NEW YORK – Volkswagen design chief Klaus Bischoff puts a finer point on the German auto maker’s motivation behind its redesign of the ’12 Beetle, saying the goal was not so much to inject masculinity into the iconic car as it was to take it back to its post-war roots.

“I won’t do a car that I cannot see myself in,” Bischoff tells Ward’s after introducing the Beetle here earlier. “It was a product with a lot of compromises.

“It was successful, especially for the American market and important for giving the brand momentum,” he adds, but was hardly the early driver-centric car Ferdinand Porsche penned.

So designers set out to capture the earnestness of the early Beetle, focusing on a facial expression carrying more seriousness than whimsy. “We did not want to prolong the toy-ish design of its predecessor,” he says. “We wanted to go back to a look that concentrated on the future…And not cute.”

At the same time, Bischoff did not want an overly aggressive expression. For example, the front end again uses the headlamps for the car’s iconic “eyes,” but the light projectors now include small silver “brows” to impart the idea of earnestness.

In addition, designers replaced the classic Beetle’s chrome bumper with a black air intake, which provides a horizontal element to complete the facial expression. “We came up with a design that looks serious and non-aggressive, like a good friend,” he says.

Arguably a more male friend, Bischoff admits. The longer hood suggests a bigger engine. A wider track gives the vehicle a sportier look. A more sloped roofline enhances the coupe design. And the quirky flower vase has been jettisoned.

The result, he says, is an automotive design and not a product design, as before.

“Now the entire design leads to the process of having fun while you’re driving,” Bischoff says. “Before, it was like driving in your living room – there was a table here, a flower there. The concentration was on the inside. Now it is more performance-oriented, more like a sports car.”

He says a design competition was put out for his staff, a gamut of offerings was returned and the auto maker settled on something between the most conservative and the most outlandish. “There was common agreement we needed to follow the design cues of the original.”

It also did not happen overnight, due to extensive reworking to the basic architecture to accommodate the new styling.

“(The redesign) needed time to make tremendous changes to the drivetrain, to the axle, to incorporate the bigger wheel,” he says. “If you don’t have the architecture correct, you have to use styling elements and things get out of proportion.”

Bischoff also reveals the Beetle redesign almost did not happen, as management back in Wolfsburg considered putting the nameplate on the shelf. Ultimately, they could not give up on such a known entity as the auto maker begins the most aggressive growth period in its history.

“This is a rare breed,” he says. “Other auto makers would die for something like this. It carries huger capital. Everyone in the world knows the Beetle.”

Expect future VW designs, such as the next Golf, to depart from the mainstream, Bischoff says. New offerings in the Jetta and Passat have been criticized for being homogenous, but he calls them core products with “clean, reduced designs” successfully retaining the brand’s identity.

“We try to do things that are outstanding, heuristic and absolutely unique,” he says. “Uniqueness is very high on our to-do list.”

jamend@wardsauto.com