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VW says goodbye to Beetle, making room for SUV

Volkswagen’s ‘Love Bug’ has been squashed by the SUV boom.

The German automaker marked the end of production of the iconic Beetle at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, on Wednesday and wasted no time talking about what will take its place: a compact sport utility vehicle likely to be called Tarek. It’ll be a beefed-up version of a model sold in China named Tharu.

“We’ll adapt the Chinese model for this market,” Steffen Reiche, chief executive officer of VW’s Mexico business, said during an event at the Puebla plant. “Our version will be the stronger one, the rougher one compared to the Chinese one.”

Demand for the Beetle and other hatchbacks has been crushed by years of low gasoline prices and the American consumer’s appetite shifting toward SUVs and pickups. Trucks have been capturing record share of the U.S. market, prompting automakers including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co to drop many of the passenger car models from their lineups.

Production of VW’s new compact SUV will begin at Puebla in 2020, with the model reaching U.S. dealerships in 2021.

VW announced the plans about a month after Mexico became the first country to ratify the overhauled North American free-trade deal known as the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The accord requires that 75% of vehicle content be sourced from North America to cross borders tariff-free.

The rules represent a “big challenge” for VW, whose regional content is now at 64%, Reiche said.

VW’s Puebla plant also builds the Jetta sedan and Tiguan SUV. Reiche said the very last edition of the Beetle will be sold online through Amazon.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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To be honest the reborn Beetle wasn’t much of a crowd pleaser from its first release. The original was a people car. It became iconic because of that. The new Beetle wasn’t able to expand on that all. The reincarnation went wrong. Instead of Sophia Loren, I got my mother-in-law, compact version.

So now we are going all out for SUVs…sigh. Gas guzzlers, planet destroying vehicles. SUV interiors are usually more cramped and smaller than that their sedan counterparts. Most modern SUVs are not really suitable for off road driving anyway. The capable SUVs are seriously thirsty off-road. 25-28 liters/100km offroad is to be expected. So while you can go off road, you can’t go very far. Unless your own fuel tanker follows behind you.

The first Range Rover was a farmer’s truck. You could clean the interior of the vehicles with a hosepipe and cold water. Imagine doing that with a modern Range Rover.

Bah humbug.

The proliferation of model ranges to fill every conceivable niche cannot be sustainable.

Just look at BMW. In June 2009, they sold 1028 3-Series models in SA and 1894 in total for 10 model ranges across the BMW group. Last month, they sold 240 3-Series, and 1439 vehicles in total for 23 model ranges.

18 of their 23 model ranges don’t get out of double figures and four of them are in single figures. The wastage in costs having to maintain a parts inventory and marketing pipeline for trickle-sellers must surely be part of BMW AG’s plunge in profitability.

For the sake of motor manufacturers’ long-term survival, some consolidation in model ranges must surely be on the horizon. The switch to electric cars would be a good time for manufacturers to re-establish clearly-identifiable segments and take the environmentally-responsible approach of downsizing some of their cars. (The G30 3-Series is dimensionally larger than a 5-Series was ten years ago, and the Golf VII is a full half-metre longer than the Golf I!)

Yup, a new C class merc is the same size as the old E class Merc.

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