When it comes to classic car models, few are more distinct than Volkswagen’s Beetle, which, after it was introduced in 1939 in Germany, became the most-manufactured car in auto history. And while the company has attempted to modernize the Beetle — popularizing it again in 1997 with the New Beetle and in 2011 as the Volkswagen Beetle A5 — it’s never gone so far as to take away its reliance on gasoline. That soon may change.
In an interview with Autocar, Volkswagen’s chairman, Herbert Diess, 59, said an electric version of the Beetle may be part of the company’s attempts to create emission-free models of cars the company calls “emotional concepts.” The company has already begun to move forward with one such concept — a sleeker, electric model of the classic Microbus van called the ID Buzz, which debuted at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.
The Beetle, according to Diess, would be a particularly attractive model for the company’s electric platform. “Electrically it would be much better than today’s model, much closer to history, because it could be rear-wheel drive,” he told Autocar. The original Beetle was a rear-wheel drive car, with front storage space. Because electric cars don’t rely on a huge internal combustion engine, there’s more flexibility in design. That means Volkswagen can return to the classic or vintage Beetle design.
While no final decision has been made about putting electric Beetles into production, Volkswagen announced in September that it would spend more than $24 billion on zero-emission cars by 2030, following a trend of increasing purchases of electric vehicles in the United States. Over 542,000 electric vehicles are on the road in the U.S., according to a 2016 report from ChargePoint, a 37 percent increase over the previous year. While Tesla dominates the electric vehicle industry in both name recognition and sales, other companies are quickly investing large sums to catch up. Over 30 models of electric cars are currently available in the U.S., and companies have continued to debut new concepts for future production models.