After Volkswagen announced their decision to stop the production — after the current generation — of its iconic Beetle, many car enthusiasts and auto dealers around the world gave out a collective sigh. Beetle in its sleek avatar has been in production since 1997, meeting its next generation in 2011. However, before these innovations Beetle used to be a rear engine, air-cooled two door vehicle considered to be the most important car of the 20th Century. It is one of the oldest nameplates in automobile history still in use today. Volkswagen’s research and development leader, Frank Welsch told Autocarthat “two or three generations is enough now” for the Beetle. “The car was made with history in mind but you cannot do it five times,” he announced.
The Beetle first met the world when Ferdinand Porche came up with building the first people’s car in Germany. Later Adolf Hitler commissioned him to make cars for high ranking officers and for military purposes when the World War II hit. After production restarted in 1947, American and European countries started importing Beetles, and by the mid 1960s the little VW bug was flooding Europe and America. Beetle never received major changes in its styling and performance until 1997 when the car got its first redesign, the first generation of the modern day Volkswagen Beetle with smooth curves and upgraded performance.
Considering worldwide statistics, shipment of Volkswagen Beetle to Nepal might not be as significant or large in number. However, Volkswagen Beetle has always been a sight to behold. From smoke blowing vintage Beetle to the fine bright metallic model, the iconic hatchback has always stood out in the crowd. Old Beetles can still be seen on the roads of Kathmandu. Avash Mishra, who had once owned Beetle, says, “The market value of the old Beetle might have dropped but the Beetle is still an eye- catcher. I enjoyed weekend drives in the old machine despite its limited performance.”
However, due to low fuel efficiency and high maintenance cost people are letting the Beetle go at cheap resale. Mishra says, “The drawbacks of the Beetle were its high maintenance cost and difficulty in finding spare parts.”
The old VW bug is a historical car owned by several people for its sentimental value. 1969 VW Beetle owner, Sudhigya Pant says, “My father used to drive it and now I feel proud and happy driving it myself.” He shares, “It has a mechanical feel to it. It is very good for people who are interested in driving vintage cars.”
Pant, along with many other classic Beetle owners, have formed a group named Association of Nepal Bug Users’ Group (ANBUG) to bring together people who connect to the VW Bug.
Despite being mentioned on the list of the most influential vehicles multiple times in the past century, the sale figures of this vehicle could be seen dwindling in recent years. Keeping up with changing times, the modern version of the Beetle was made available in coupe and convertible models. The latest model of the Beetle is equipped with all the modern safety and comfort features that include forward collision warning system, airbags, air conditioning et cetera.
With an 1800 cc engine delivering 170 horsepower it cannot be said that the new VW Bug is not a worthy hatchback but in comparison to the snazzier hatchbacks of this generation, the bug struggled to make it to the finish line. Assistant Sales Manager for Pooja International Nepal, AasutoshGautam says, “The sales is not as high as our other models, but there is still considerable interest when it comes to the iconic Beetle.” However, Volkswagen is putting their ID Buzz concept — fully electric microbus — on production. This concept takes inspiration from the legendary Volkswagen type II — nicknamed as the hippie van — to replace the retro throwback look given by the Beetle. The electric model of the California-hippie microbus, the ID Buzz is due on sale by 2022.
The modern day car market is more about SUVs and CUVs that can do it all. There is very less space for cars that are not practical for daily driving and not equipped with comfort features. However, there is no doubt that retro car lovers will miss the Beetle. Will the Volkswagen ID Buzz be successful in replacing the Beetle as a retro vibe vehicle? We will have to wait and see.
A version of this article appears in print on March 27, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.