Volkswagen produced two of history’s most iconic vehicle lines—the Beetle and the Microbus. While these two classics have had very different destinies, they entered the new millennium as fusions of modern technology and classic design.
The name “Volkswagen” evokes an image in popular culture of two very notable vehicles, which gained immense popularity toward the latter half of the previous century. The Beetle and the Microbus have been entrenched in Western popular culture for decades and are one of the most recognisable vehicle models in the world.
The Beloved Bug
The subcompact Beetle ruled the streets of Europe for several decades. Initially created to be a “people’s car,” it was inexpensive, reliable, and efficient. After the end of the Second World War, the Volkswagen Beetle became one of the most popular and iconic cars in Europe and later the World. Easy to own, maintain, and finance, the car was often one of many people’s first vehicles.
Moreover, the Beetle’s seeming rinky-dink appeal due to its rotund stature made it the perfect underdog vehicle; for many who owned it, it wasn’t just a car. It was a part of the family. Its popularity only continued to grow with the coming of films like The Love Bug, which featured the charismatic sentient Beetle racecar Herbie that became a beloved character.
An Anticipated Return
And while the Beetle continued to chug along its merry adorkable way, the Microbus had fallen to the wayside. The Microbus is remembered more as a curious footnote that appeared mostly in stylised images of the 60s and 70s, the same decades that its dorky cousin flourished. Indeed, both vehicles coexisted in the streets of the United States and became quite emblematic of the period, with Woodstock attendees sleeping on their Beetles and hippies riding across the countryside on their Microbuses.
The prevalence of the Microbus meant that it was also often seen in pop culture; the Mystery Machine where Scooby Doo and his cadre of amateur detectives were said to be a Microbus as well, though some contest this. Eventually, the age of the nomadic hippie came to a close, and the Microbus instead became a dated artefact. The poor gas mileage and other maladies of its successors in the 21st Century also made it a target of derision, and unlike the Beetle, the Microbus was discontinued out of safety concerns.
Its fortunes might change, however. Four years after the Microbus line was discontinued, Volkswagen revealed a proposed redesign of the Microbus.
Embracing the Future
This year, Volkswagen has announced the return of the Microbus line in ads that skewered both its old reputation and that of its more famous counterpart. The newest Microbus—the I.D. Buzz—is poised to recapture the hippie spirit of its predecessor for a modern audience.
The I.D. Buzz, slated for widespread release in 2022, is a decidedly modern take on the concept. Staying true to its old connections, the I.D. Buzz promises to be a vehicle more attuned with ecological awareness while boasting of a plethora of technological features, including touchscreen controls and provisions for automated driving. Much like several other models in Volkswagen’s catalogue, the I.D. Buzz is slated to be electric.
This puts it in stark contrast to the Beetle, which was not given an electric motor upgrade owing to already being a fuel-efficient machine. Despite a failed attempt at reinvention in the 1990s, the Beetle line continued until well into the 2010s, bringing a modern technological twist to its classic charm. Its final models close a chapter in its long history; the Beetles today retain their classic profile and retro charm while incorporating a much faster engine and driver assistant features.