Opinion: Rumors of an Electric Beetle are Way Overblown

Autocar recently ran a headline claiming that the “Volkswagen Beetle [is] set to go electric and rear-wheel drive” and, naturally, I was pretty excited when we read that. A rear-engine Beetle is always exciting, but reading on a bit I was disappointed by what I found.

Look, before we launch into this, pointing out that rumors on the internet are flawed is like pointing out that toilet paper is often unpleasant (it’s painfully obvious and doesn’t really serve anyone), so normally I would just ignore the story, but given the amount of traction it has gotten I figured I’d make my case.

The specific quotation Autocar references in the story that follows the above headline actually comes from an earlier report from Car and Driver in which an electric Thing was supposedly being considered–which we reported on here and was kind of a sketchy report in its own way, but whatever, it was a wacky story.

In it, VW’s brand boss, Herbert Diess is quoted saying: “The next decision on electric cars will be what kind of emotional concepts we need.”

But the relevant quote at the heart of this story is: “If we wanted to do a Beetle, electrically it would be much better than today’s model, much closer to history, because it could be rear-wheel drive.”

Volkswagen Showcar I.D. I.D. ? die Revolution. Der erste Volkswagen auf der völlig neuen Elektrofahrzeug-Plattform. Der erste Volkswagen, der für das automatisierte Fahren vorbereitet ist.

Sounds good, right? Well, our hesitation comes from what followed. In the full quote, as reported by Car and Driver, Diess tries to temper expectations by saying: “I think the Microbus is a much better emotional concept for the brand than the Beetle.”

He then goes on to say that “this Beetle won’t go electric; the next one might, if there is a next one […] We have so many exciting concepts in our history that we don’t have to do a Beetle.”

Admittedly, Diess says that no final decisions have been made, but please forgive us if I don’t hold my breath waiting for an I.D. b-E-tle, or whatever.

Now, Diess’s comments are undeniably correct. A Beetle based on the MEB concept would be super cool. With the engine in the back and power running to the rear wheels, it would be a lot like the Type 1 and since the platform was revealed we’ve been wondering if VW will put a Beetle body on it, but since the very beginning, VW has resisted the idea. Instead, they’ve been focused on the I.D. hatchback.

That’s not to say that VW definitely won’t put a Beetle body on the MEB platform, just that the headlines don’t reflect how likely that is.

Years of flagging Beetle sales have put the current model on death watch, while rising SUV sales have made small cars a worse and worse bet for automakers, and with many rear-engine, rear-drive models to choose from an electric Beetle doesn’t really serve any purposes.

Whereas the Beetle would compete pretty directly with the I.D. hatchback, a Thing could instead be a little off-roader and the Karmann Ghia (another much-loved classic) could satisfy the need for a sexy little sports car.

So as much as I’d like to see an MEB-based Beetle come out, VW’s comments just don’t make it sound like it’s a priority.