October 9, 2001

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Getting the Bugs Out

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:49 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Getting the Bugs Out: The Rise, Fall, and Comeback of Volkswagen in America by David Kiley, John Wiley and Sons, 280 Pages, $27.95 Hardcover, November 2001, ISBN 0471403938
Before discussing this book, I must make a confession. In fact, I need to make two confessions. One, I currently own a VWfor you gearheads out there, it is a 2001 1.8T Yellow 5 speed. Two, I also owned a brand new 1965 Beetle, fully-equipped, which, in 1965, fully-equipt was a crank sunroof. I paid almost as much in sales tax on my new car as I paid for the whole car in 1965; I drove the 65 off of the showroom for a total cost of $1895. I am fascinated by these cars and enjoyed this book, not only because it is about my car of choice, but because the book is keenly reported by the Detroit Bureau Chief at USA Today and includes a nice mix of history and business. Those of you who have been reading JCS for awhile know that I really like a good business bio. I think that good business bios put theory into practice, but I was concerned that this one would be a disappointment, a fluffy, feel-good book that was just capitalizing on a hot brand.
The first chapter gives us the history behind VWs decline in popularity in America and how important the New Beetle would be for the future of the company. Essentially, the original Beetle gave Americans an alternative to the huge tanks American carmakers were churning out, but then the Toyotas and Hondas took over that market. VW was left with no toehold in the US. Who would have thought that a new Beetle would actually capture the imagination of Americans, sick to death of the bland Ford Taurus and and disappointed in the quickly declining quality of such cars as the Corolla. Here, the author takes you to the various Detroit Auto Shows where the New Beetle was premiered and includes the amazing reviews the press (covers on Time and USA Today and many more) gave the new car. According to JD Powers in 1998, after the car was released, VW led four of the seven categories in the APEAL study that measured how car owners feel about their new cars in the first six months. Granted, VWs Beetle success has waned a bit in the years since, but people like me, and a goodly number of car owners in my parking ramp, are still buying them. But the book doesnt just talk about the new Beetle, but discusses the Jetta, Golf, and Passat, and the impact these models had and will have on the resurgent VW brand.
I was especially curious about how the book would handle VWs serious baggage carried from the Second World War and was reasonably pleased with the chapter called Sins of the Father. The author sums up the chapter saying, Dr. Porschethe father of the Volksauto, which became the Volkswagenwasnt a Nazi, but its fair to call him a collaborator, opportunist, and a vital cog in the Werhmacht war machine. I guess that is dealing with the issue. Kiley also addresses the lawsuits the survivors of the forced labor brought in chapter 3.
Seeing as the book is An Adweek Book which is a copublish with John Wiley, the advertising campaigns are thoroughly dissected. The author analyses some of the classics from the sixties like: How does the snowplow driver get to work (remember that??), to the great commercial from a couple years ago called Da Da Da (Im sorry, I got that annoying song in your head now, didnt I!). They also talk about some of the serious flops of the 70s and 80s, like the Thing (sounds like an Abbott & Costello routine Go get the Thing. What Thing?. You know, the Thing. I already brought the Thing). Anyway
This book is a book for everybody who is interested in one of the best brands in the world and a detailed history of how it used some of the most revolutionary advertising programs to get them to where they are.