybe we don’t need the literal arched roofline and bulbous front and back.
One thing I could never get passed with the NB is the strange packaging of the car on the Golf platform that put the driver so far back in the car. When I drive it, it feels like I’m sitting behind where the front seat should go, not in the front seat. There is too much car in front of me for such a small vehicle.
Of course, the original Beetle gave one the sensation of driving over the windshield wipers…because that’s pretty much what you are doing when you drive an original.
I think the NB is ubiquitous and familiar enough that any literal riff on that design is going to be a let-down, just as many were actually disappointed with the drive characteristics of the NB, compared with the original.
I think a proper homage to Dr. Porsche, who designed the original, would to not be so much a slave to the arched design of the Beetle, but take his philosophy and create a thoroughly modern design around that.