There I Fixed It: VW Beetle’s Gender Problem

Think tanks are a wonderful thing. Where else can you publish pages of biased research, get paid tons of money for it, and then have no accountability if your results are used? Car enthusiasts need their own think tank. Dashboard News is filling this void with lukewarm, soft facts with our new feature: “There I Fixed It.” In this column, we make somewhat logical solutions to an automaker’s problems. No rants about manual, diesel hatchbacks for under $25k here, our rants have data and evidence, sort of. So read on, and make sure to put your own thoughts on the subject, or new problems, in the comments below.

The first automaker to need our help is VW. On a quest to become the world’s largest automaker, VW has both decreased prices and content on some cars (Jetta), and has strengthened their niche offerings (New New Beetle) to attract more sales. However, they want the New Beetle to be bought by both girls and boys this time, instead of mostly girls like last time. AP details some of the efforts VW made to make the Beetle “manly”, such as boost gauges, bolder lines, and a stereo from Fender. But here’s the problem, the Beetle will never be manly.

Never before has such a car captured the female market like the VW Beetle. In fact, 55% of Beetle owners are women. This figure alone is not surprising, Mustangs and Camaros also have high female take rates (half the world is female remember). What is different is the way the Beetle was able to engender itself as a “chick car” so well. The original New Beetle was basically a teddy bear, puppy hybrid you could drive. Bulbous fenders, a happy face, and a vase on the dash all made this car a hit with women wanting “cute” transportation. That’s a good thing; the car struck a chord with a certain segment of females and now has brand loyalty.

However, by making the Beetle manly, they alienate those that bought it for those kitschy details. Plus, males will not buy this car even if bacon comes out of the air vents, and it comes with a coupon to play football with your favorite team. The Beetle is just too tainted by the princess vibe to recover in the eyes of the general buying public. Just like O.J. is synonymous with the Ford Bronco, the Beetle will forever be known as the car of sorority sisters and high-pitched giggles. Therefore, by making the car masculine, you sacrifice sales across the board. So, if VW wants to attract more males with a small, sporty coupe, they should use a car they already have: the Scirocco.

The Scirocco is VW’s coupe offering in Europe. It too is based on the Golf’s platform like the Beetle. Also like the Beetle, the main selling point of the car is its looks. Taut, wide rear haunches, a swooping roofline, and an edgy face combine to create a striking package. It is not a feminine or masculine design; it’s just good looking, period. It appeals to everyone with the slightest taste in style and fashion. The Scirocco would be a clear hit for VW here, since it combines great looks with a low price.
However, VW claims that is doesn’t want to bring it over because it would probably be expensive to federalize, have a small marketplace, and cannibalize Golf sales.

I call B.S. on these claims. Like the Beetle, the Scirocco is a Golf underneath. It shares the same engines, suspensions, and interior bits, only the body and some interior treatments are different. This means it is cheap to produce. Secondly, if there is a market for the Beetle, there is a market for the Scirocco as well. Plus, the Scirocco is not new to the U.S. either. It was available here starting in the late 70s and was eventually replaced by the Corrado. Finally, the federalizing bit is a hurdle, but the Golf is being redesigned next year, and that means the Scirocco as well. It can’t be that difficult to adapt the car to U.S. crash standards while this new version is being developed, especially because it shares so much with the Golf that will be sold in the U.S.

So, let’s say you bring the Scirocco over. You could have it start around $17, $18k for the base model going all the way up for the GTI version at $25k (or $30K R version); basically the same range as the Beetle. You won’t step on the Beetle’s toes because the Scirocco will appeal to a different type of buyer. It won’t step on the Golf’s toes for the same reasons. This result is four cars that are cheap to make since they share the same bones; each bringing in buyers from different segments: Beetles for girls and people who like retro styling, Sciroccos for those who want style without the image of the Beetle, Golfs for people that need more room, and the Jetta for boring people. This isn’t even counting the Tiguan and Eos as well. That’s a regular grand slam in product planning. Problem solved VW, if you want to sell Beetles to men, bring over the Scirocco.


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