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OM in the News: The Beetle’s Life Cycle

September 21, 2018

All products are born, grow, mature, and eventually decline (see Figure 2.5 on product life cycle). So it should come as no shock that even the venerable Volkswagen Beetle is set to become a thing of the past. VW just announced that it will end production of the vehicle in 2019, reports The New York Times (Sept. 15, 2018). Sales of the model by the German carmaker’s U.S. unit, the only division still turning out Beetles, had declined sharply in recent years. VW is ending production of the Beetle 7 decades after the car was first designed. The original Beetle was designed for Hitler in the 1930s.

The car’s simple design and air-cooled engine eliminated the need for a more complicated water-cooled system and helped make it a postwar hit. Despite the Beetle’s connection to Hitler, it became a symbol of ’60s counterculture and the best-selling import of the era in the U.S. For the Woodstock generation, driving a Beetle or its larger cousin, the VW van, was a form of protest against materialism and the gas guzzlers churned out by the big American carmakers.

By the 1970s, though, the Beetle was showing its age. It was slow, and its heating system barely worked. Volkswagen also had trouble adapting the 1930s technology to increasingly strict pollution standards. The New Beetle, which was introduced in 1997, was meant to tap into nostalgia for its predecessor. The two cars had little in common mechanically. Beneath its Beetle-like exterior, the New Beetle was essentially a Volkswagen Golf. But the car was a hit in the U.S. Although about 1.2 million New Beetles were sold from the product’s introduction through 2010, by last year, annual sales had slipped to just 60,000.

VW was careful not to rule out reviving the model in the future. “Never say never,” said the CEO for VW-America.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Name a few products that just don’t seem to ever die.
  2. Name a product for each of the four life cycle stages.
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