Death of the Beetle: What to Do When a Company Loses an Icon

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The rumors of the Volkswagen Beetle's death are not exaggerated.

Perhaps it's more disturbing that Volkswagen itself is killing the beloved bug. Once the world's best-selling car, next year the Beetle will be no more.

In the eulogy to follow, there has to be some lesson for in-house counsel. After all, somebody has to help the company get through it.

Ashes to Ashes

When the Toyota Corolla took over the number one spot in 1974, the Beetle never really rebounded. Redesigns didn't help much.

Then in 2015 Volkswagen got caught in the Dieselgate scandal -- cheating on emissions tests. It became a $30 billion nightmare, but it also made executives rethink their strategy.

Chief executive Matthias Mueller said there was a "fundamental change process." It was about recognizing wrongs and making them right, and the attorneys had their hands in it -- preserving records for litigation and negotiating settlements.

In 2016, Volkswagen posted record sales. Rinse and repeat, 2017.

Beetle Bites the Dust

Meanwhile, it was time for the company to deal with another sobering truth. Beetle sales fell from 22,667 in 2015 to 15,156 in 2017.

When the end comes, corporate counsel will be there to mop up the remains -- expiring contracts, claims, and other legal pieces of a dying icon.

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