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Chevrolet’s Take on the VW Beetle: “In a Short While We Could all Lose Our Jobs”

Today’s feature 1970s video titled “The Bug and The Beetle” is a somber internal corporate film where Chevrolet takes a look at how it thought the foreign invaders, “The Bug” and the “Japanese Beetles” (Toyota and Datsun) could easily put the automaker out of business.

The narrator of the film in a somber and down to business tone unravels the story of how the Volkswagen, which was first imported in January of 1949 and other imports had managed to capture a large percentage of Chevrolet’s market share in a little over twenty years.

  • Volkswagen “Beetles” being unloaded from a cargo ship.

Instead of taking an honest look at how the Company and its officers and management, designers, engineers, and bean counters had contributed this situation, it openly blames the blue-collar workers and lower-level office workers for not doing their job very well and for excessive absenteeism.

Take a break or come back to it and sit down and take the time to watch this captivating production where Chevrolet officials after recently approving and introducing the Vega, one of the most problematic vehicles ever built, further alienates its workforce and condemns them for this sorry state of affairs.

  • Train load of imported cars traveling by rail to distributors and dealers.

  • One of Chevrolet’s low-priced vehicles, the ill-fated “Vega” introduced in 1970s to thwart the flow of imports.

  • The narrator of the film states that “some refer to these vehicles as the Japanese Beetles.” 

  • “The Bug and The Beetle”

32 responses to “Chevrolet’s Take on the VW Beetle: “In a Short While We Could all Lose Our Jobs”

          • What we need is a system where the tariffs are rebated back to the buyers of the tariffed items. That way, the people who are exporting stuff can complain that they’re being hurt…but they aren’t, the government that imposed the tariffs can claim they’re doing something to punish the exporters…but they aren’t, and the final purchasers can get the items for the same cost as before the tariffs were levied, once the rebate checks clear… It’s an everybody wins and looses sort of deal that accomplishes nothing, that most politicians should love 🙂 :=-)

  1. There’s so much in this film to delight historians. The reference to foreign cars “seeing the USA.” The way the narrator has to explain that 400 out of 1000 is 40%. And, God, the bongos!

    “The designers are faced with a challenge.” And they rose to the challenge with the Vega. Yet the problem, from the film, was apparently absenteeism and sloppiness at the factories? Fit and finish were not what was making Vega motors seize up. It explains so much about how GM lost its dominance in the market.

    • My thoughts exactly Dave King! Let’s blame the guy on the line who has no say in what management does. Management was lax in responding to the “invasion” and blind to what the consumer wanted in a car. One of the least inspiring films I’ve ever seen.

  2. Vega, The first car I remember working on that had an oil pressure switch that would shut off the electric fuel pump when the engine ran out of oil. Someone was thinking ahead with that problematic engine!

    • Hi Roland, actually, the reasoning behind that, was in an accident, if the motor was shut off, but the key was on, and the gas line was ruptured, with no oil pressure, the pump would stop running. My ex-wife’s Monza had that.

  3. One of the highlights of this GM propaganda occurs around the 11:25 mark. The camera is rolling at the Lordstown plant as the new Vega’s are seen being dipped in a chemical bath of who knows what. I assume it had something to do with corrosion protection but we all know how that worked out. Vegas began rusting the moment they left the plant. Ultimately the US products began to improve and today are considered some of the best of the world, but it took decades to achieve.

  4. Typical corporate blablabla. How about management? How about designing some quality into the cars. How about products that people want? Completely misses the mark. No wonder Detroit has tanked and is circling the drain. they have not gotten any better since this film was made. American cars up until the 50s and 60s were the best production cars in the world. They sat on their laurels but have not kept pace with the world..

  5. The hand-wringing tone is truly disingenuous, because of who it blames. This is hard to watch because so many believed it…so many blamed the workers and the unions, instead of pointing blame where it was deserved–corporate officials who refused to design-in quality, who refused to concentrate on quality assembly, and who stuck to old-style robber-baron management. We could have built better cars and we didn’t. And our workers are the ones who got blamed. How sad.

  6. Must be another Jam Handy Production.
    That movie should have double billing with the movie “Blue Collar” starring Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto
    Forgotten by everyone is what Toyota did to its employees in the early 70s in order to attain world market dominance.

  7. New York Times January 10, 1975, Page 45

    “DETROIT, Jan. 9 (AP)—General Motors said today that the entire engine sometimes has to be lifted to change the spark plugs in tune‐ups on its Chevrolet Monza 2‐plus‐2 V‐8.

    The plug is very close to the steering column and sometimes the engine has to be lifted as much as one‐half inch in order to remove the plug, a spokesman said.

    “It would be easier to jack up the horn button and put whole new car under it,” said one disgruntled Chevrolet dealer service manager who did not want to he identified.

    Another service manager was not that pessimistic. The manager, Mike Welch. of Merolis Chevrolet in east Detroit, said: “It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not as serious as it’s made out. But it’s an individual thing. Some people will use it as an excuse to make big money” by charging excessive fees for a tune‐up.

    “There’s a production variance there,” the General Motors spokesman said, “the cars we checked at the proving ground had enough clearance and the engine did not have to be lifted.”

    • I had thought about mentioning this, you did it better. I heard that some would take care of it by drilling a hole through the wheelwell for access and then gluing a piece of inner tube over the hole. The next time just remove the glued rubber, change the plug and then re-glue it.

  8. I remember being at my friend’s,dad’s scrap yard and picking up a vega engine and throwing it. I thought wow, I threw a automobile engine. Those “self bore job” engines were junk. It was just a few years old. How many pintos or vegas do we see now. The only ones I have seen recently had a small block V8 in them.

  9. There was the embarrassing Vega and then there was the Cimmaron, where the absurdity became a caricature of the hopelessly befuddled car companies.

    Detroit had it coming and they got it good and hard.

  10. Pretty straight forward for America, almost sounds like some propaganda film and the “Jack Webb” narrator is very convincing, however, i wasn’t as bleak as he makes it out to be. Fact is, when this film was made, I was graduating HS, (’72) and just entering the job market, and in Milwaukee, things couldn’t have been better. I had no trouble finding a job. AMC, A.O. Smith, Briggs and Stratton, Harley, all were going great guns, and the support industries that catered to those plants. Imports were a slight concern, but we didn’t notice it until later, say, the late 90’s is when things really began to crumble. Today, it simply does not apply, it’s a global economy, and I doubt it will ever change.

    • Since I’ve got a little time before Friday pics, some fun stuff, for me anyway:
      .11 a Chevy AD cabover, .22 the 1st truck looks like an late 30’s Autocar cabover, then a Studebaker passing a 30’s IH dump truck, .45 IH R190 pulling doubles, .51 IH B series tractor ( very rare) 1:39 IH Loadstar 1600 cabover,1:45 late 60’s White Freightliner cabover, 2:40 a mid 60’s Ford F900 pulling the VW’s past the GM plant, clearly a promotional kick in the teeth from Ford, 6:20 the small bikes are Kawasaki’s and 6:30 is a Norton, 8:11 another late 60’s Ford F900 and the 1st MG Midget hood is open ( wonder if that flew up somewhere)and at 8:20 an Opel Kadett “Mini Brute” like one I had.

    • “Imports were a slight concern. but we didn’t notice until later, say, the late ,’90s…” That’s because you were in the upper Midwest. As the saying goes, “Fish don’t know water.” Had you been living on either coast you’d have seen significant import penetration in the ’70s. In the early ’90s I married into a Michigan family that for 3 generations had worked for Buick. As recently as this current decade I heard my sister-in-law express surprise at “all the imports” she saw on a trip to the Southwest.

  11. While we like to see improvements being made, when they design in a flaw, they don’t step up and fix it. Instead they design a ‘fix’ that improves their bottom line. The current 5.3 liter V-8 with a fuel efficient V4/V8 feature. A filter that is easily plugged by particulates and a valve lifter that fails from said particulates. Then a Dealer fix of $4,000. to ‘fix’ this flawed design. The aftermarket solution is to delete the V4/V8 step down feature, for less money and slightly less MPG.

  12. This film is a priceless piece of propaganda that would have made Joseph Goebbels smile. I only wonder who the target audience was. Industry certainly had their issues with labor during the period detailed in the film, but the real problems were in corporate executive offices. David Halberstam treated the issue very well in his book “The Reckoning.” More recently Bob Lutz offers his insights as an insider in his work “Car Guys and the Bean Counters”. After WW2 Douglas MacArthur asked Edward’s Deming (Total Quality Management) to come to Japan and organize a census. Deming agreed, but found himself consulting with industrialists as much as anything. In 1951 Nissan (then Datsun) received the Deming award for product excellence. Helloooo… The rest is history. The award is still presented today. Deming had tried pitching TQM to American industrialists, but their primary concern was the balance sheet and income statement, not an excellent product. Hence, the film we see here.

  13. My ’77 Pontiac Astre, with its cast iron block, was a solid car. Plus, it was a close to Coyote orange – Foyt’s car color – as I could get. Never had a problem with it.

  14. As one who was a target for GM’s propaganda (motivational!) films in the ’70s, this brought back memories of the scapegoating when things got ugly for management. (if only we built more cars (rusting boats) faster, we could sell more cars than the Japanese!)

    It’s easy now and it was easy then to pick out the BS in these films as so many here have done. One thing I’ll point out is when the narrators tells workers to “watch their TVs” we see a fat slob in a Laz-e-boy wolfing down a huge sub. The corporate inference to fat lazy American autoworkers was none too subtle.

  15. Well gee, Honda showed us early on what US auto workers were capable of with proper management, but the Big Three just didn’t get it. However, Japanese competition finally brought some changes at the Big Three and I have driven a variety of rentals over the years and have been impressed by both GM and Ford products recently. My mom’s Cruze was so impressive that my nephew and brother in law both bought one, so to me, the key here is managament, not so much the worker.

  16. I believe that photo of the three Vegas shows them being loaded into one of those Vert-a-Pac railroad cars. Lurking behind them is the end-loader that would tip them up into place, three at a time.

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