The new “manned-up” VW Beetle is in the news again and J. Dawn Carlson, a PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley, asked us to write about it. We covered it in July of 2010, but figured this was a good excuse to revisit the post.
The VW Bug was introduced in 1938 for economical, powerful, fast, and sustained driving on the German Autobahn. Later it jumped shores and became an icon of the California surfer lifestyle:
The New Beetle, however, introduced in 1998, quickly became associated with women because of its bubbly body and pastel colors. Feminized products, however, don’t sell well with men (or some women) because femininity is stigmatizing. Accordingly, the Beetle is re-vamping its image; it’s getting a “sex change” for 2011. Brit S. pointed us to a story in the Anaheim Examiner detailing this surgery. Jim Cherry writes:
New Beetle is about to get a testosterone injection. A mean-looking chopped top, 200 H.P. motor, widened stance, and a larger interior will transform the quintessential chick car into a rock-hard rock star.
So being mean-looking, wider, and larger (with a Porsche engine) are all equated with masculinity, a characteristic that will supposedly improve the cars appeal to men (and non-girly women). Here’s what the new testosterone-injected Beetle will look like (in red, of course):Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Mike — July 3, 2010
I don't really see the "sex-change." It looks like it now will appeal to both men and women. I really like the new look (and engine too). The article in the Anaheim Examiner does bug me though, because it seems like cars have to be "for women" or "for men." It seems to reinforce the stereotype of what cars each gender should drive.
Elena — July 3, 2010
"will face stiff [...]"
"located in the rear"
Ah, so they're rebranding the Beetle into a macho gay car :P Does it have leather upholstery, too?
Princess Backpack — July 3, 2010
It really annoys me when a product being updated to target one gender or another is described as it having a sex change. It feels really... trivializing. A sex change does not change a thing from one socially constructed set of gendered attributes to another, nor can an unliving object undergo one (It's also not exactly the least transphobic term in the world, but I digress). It makes light and stereotypes the very personal process trans people go through when they transition. It's completely different from product rebranding, and to link it with such is pretty uncool because it helps perpetuate stereotypes about trans people.
Kunoichi — July 3, 2010
Bah. I agree with Christina. The new version makes it look more like every other car.
I have to admit to being surprised the bug is considered a chick car. I see them everywhere, and they mostly seem to be driven by men. Many years ago we lived in Victoria, BC (before the new Beetle came out) and there were so many of them, we had to stop playing the Punch Buggy game - hard to call them when you see five of them at once! The one that still stands out in our memory was fuschia, driven by a man (who would put chains on the tires after every snowfall). Our favourite neighbourhood bug where we live now is a bright orange classic Beetle with furry seats driven by a very large older man.
I think it has to to with the surprising amount of headroom. It was one of the few vehicles my 6'1" husband could sit in with the seat in proper position without his head rubbing against the roof of the car. If we hadn't needed a larger vehicle, we would have bought one, and he would have gleefully driven it. It's just so darn cute!
Acrow — July 3, 2010
I'll definitely admit to always thinking of the 2nd gen Beetle as a "chick car," and yet, I rather appreciated that something like that existed. So many auto manufacturers bend over backwards marketing their products to dudes (with the exception of minivan models because DUH, those are for carting around kids, which DUH, will be done by women) and it was nice to see a car that was clearly feminine-friendly. Interestingly, I don't really think that having a girly image hurt the sales of the car at all - I see the 2nd gen Beetles EVERYWHERE. Primarily driven by women? Yeah, but surprise! When your marketing strategy is inclusive to women, they might respond positively. I think it's kind of sad that VW has decided that this model, just like most other models, needs to be all about the dudes.
Leslee Beldotti — July 3, 2010
So let me get this straight...
In a country where oil is gushing unabated for months into the ocean, and where many have been crying the need for 'alternative fuels", we're now going to take a small, practical, economical car and make it a gas-guzzler?
That's just lovely.
Elizabeth — July 3, 2010
It just seems to me that VW is trying to be more like the new mini, which has become increasingly popular. No one else sees the similarities in design? I've gotta admit I like the new design more because I'm a mini fan. I just wish they didn't frame the revamp in terms of "masculine" and "feminine," how annoying.
Syd — July 3, 2010
Bah. I don't like it. It looks like a Mini Cooper (also considered a 'girly' car). The old one is awesome, the new one is cute, and the NEW new one is just....icky. Nor is it manly and mean. Though I guess men stereotypically don't care if their car is ugly?
Temperance — July 3, 2010
I've owned one for ten years now, and for most of the past decade the sales numbers have been fairly evenly split, skewing just slightly more toward female buyers. Any time spent in the New Beetle enthusiast forums will reinforce that. Gender fail on the part of the article; I'm thoroughly sick of every product these days having to be "coded" to support the same tired old stereotypes.
Laurie — July 3, 2010
I love my Beetle. I would have gotten another one, in spite of the atrocious and overpriced VW service. But regardless of the fact that I am by no means a girly girl, I think this car is ugly -- and that makes me sad. That chopped top? Stupid.
Jenn — July 4, 2010
What a stupid marketing decision. I see the 2nd generation Beetles everywhere. At one of the wealthier high schools in the area, I see at least 40+ parked in the lot. My father -- who is a farmer in Texas -- drives a diesel one into town (30+ miles away) because driving the 4-door extended-everything V10 Tundra (he tows tractors with that thing) is a stupid waste of gas.
There's nothing to distinguish the car from every other subcompact on the market. It's a Mini without the originality, a Smart without the instant recognizability, and now it's not even economical. Why would you put such a big engine in a tiny car? From the couple of times I've driven my Dad's, it's small enough and the VW engines are good enough that it has quite a punch, especially if you have a turbo model.
Oh, and the decision to get rid of the roomy interior for the bizarre catastrophic chop-top is really dumb. This is bad news all around. I surmise a couple of (mostly, if not all) male executives just figured that anything masculine is better than anything feminine, and the fact that their cars are driven primarily by women is a problem. Because if women like your cars and some men don't, then it's obviously the end of the world; even though from what I gather, women do a lot more driving then men do.
Anonymous — July 4, 2010
What was wrong with the design they had? They seemed to sell well enough - oh, wait, too many *women* were buying them, and women's money is worse than no money at all. If a woman is seen driving your car, it's cool factor plummets, amiright?
I never thought of the VW beetle as gendered at all. It reminds me of a cute little woodland animal - oh, wait, anything cute and little is female. Duh. Well, the new one is dull and doesn't look like a Beetle at all. They're sacrificing an iconic, recognizable brand for a dose of utterly unnecessary "testosterone". Meh, I'm not surprised, really.
chelsea — July 4, 2010
I know men and woman that drive all styles of "bugs" and all these articles saying that a peice of equipment has a sex is rediculous if a man is comfortable with his sexuality he will buy whatever he wants its the freaks who think its fem or mass that wont buy the car they should ride a bike oh wait they cant do that either because womans bikes are cheaper an it makes them un eqaul to a man i am a femenist but im not a phsyco
Ed — July 4, 2010
Wait a minute, in 1938 the VW bug was not only economical, but also powerful and fast? There were no cars with eight cylinders?
I think the new bug advertising campaign was a little subtler than just "a car for women", although I think that was a component. But I think there was also an element of subtly referencing the original bug 1970's appeal to young people. I think VW was trying to reach for the emotionally, younger people of both sexes and all women. That's how I have seen the TV adverts.
Volkswagen does have a record of producing some impressive, muscular (if you will excuse the expression) cars, particularly in the last forty years. So a bug modified to look more aggressive is no surprise to me. I am not sure if there will be a stereotypical market for them, although I could see the same people who buy Mini-Coopers looking at the faster bug.
Jayn — July 4, 2010
All I can think is, the new Beetle no longer looks like a Beetle...
splack — July 4, 2010
Citizenparables — July 4, 2010
Looks like what they're doing is diversifying the product line with a redesign because:
a) sales of the New Beetle (original design) are tailing off
b) they feel there's a market segment they aren't appealing to yet
c) you have to CHANGE something to make an impact, to get media attention, to drive your advertising (you can't make an ad that says 'hey look, it's the same car, we're STILL building them!')
FWIW, something a lot of people seem to have overlooked is that the framing of the redesign as a 'manning up' or 'sex change' in the post is the analysis of Mr. Jim Cherry, of examiner.com NOT Volkswagen PR.
On it's website, VW uses terms like
'more dynamic' 'sportier' 'more striking'
" The New Beetle has many qualities. Beauty is one of them. "
Hardly gender exclusionist, I would've thought.
The Overhaul of the VW Bug — July 5, 2010
[...] Via contexts. org [...]
Kelsey — July 5, 2010
I love my 2001 VW Beetle. It gets great gas mileage. It's easy to park. It - surprisingly - has a ton of cargo space when you fold the back seat down (it's rare I have more than one other person in the car with me.) The icing on the cake is that I love the way it looks. I was planning on buying a brand new one when I graduate from school, but - ugh. No way now. That is so ugly.:(
Rory — July 6, 2010
What if the article read:
New Beetle is about to get a testosterone injection. A mean-looking chopped top, 200 H.P. motor, widened stance, and a larger interior will transform the quintessential dude car into a rock-hard rock star.
Pauline — July 6, 2010
Whether or not this is a 'masculine redesign' withstanding, this reminds me of something that happened with my boyfriend and I recently. We were doing a bit of shoe shopping (we both need some hiking shoes for a holiday we're going on) and I picked out a pair I thought would suit my boyfriend, only to be told they were the 'girls design'. Personally I couldn't really see it, but sure enough when I looked on the box it said 'womens'. So that prompted a bit of a discussion and a comparison of other shoes with me trying (and occasionally succeeding) at a game of 'spot the girls shoes'.
These are hiking boots we're looking at. The differences between the male and female versions were so minor it was difficult to spot, and yet subliminally somehow my boyfriend (and eventually me, too) started to be able to see it. However even now I don't think I could list exactly what it was that created the difference. Maybe the material's used? Colours? (although they were all pretty neutral shades of green and brown for the most part).
So I'm really curious now as to whether anyone else has a similar problem with 'spotting the girl/boy one' or whether they think they've mastered it. Do we need alternate versions when it comes to shoes? Are women's feet somehow physically different to men's?
I almost wish I'd been taking photos of the shoes now - it might have made for a fun article here on soc images :)
lyssa — July 12, 2010
I'm not going to go into this, lol
I just want to state that my brother (straight) likes the "female" one while I would choose the more "masculine" one (I am bi-gendered. Female at birth).
I always thought of this car as a non-gender specific car, though, lol I never really thought of it appealing to women more. I always think of cars like that, though. Everything, for me, fell under the thought that: If I like it, I like it.
An example for me, I really love Mini Coopers and I stated this at one point and some guy laughed and said it was a car for men. He seemed to be just poking fun at me, but I was really offended. Like, I'm less of a woman because I like a supposed "man's car"?
pogo — July 20, 2010
looks like one squashed beetle-- not a real beetle at all. a real beetle comes with the nice pregnant look not some flubby beer belly. this has no style at all. It looks about s mean as a drunk caterpillar with a hangover. If it's a matter of colors, they can go back to the nice metallics they once had. but flattened squashed beetle looks like a flopped Mini.
and yeah-- women and men's bones , including feet, are usually somewhat different. It just happens to be, that one reason why archeologists can tell skeletos apart even when they only hae a few bones without a pelvis
WG — April 23, 2011
"The VW Bug was introduced in 1938 for economical, powerful, fast, and sustained driving on the German Autobahn."
Ah....no. The original KDF and subsequent models, designed by Porsche, built initially by the Nazi's, was a push for everyone in the country to have an affordable family car so they could get to work. They were not powerful (only 24 h.p.), nor fast (top speed of 45 for the initial models). They were fairly reliable for the time, but needed the valves adjusted ever 7k miles. After WWII, the british took over production and the factories to help get the germans back to work. The Beetle that was built later and exported was more British then German.
"Later it jumped shores and became an icon of the California surfer lifestyle.."
Ah...no. It wasn't imported to the US until the late forties, and it really didn't make it big here until the late fifties. It was seen as a small, cheap, relatively reliable car for families. The surfer craze for these and Type II's (buses) didn't arise until the late 70's and then through the 80's, and then only on a limited basis. Prior to the vw's, iconical surfer cars were american built woodies. A more apt association to note is the connection of vw's to counter culture and hippies, but that didn't even occur until the mid-60's.
"So being mean-looking, wider, and larger (with a Porsche engine) are all equated with masculinity, a characteristic that will supposedly improve the cars appeal to men (and non-girly women)."
Porsche and VW have had a long standing relationship. They are currently the same company. Many porsche models of the past were built in VW factories with VW parts (914, 944, 924, etc.) and many vw's have been built by Porsche (original KDF, Kubelwagen, schimmelwagen, the original type II's, etc.). Currently, both VW and Porsche (and for that matter Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley, etc.) all benefit from the each others engineering ability and knowledge. That you make special note, "with a Porsche engine" is not really appropriate in the context of the gendering of the new new beetle.
"The New Beetle, however, introduced in 1998, quickly became associated with women because of its bubbly body, pastel colors, and built-in flower vase."
The original beetles and busses had "bud vases". This is not a new or gendered thing.
So, there we go. I'm a VW nut.
Mimi — April 23, 2011
My dad and most of his seven brothers all had red Beetles, of varying upkeep. When I went out to the family farm in my brand-spanking-new (actually used) New Beetle in 2000 everyone was over the moon about it. It was even red! Just like all of my uncles used to have! We were at a family function and my cousin needed to be dropped off, and when I offered my uncle the opportunity to drive it they both flipped and said it would be the perfect way to make an entrance, and my uncle was really excited to try one of the new ones, especially since I drive stick.
My current (used) New Beetle is a 2002 (my old one was a 1998, so first gen) and I just love it to pieces. It gets great gas mileage, it's like driving a small tank so I always feel safe on the road. Seriously - I remember the first year my dad had to insure mine and told me it weighed more than his 4-door Toyota Camery. It's easy to find in the parking lot, I can make a full u-turn on a two lane street, and the fake rose I keep in my bud vase spins when I turn on the air, so it entertains the kids when they're in the car. It also has enough head room so that I don't feel squashed, can easily take two children's car seats, and has an enormous amount of cargo space, especially for a car as small as it is. My ex-boyfriend drove a 4-door Toyota Carolla, but whenever we had to pick up something big, we'd take my car, because it had way more *usable* space.
I love the unique bubble design, and I definitely see just as many men as women driving them, anecdotally, I actually see more men than women. I don't know if you non-Beetle drivers know this, but Beetle drivers typically wave to each other when on the road, often with "I like your car!" gestures.
I'm VERY disappointed with this re-design. It doesn't look like either style, and looks very very much like half of the small cars on the road today. Stupid, IMO. Also means that when my little sour apple green Bug dies I might have to switch to another car. I'm not buying THAT!
Jim Cherry — April 26, 2011
I'm the guilty party--at least according to many comments here. Still, I am deeply gratified that my article has inspired so many well thought out statements.
It turns out my mentions of the Beetle's "sex change" were exactly what VW intended. ""The Beetle is now characterized by a clean, self-confident and dominant sportiness. We wanted the vehicle to be more sporty, dynamic and masculine. ... It's much more strong and solid."
-- Volkswagen design brand chief Klaus Bischoff"
Thank you for posting a link to my article. I am paid by the page view and this has been one of my most viewed (and commented on) articles ever.
Travis Olsson — June 25, 2011
I don't subscribe to the idea that the NB is of a feminine design... I see more (young and old alike) men driving them than women, actually. I love my NB, and I'm looking forward to the 21C re-design!
Dfgdf — December 20, 2011
i hate that VWs have been branded as feminine and i hate the flower vase but i love VWs
Luiz Kessler — November 6, 2012
I'm brazilian owner of 2008 Red New Beetle. In my country, the VW New Beetle is not seen as a woman's car. Probably due to its high cost, being inaccessible for most women. This year, I've been traveling around California and found a curious statistic: I saw about 400 New Beetle north and south of the state. 398 were driven by women, 2 by a couple of gay men (in San Francisco). I do not know why, but it would be no explanation for such a prejudice?
Drdanj — November 15, 2012
The new version is just plain ugly. Looks kind of like a dumpling.
SR — March 16, 2013
I think it looks really ugly and wish that they would just change it back to the fun, girly version. Men have plenty of manly vehicles to choose from. Is it a crime to have one feminine car in the world?