Issue: Apr 2012


VW is Beetling along again



Innovation

by Ron Charles

The iconic Volkswagen (VW) Beetle has played a starring role in a generation of automotive dreams – from the flowerbedecked VW Beetles of the 60’s to soda-pop-orange VW Beetle’s of the 70’s.

So when Volkswagen relaunched the new Beetle in the 90’s, it started a retro trend. Now there is a post-modern Beetle. “If you think the 2012 VW Beetle looks like the old Beetle, well, you’d be right: from Super Beetles to New Beetles and Ragster concepts, this newest version of the automotive icon is inspired by a 73-year history,” according to the marketing hype.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Klaus Bischoff, Chief Designer, Volkswagen Brand, how challenging it was to design the New Beetle in the 1990s, and again after one and a half decades the 2012 VW Beetle?
Bischoff:
We all had a great deal of fun. The Beetle does not leave any designer unmoved. Basically, the vehicle was redeveloped from scratch. The theme of the Concept 1 or New Beetle was exhausted. We are living in another era, with a different form of perception. That’s why it was clear that we wouldn’t build a direct successor of the New Beetle, but draw upon the original, the classical Beetle as our guide. With the Ragster show car, we had scouted out earlier how the Beetle’s proportions could be designed more dynamically. We emphasized its sporty character. With a flatter, broader, longer bonnet and a recessed front windscreen, the Beetle has become more masculine and sportier as well as closer to the historical original.
Thus, the 2012 Beetle will tap new markets for us and add a new facet to the Volkswagen brand.

AI: Tell us a little about your relationship with the VW design team.
Bischoff
: Volkswagen’s growth strategy has a direct impact on the work of the design team. We have expanded our team. In the process, we have paid heed to hiring a wide variety of personalities from diverse cultural backgrounds in order to accommodate the diversity of our global markets. In Wolfsburg alone, we have a team of designers from 18 nations.

AI: Tell us how such a crew of talented people come together.
Bischoff:
There is one guiding principle prevailing in the entire Volkswagen company: to be an attractive employer.

The internationalism of a global player constitutes one side of the coin; the high qualification of the employees and the company’s proactive willingness to innovate are the other. It certainly is a great feeling to be part of a successful team. This success also means, however, that each and every individual has responsibility and commits himself to constructive team work. Volkswagen is a powerful brand—that is something that bonds together designers with different personalities and diverse backgrounds. 

Any designer who has a sound idea for new design gets the chance he/she deserves. Let’s take the “Cross Coupé” concept car, for instance. Here we see a new face (or: face theme) for Volkswagen, which definitely follows our design path. As in almost all projects, we cultivate in-house competition, often getting the design centers in Potsdam and Santa Monica, in China and Brazil involved. That spurs us on and demonstrates that there are no gridlocked assignments. 

AI: What are some of the new challenges facing your design team in terms of new car models being launched in the future?
Bischoff:
Let’s refer to two priorities: there are still gaps in our product portfolio to be closed, and we have to find our own ways for future forms of mobility. Regarding the first: Not every model can be sold with equal success in all markets. We depend on locally adapted concepts that always definitely show the Volkswagen genes. 

The American Passat is a good example – an independent model developed from scratch, which fits into the model portfolio harmoniously. It is now in China as well. Developments for future markets are carried out with the same ambition and enthusiasm like the work on our “classic models.” We want to realize equally high standards for the Volkswagen design all over the world. 

Looking at future forms of mobility, the company is pursuing various approaches. We have already presented a number of concept cars in terms of electric mobility. 

AI: How has your personal relationship with the VW Beetle (you have spoken in earlier interviews about your childhood memories of the car) helped in the design process?
Bischoff:
My experience with the Beetle here in Germany is actually nothing out of the ordinary. The classic Beetle – the “Käfer” as we call it here in Germany – has become part of German contemporary culture. Even children and teenagers born long after the production stop of the Beetle know and love the car. The nice thing about the Beetle is that its popularity has no borders. A young Indonesian, for instance, was in charge of the design of its exterior. He had brought a certain passion for the Beetle along from his homeland. Naturally, once he was in Germany, he immediately bought a real “Bug.” 

AI: Do you see yourself as having a responsibility in terms of design approach and ethos to others in the industry?
Bischoff:
Many say that the design is the number one reason for buying. This gives us designers a certain level of influence. At the same time, we bear a lot of responsibility. The work, however, is always a source of great delight for us. 

AI: How does the VW MQB matrix impact your design approach?
Bischoff:
At first glance, dealing with a modular structure requires a high degree of discipline. But we are rewarded by a greater diversity and, first and foremost, by the opportunity to develop the model variants systematically. MQB is a gift for technicians and designers alike! 



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