Volkswagen Beetle Nipped in Bud

Automaker gets rid of much-loved bud vase

The news this week that Volkswagen will be redrawing the body lines of the Beetle for only the second time in its history included a tidbit about the corporate decision to eliminate the car's bud vase. Who cares? Well, apparently, the folks in the marketing department do.

You see, the VW vehicle's dashboard-mounted flower cup irrevocably branded the Beetle as a "chick car," a realm from which there is apparently no return. Once a car gets associated with a specific demo (rappers buy Bentleys, gay guys like the Fiat 500, chicks drive the Beetle, etc.), it can be hard to change perception.

But back to that bud vase. Time will tell if eliminating it is a smart decision. But let the record reflect that this seemingly insignificant perk was actually one hell of a smart little marketing idea.

VW offered a porcelain blumenvasen from the very beginning, and the vase became a U.S. dealer option in the early 1950s, when the Beetle got popular with American drivers who didn't want to motor around in a gunboat from Detroit. The marketing wisdom of the vase (which people could clip to the dashboard, speaker grille, and even the windshield) was that it allowed owners to customize their cars years before the auto aftermarket industry seized on the idea and became the $281 billion behemoth it is now.

In fact, the vase became so integral to the little car's identity that VW decided to bring it back after the accessory vanished in the 1970s. "The original Beetles did have a bud vase," a VW rep told us, "which is why it was put into the refresh in 1998."

After that, it won a load of new fans. The VW Owners Club has a 42-page thread of photos—from just one owner—showing various flower arrangements. "I change mine a lot," she wrote, "especially for the holidays." Head over to Flickr, and you'll find a whole group devoted to photos of the Beetle bud vase.

And soon, it'll all be history.

Just for the record, the vase may have made the Beetle a chick car (last year, 60 percent of Beetle buyers were indeed female), but studies show that women make or influence more than 85 percent of household purchasing decisions in the U.S. anyway, including cars. A little chickdom is probably good idea for any set of wheels.

Auf wiedersehen, blumenvasen.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.