NEW YORK --- In its 73-year history, the Beetle has evolved from the hippie ride of choice to a cute chick car. Now Volkswagen is reinventing it again.
The company introduced an edgy design Monday fors its signature model, giving it a flatter roof, a less bulbous shape, narrowed windows and a sharp crease along the side. Gone is the built-in flower vase on the dashboard.
It's the first overhaul since 1998, when Volkswagen came up with the New Beetle. VW, which wants to triple its U.S. sales of cars and trucks over the next decade, says the changes will appeal to more buyers, especially men.
But the changes could also anger fans, who love the little four-seater for its huggable curves and perky attitude.
"I hope they keep the fun in the car, and all the round angles," says Howie Lipton, who owns a computer-repair business in Hamilton, Ontario, and helps organize an annual New Beetle show in Roswell, N.M.
Lipton says he was hoping VW would update the spare interior, and his wish has been granted. VW's lead Beetle project manager for the U.S., Andres Valbuena, says the 2012 model will have a navigation system, a significantly larger trunk, more luxurious materials and ambient lighting.
"It ties in more with our other products. It's more upscale," Valbuena says. The 2012 Beetle goes on sale this fall. VW won't yet say how much it will cost.
The design is based not on the New Beetle but on the original Beetle, which was created in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, came to the U.S. after World War II and became a counterculture favorite because of its low cost and unusual look.
In addition to an upgraded, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter gas engine, VW will offer a sportier, 200-horsepower, turbocharged gas engine and a fuel-efficient diesel. VW estimates that the new basic engine will be slightly more efficient than the current one, which gets 29 mpg on the highway. The diesel will get up to 40 mpg. Asked whether VW will offer an electric version, spokesman Corey Proffitt says, "Not yet."
Even if it satisfies its fans, the third incarnation of the Beetle will have to compete in a U.S. small-car market that is bigger and much more competitive than it was in 1998.