If you’ve been paying attention to Volkswagen’s lineup of concept cars lately, this really isn’t too big a shock—in fact, we’ve been speculating this would happen since 2015—but now it’s official: Volkswagen will not be bringing back a new version of their modernized icon, the Beetle, next year. Don’t be too upset, though; we’re getting a new Bus, instead.
Unlike many hardcore, old-school air-cooled VW obsessives, I always liked the reborn Beetles. Sure, they were essentially just Golfs wearing Beetle costumes, but they still showed that VW was willing to respect and acknowledge their heritage, something they hadn’t really done prior to the original New Beetle launch in 1997.
If you just accept that these modern, water-cooled cars are more tributes to the original Beetle rather than actual continuations or replacements for the original, they make more sense. They were Golfs, sure, but they had novel styling and a greater sense of fun. In an era where nearly every car looks like a pissed dustbuster, the Beetle’s retro design and friendly face was a nice thing to see on the roads.
The 2011 redesign gave the Beetle a very welcome injection of athleticism and a more focused, agile look without losing the friendly Beetle charm. I think it’s a good-looking car even out of its considerable context.
Still, VW’s done. As Frank Welsch, Volkswagen’s head of R&D, said at the Geneva Auto Show,
“Two or three generations is enough now...you can’t do it five times and have a new new new Beetle.”
Welsch confirmed that Volkswagen would still have a ‘heritage’ offering in the lineup, but it’s going to be the re-born and electric bus, based on the ID Buzz concept car, and that new bus can look much more like the original, thanks to MEB, VW’s new electric car platform:
“... you can do a bus and be an authentic vehicle with the original shape, and steering wheel mounted like the original. You can’t do that with an engine in the front. The shape you see on the concept is realistic... People asked when production starts on the car, so we decided to go that way. Better to have that than having five generations of a new Beetle.”
So, while part of me is sad that you won’t be able to buy a new car that looks like a Beetle, the fact that VW seems committed to keeping a heritage-inspired vehicle in the lineup is just about as good. Actually, if we’re honest, making the Bus instead of the Beetle is really a much better decision.
The market is ready for something new, and the Bus provides practicality the Beetle never had, along with nearly as much nostalgia value and a strong cult following. It’s the right move.
That said, I think there’s a place for yet another Beetle re-incarnation in the future, but I think the Bug should come back as something closer to its roots: a cheap, entry-level car.
I’ve pitched this idea before, and while I’m not under the illusion anyone at VW is listening, I still think it’s a good idea.
Anyway, it was nice knowing you, re-born, water-cooled not-really-a-Beetle-Beetle. I bet we’ll meet again, in some other form.