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Dec 27 2009

New Beetle ‘hype’ in India

Posted by volkszone

The Beetle has a bigger role to play for Volkswagen India than just the numbers writes

At Rs 20.45 lakh ex-showroom Delhi, the Beetle – unlike its illustrious predecessor – is not exactly a people’s car. Though you’d never realise that going by people’s reactions when they see it.

Volkswagen India has been steadily drumming up the hype around the Beetle, leading to the eventual climax of its launch earlier this month. Though VW launched the impressive battletank-like Touareg SUV along with the Beetle at the same event, it’s the little Bug that’s still being talked about. And the blitzkrieg continues. Just last Thursday, VW had an innovative promotion of the Beetle where they flew a huge banner in the skies above Mumbai – it certainly would not have come cheap.

For a car that fits in an extremely niche segment in the country and contributing to very small numbers, the hype surrounding it seems completely disproportionate. Neeraj Garg, member of the board/director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Volkswagen Group Sales India however justifies the activity surrounding the car. “The Beetle is our brand foundation. To lay the VW foundation here, it is but very natural to introduce it in India and therefore the huge communication activity,” he says.

Indeed, Volkswagen owes its very existence to the Beetle. The original one, introduced to the world just after WWII, turned out to have an incredibly long production run, with over 21 million units produced before it stopped trundling out of VW Mexico’s plant in 2003. Amazingly, it was VW’s mainstay well until the 1970s. Considered one of the greatest cars of the twentieth century, the Beetle was an essential part of popular culture, let alone a mere car. It is the cult of the original Beetle that still powers the new iteration today.

Designed in California by an American designer, the new Beetle was built on the front-engine, front-wheel drive underpinnings of the mass-market, fourth-generation VW Golf. It was designed to evoke the classic looks of the old one, but had all the contemporary features seen in a modern car. Introduced in 1998, the “new” Beetle can be considered old today – most modern cars go through a generational shift every seven years or so. But VW can safely claim that the Beetle is a retro car and is designed to evoke nostalgia. That was the thinking behind its creation anyway – to capture the hearts of US baby boomers who owned the older one in their younger days.

Which is why its welcome by Indians is all the more surprising, because our association with the original Beetle is nowhere close to the craze it was in other parts of the world. Far from nostalgic middle-aged Indians, it’s the well-heeled youngsters who are getting themselves the new Beetle for its sheer novelty value.

“The new Beetle is about an expression of personality, a state of mind, a lifestyle,” says Garg. “Our study of the intended customer showed that the pull-factor for this car was in its style statement and its head-turning uniqueness,” he adds.

That seems motivation enough for wealthy scions to make a beeline for the car. Even before the official launch, VW India received 150 bookings. And that forbidding price tag notwithstanding, there is a waiting list behind the car going all the way up to May 2010 with a total of over 200 bookings. That’s better than what can be called its nearest competitor – the Fiat 500 – managed, with 62 units sold since its launch in July 2008 at a price of around Rs 15 lakh.

Beyond the numbers, the Beetle has an important role to play for VW India. The manufacturer is aware of the Beetle’s universal appeal and the positive reaction it evokes wherever it goes. In a country that’s unfettered by the powerful nostalgia of the old Bug, the new Beetle is a cute and rather different looking car that attracts eyeballs. The Beetle also plays the role of a magnet to get attention to the marque, while also getting gawkers into the showroom.

The manufacturer needs to keep the excitement about the Volkswagen brand at a high pitch before they start selling their first mass-market product in India.

The Polo, which will be unveiled at the Auto Expo in Delhi next month, is expected to go on sale by March 2010. Till then, the hype surrounding the Beetle plus the recognition of VW in India as makers of this loveable, huggable car seems to make the communication activity surrounding the car worth it for VW. What is left unstated however is that the new Beetle is a moving – and extremely effective – billboard for Volkswagen in India.


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