The Bug’s back. But is it Buggy enough?
Even though baby boomers and others are snatching up the New Beetles as fast as Volkswagen AG can ship them out, Marc Fogel is betting that the ’90s update of the bubble-shaped Beetle is not enough of a throwback for some car buyers.
So Fogel, president of the newly formed Nostalgia Motor Cars Inc. and owner of the Bug City car lot near Beverly Hills, plans to start importing Beetles made in Mexico, which still look the same as they did in the ’70s. The company will then upgrade them to accommodate U.S. smog and safety standards, and sell them to rental-car agencies and individual buyers.
“This is a car that was the most popular car ever built, and people just love them,” Fogel said. “There is a cult following for this car. What’s cooler than a Bug?”
Nostalgia Motor will make such modifications as installing air bags and onboard emissions computers at the company’s 40,000-square-foot facility in Costa Mesa. The company will begin delivering the cars to be called the ’99 Classic Bug in March of next year.
The Classic Bug will sell for $13,995 or more if drivers want to add leather seats, air conditioning or an electric sunroof and between 1,000 and 3,000 will be imported, converted and sold in the first year, Fogel said.
By comparison, the New Beetle has a base price of $15,700, with air conditioning included. As of the end of last month, there have been 42,143 sales of the New Beetles, which were introduced earlier this year. Volkswagen plans to sell 55,000 New Beetles by the end of this year, and more than 60,000 in 1999.
Some say the market for the Classic Bug will be limited particularly now that the New Beetle, with a similar design to its predecessor, is available.
Analyst Lincoln Merrihew of J.D. Power and Associates said the New Beetle has much of the feel of the old Bug, but is more comfortable, more reliable and has a superior water-cooled engine, as opposed to the air-cooled engine the Mexico-made Beetle continues to feature.
“One of the reasons the New Beetle is doing so well is because you can have your cake and eat it too,” Merrihew said. “You get everything you want in a new car but with the older style. You get the fun of having a classic car without the risk.”