“A car like this,” we are told, “deserves a world stage.” The car in question is the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, we are a room full of journalists, and the world is a fairly nifty 24-hour cascade of vehicle reveal events that kicked off in Shanghai, continue now in New York, and wrap later in Berlin.
Our section of the world stage, we imagine, doesn’t differ from the others. Fair enough, as the pre-reveal alone is immersive and fun, and would work in any market. Some 200 of us are sequestered in a non-descript warehouse, Pier 36, along Manhattan’s East River. Enormous dark-velvet-curtained presentation areas have been roped off, fitting in nicely with the industrial concrete aesthetic. At the centre, though, the main-attraction room is almost blinding in its whiteness – walls, staging and floors. Two giant screens hang over the main podium, showing rainforest footage that complements the recent Beetle Superbowl commercial.
It turns out that every wall is a white-screen, and a filmic jungle soon breaks through every crack. One small explosion later and the two giant stageside screens drop to reveal black and red Beetles –21st Century Beetles, per Volkswagen’s official name for the model.
A lot of elegant speechifying ensues, and terms like “iconic design” and “emotional equity” are heard more than a few times. Requisite numbers are bandied about, and they are admittedly impressive: seven decades of Beetle; almost 25 million vehicles sold worldwide (over 25 per cent of that in North America); a 20% annual sales increase for Volkswagen in 2010 and a record-setting 23% sales increase for the month of March 2011.
But our ears really prick up when the third speaker, designer Klaus Bischoff, admits, “We wanted a masculine character [for this Beetle]… we threw away everything and redesigned it completely.” Complete redesign? The bug’s out of the bag: This isn’t your girl’s car anymore. Volkswagen won’t admit it in so many words, but they’re coming for the BMW Mini and the Fiat 500.
And they’re coming at Turbo speed…
Tomorrow on DailyXY: Under the hood and inside the strategy of the male-targeted Beetle redesign.