RIP Bug, killed by its own success
Yeah, OK. I’m a bit early. The Bug isn’t dead yet. But you know.
When Volkswagen invented the Beetle, it was a game changer, like the Model T before it. Manufactured on an enormous scale, no frills, simple, affordable. A car for the people, they said. And they meant it. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, having a car made a significant difference in your life.
Nowadays, the people need something else, because the car that everyone can afford is choking streets everywhere, and us with it. We need mobility, not necessarily car ownership. Congestion robs us of clean air, safe space to walk or bike, traffic makes us miserable, stressed out, angry. Streets, which in North America occupy 80% of all public spaces, are loud, dirty, dangerous to anyone not inside their own personal metal box. It’s a model that’s clearly not sustainable, a model whose life expectancy is dwindling.
The car is a victim of its own success. And we’re all paying the price. But things are slowly changing, in part because younger folks don’t see car ownership the way we used to. For me, coming of age in the 1980s, a car has always represented freedom. To urban Millenials today, it mostly looks like a giant pile of expenses they don’t need.
I don’t think cars are about to disappear completely. We’ll keep needing them, for road trips, suburban grocery shopping, and for bringing home that gigantic pouch of dog food they had on special at Pet Smart. But for everyday mobility in urban settings, yeah. I wouldn’t want to own shares in that.
It is a telling move when the makers of the Beetle, the people who build cars for the people, say so. VW is just the latest manufacturer announcing its move towards micro-mobility products, e-scooters and suchlike, because they can see that demand for cars is going down, especially in urban settings and among people who are likely to still be alive in 20 or 30 years.
You could be cynical and see this as a clever marketing ploy, or you could see this as a sign of progress. Me, I think it’s both.
Update, a few days later: This announcement.