Some 'People's Car' ILLUSTRATION: Jason Crosby

Some 'People's Car'

Oprah gives away 275 Beetles as part of Volkswagen’s global domination plans

By Jennifer Hadley 12/09/2010

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I  don’t have a vendetta against Oprah Winfrey or anything. I know she’s done some really fantastic things for a whole bunch of people. She built a school in Africa, and it was only mildly plagued by allegations of sexual abuse. Moreover, her charity, Oprah’s Angel Network, has disbursed more than $80 million in funds and grants to organizations all over the world, thanks to the 150,000 donors to the charity.  
But before you go thinking that Oprah has ceased to be one of the most generous, philanthropic people of all time, get this: Just last month she just gave all 275 members of her audience a brand new, but not yet seen by the public, 2012 Volkswagen Beetle! Of course, Oprah has seen the Beetle, but we common folk will have to wait until next year to see what it looks like (though it’s rumored to have undergone a major makeover). 
Audience members will receive the cars next spring. And unlike when she gave away 276 Pontiac G-6s in 2004, this time she made sure that Volkswagen was willing to not only donate all 275 Beetles, but they would also pick up the tab for all taxes and fees for the new vehicles.  Clearly she didn’t get to have a net worth of $2.4 billion (according to Forbes) by being careless with her own money. She’s far too savvy for that.
I did some simple math just to see how much money Oprah roped Volkswagen into coughing up. Base models of Beetles online go for just under $20K. So I used that as a guide. Taxes in Pasadena on a $20K car at 9.75 percent bring the car to $21,950. With a 1.15 percent DMV fee, the price climbs to $22,180. The grand total then, were she to buy these cars herself to give to audience members, would be just under $6.1 million, or a fraction of her net worth.  But she got it all for free.  
Volkswagen was apparently thrilled with this deal, citing the Beetle and Oprah herself as being “American icons.” Plus, with her having the No.1 daytime talk show, apparently the exposure the car is receiving from her was an “incredible opportunity” for Volkswagen. I agree that exposure on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” is probably good for sales. Books in her book club generally go straight to The New York Times Best-Seller List. And I’m sure there is no shortage of business owners who can claim that she’s helped their sales immensely.  
But I can’t say I see her giveaway as particularly generous. Granted, the taxes and DMV fees should serve to help local governments, but at a time when we’re just barely digging ourselves out of a recession of epic proportions, to use her power and her celebrity to get 275 cars for free just seems a little self-aggrandizing. After all, she could have bought those cars herself without batting an eye.
Moreover, I have to question Volkswagen’s decision makers in agreeing to this donation. I understand that they are aiming to overthrow Toyota as the world’s largest automaker by 2018.  And I can respect that kind of ambition, although I don’t have any plans for global domination myself. However, maybe that’s why Oprah is the perfect pitchwoman. She’s pretty much conquered the world, aside from that whole bit about Pontiac discontinuing the entire brand a mere five years after she gave away hundreds of the cars. But, really, it’s not as if Pontiac was an American icon or anything. After all, they’d only been in business since 1926. n

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