LOS ANGELES – The Beetle isn’t’s best-selling vehicle nor is it anywhere close to being its most profitable, but the auto maker keeps the sporty compact at the top of its priority list because it’s a brand icon.
However, the Beetle in recent years has been associated more with women car buyers, a stereotypehas been working to fight since it launched a restyled version in 2011.
VW’s message for the latest Beetle iteration has been clear: More masculine. That doesn’t mean turning away female buyers but rather attracting more male ones, the auto maker says.
For 2013, VW brings to the auto show here its previously announced convertible. The drop-top has three engine options: a 2.5L I-5 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, 2.0L turbo I-4 with a 6-speed automatic or manual and 2.0L TDI I-4 with a 6-speed automatic or manual.
The engines, also available in the standard Beetle, replace the previous generation’s 1.8L turbo, 1.9L TDI and 2.0L, VW execs say.
The Beetle convertible arrives at VW dealers in December as a ’13 model. The marque accounts for 7% of Volkswagen’s total deliveries, and the drop-top is expected to boost sales 25%-30%. VW says the previous Beetle convertible notched 117,000 sales for the auto maker from 2003 to 2010.
The Mini Cooper is the Beetle convertible’s primary competitor, but VW also is targeting buyers of aspirational vehicles such as theMustang and Chevrolet Camaro drop-tops. The 500 Cabrio, a recent player in the market, also is in VW’s sights.
Executives here expect the base 2.5L model to attract the majority of buyers, priced at $24,995, just below the Mini Cooper’s $26,400.
The 2.5L delivers 21/27 combined mpg (11-8.7 L/100 km), while the 2.0L Turbo is rated at 21/30 mpg (11-7.99 L/100 km) and the TDI gets 28-42 combined mpg (8-5.7 L/100 km), with manual transmissions.
The Beetle convertible takes the same styling cues from the revamped version released in 2011, featuring a flat roof, wider stance, intimidating wheel options and bolder colors. But it borrows some nostalgia from the first Beetle cabriolet produced in 1949.
VW says it reinforced the convertible’s A- and B-pillars as well as the roof cross-member and lower bodyside members for added safety, though it makes the car heavier.
“The proportions are what you would expect from a sports car, a high beltline, no-running roofs, away from those three circles we did in the second generation,” Rainer Michel, VW of America’s vice president-product marketing and strategy,” tells WardsAuto.
VW gathered consumer input at aftermarket exhibitions, particularly the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. and hawked blogs and message boards for its more “masculine” approach, Michel says. In its research, the auto maker found women are looking for a performance vehicle as well, so the goal now is to neutralize the “girly-girl’ perception.”
The auto maker says it is courting affluent males age 45-64 with custom additions from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as frugal buyers age 25-54with sophisticated tastes. VW also has partnered with guitar maker Fender for a special-edition model.
Since the Beetle’s redesign, 40% of buyers have been men. Fifty percent of Beetle Turbo buyers are men, reinforcing the gender-neutral approach to marketing, VW says.
“The (previous Beetle) was ‘very cute,’ maybe that’s the right word,” Michel says, making air quotes. “The second generation was right for the time.”
VW declines to reveal future powertrain options for the Beetle, but Michel says enthusiasts can be assured the auto maker is working on ways to make the car more powerful and race-ready.
“The Beetle is a platform in which we can do a lot of things,” he says.