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Herbie Left VW Without Giving Us An Electric Love Bug

I know I’m not the only one here who feels an emotional connection to the VW Beetle. My mom grew up riding in the back of them, and my grandpa loved them back in the day. I’m a fan of the Love Bug movies, and eventually got a newer version of the Beetle (front drive, unfortunately), and added graphics to it to make it like Herbie, the star of the Love Bug films. It was the first car I had with a turbocharger, and I had a lot of fun driving it around mountain roads in New Mexico.

We even took it out to an enthusiast meetup in Roswell, where we saw all sorts of New Beetles. For the show portion of the event, I put a bunch of bananas on the car to show that our Herbie had gone bananas. To make it more authentic, we got a custom plate for the car with the same license plate number as Herbie in the original Love Bug movies (OFP 857, which probably stands for Our First Production, August 1957, when Disney made their first live action film).

I don’t live in California, but we did manage to get a plate with the right colors to match Herbie’s plate, but with some red and green New Mexico chiles on the bottom (scroll down to see a photo). I was tempted to start calling him Heriberto.

We had a bunch of fun with the car, but sadly, life took us in different directions, and my family had to give Herbie up too soon for something with more seats. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. We had an EV in the driveway that I could still have some fun with, and we figured that eventually an electric bug could come out and we could make another Herbie, but with torque.

We weren’t fools to think this, really. It wasn’t long until little rumors and statements started coming out of Volkswagen. At one point, Diess said “If we wanted to do a Beetle EV, it would be much better than today’s model, much closer to history, because it could be rear-wheel drive.” And that idea was exciting. Having an electric Beetle that’s rear-drive instead of front-drive would be a lot more authentic to the original while also being futuristic and having low end torque that Beetles never had.

We knew that something like that wouldn’t happen fast. Companies need to work on producing models they can sell in great volumes first, and that’s exactly what Diess and others said. So, eventually we’d start seeing more “emotional” cars and other niche vehicles that would sell in lower volumes.

We got our hopes up even more when we started seeing things like the ID.Buggy. Obviously, a dune buggy isn’t a VW Beetle, but back in the day it was based on a Volkswagen chassis, hence the name. The VW platform proved versatile in other ways, too, with cars like the Karmann Ghia, sharing the platform. Like the old Beetle, VW’s MEB platform is fairly easy to adapt to other uses, including even powering boats.

This left a lot of room to hope for a new electric Beetle eventually.

Teasing Herbie About Herbie

While I have no choice but to wait for a new MEB Beetle, that doesn’t mean I have to patiently wait. I’ve regularly bugged Herbert Diess on Twitter asking whether Herbie can help us make a new Herbie:

While we gave up the bug for practical reasons, we kept the plate on our Jetta so we can save the plate number for our future electric Beetle. We are going to keep the plate until we get another Beetle to put it on.

So, in case you couldn’t tell, we’re quite serious about this.

Now, Herbie (Diess) Is Leaving Volkswagen

Now, we’re hearing news that the CEO who lead Volkswagen from Dieselgate infamy to becoming a potentially serious player in EVs is out of the company. There’s lots of speculation about why this happened that I don’t care to get into, but one idea out there is that the company needed an outsider to lead it through a rough patch and away from a bad reputation and Diess was the guy. With that over with, it’s time to put “company men” back in, like Oliver Blume.

So, this leaves open the question over where the company will go.

On the one hand, they could accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles further under new leadership. Blume has, in the past, expressed support for taking the part of VW Group that he led (Porsche) full electric. So, if he’s supportive of EVs, we may get to the point where an electric Beetle and other low volume “emotional” cars become a reality. That would be great.

On the other hand, the “company men” could be read to pump the brakes on going electric. As every other automaker has shown, going from making combustion cars to electric isn’t easy. It requires reinvesting profits from gas-powered cars toward their own demise instead of putting money in the hands of investors or putting more away for a rainy day. The new leadership could end up never getting as far as making an electric Beetle at all.

Those are obviously best and worst case scenarios for a future Electric Beetle, with the truth probably lying somewhere in between. The truth is, we can’t know right now what to expect from Volkswagen under new leadership and whether we’ll see anything different at all.

Companies Shouldn’t Forget That Emotional Cars Sell The Milquetoast

If I could tell the new management one thing, it would be to not forget the old auto industry adage: “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Profits can’t go bananas from low-volume enthusiast cars, but they can bring a lot of good attention to a brand that helps the more utilitarian cars sell well. Corvettes help sell Cavaliers (or whatever GM’s low-end car is now). Mustangs help sell EcoSports. So, Beetles could help sell boring ID.4s.

But, bean counters can easily forget that. The low-performing models don’t look great on paper, but you can’t express emotion in numbers.

 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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