CHICAGO – Nostalgia has been a frequent bedfellow for Volkswagen of America the past quarter-century.
Now, the German automaker is again turning to its history and cultural relevance going back to the 1950s when it advertises its battery-electric ID. Buzz minivan during the 2024 Super Bowl at a cost of up to $14 million for a 60-second ad.
The ad, which also has a two-minute version that will live on YouTube and other social media platforms, opens on a ship in New York harbor in 1949 when the first VW Beetles arrived to get dealers interested in selling the small, rear-engine 2-door cars developed in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche for Hitler’s Third Reich. The footage is in black-and-white, and actors have re-enacted the scenes.
Onlookers gape at the first Beetles driving down the streets of New York. The song “I Am I Said,” sung by Neil Diamond, accompanies the images. The ad continues with a montage of supposed home-movie footage of students and families from the 1950s and ’60s with their VWs. Clips of modern VWs such as the Atlas, Jetta and Tiguan are peppered in, as is a kid dressed up as Star Wars’ Darth Vader, a nod to one of VW’s landmark Super Bowl ads. The ad concludes with an image of the ID. Buzz, a design homage to the VW Microbus, in a cargo container – a nod back to the scene of a Beetle coming out of a cargo container 75 years ago.
Volkswagen of America President and CEO Pablo Di Si says the time is right to go big in the company’s EV marketing in general and specifically the ID. Buzz launching in the fourth quarter of this year. Di Si says he expects VW to outperform the market in 2024 with “20% sales growth year over year, compared with just 4% growth for the industry.”
The VW brand posted improved U.S. sales last year, a 9.3% hike over 2022, for a total of 329,000 units, per Wards Intelligence. That is far behind the 800,000-plus sales that former management predicted a decade ago before the company’s diesel scandal and the global pandemic.
The ID. Buzz has been in the making since the concept was shown at auto shows in 2017. But sketches and ideas for a Microbus redux go back two decades after the company launched the first New Beetle for the ’98 model year. It wasn’t until the project became a BEV that VW was able to make a business case for it.
Just as the New Beetle reignited interest in the VW brand when it was first shown as a concept in 1994, the automaker hopes the ID. Buzz will send a lightning strike into VW’s brand energy and momentum in the U.S.; even if consumers get excited about a Microbus-inspired van but end up finding out more about VW’s battery-electric sedans and CUVs. Practically speaking, Di Si says, pre-market research shows ID. Buzz resonating with families who need more space, and emotionally “among people who like nostalgia.”
The VW chief’s remarks come in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club during the Chicago auto show.
Di Si says he is more bullish about “electrification” of vehicles than the rapid adoption of 100% EVs. “Decarbonization should be the goal, not specific technology,” he says. Di Si also praises the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which provides significant investments for EVs and EV charging, but points out “conflicting policies” coming from the federal government around EVs.
The VW ID. 4 is the only foreign-brand model to qualify for the full, current federal $7,500 tax credit for EVs.
Di Si forecasts that with more manufacturers making hybrid-vehicle investments, 50% of new vehicles will be “electrified” but not all-electric, unless there are recharging-technology innovations that would make five-minute recharging common.
More investment in charging infrastructure and continued government support is needed to expand EV sales in "middle America," the CEO says.
That said, Di Si is sticking to VW’s plan to launch 25 electrified models in North America across its group brands by 2030.
VW is developing midsize and larger electric utility vehicles to tap into U.S. customers’ love of CUVs and SUVs. VW is seeking 10% of the U.S. market across all the group's brands by 2030. Di Si says the product plan has been approved. That would be quite a jump in share in six years.
That would put VW Group on par with combined sales of Hyundai and Kia under the Hyundai Group.
The VW Group is expanding with the Scout brand, which will begin selling an electric SUV and pickup under the legendary marque once part of International Harvester (Navistar today) –models that pay homage to the vehicles that defined the SUV concept in the 1960s.
Growing even more through the power of nostalgia: At least that’s what the company hopes.