The end of an era as the last Volkswagen Beetle was driven off of the production line in Puebla, Mexico.
Originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1938 to answer Adolf Hitler’s call for a “people’s car,” or a “volks wagen” in German.
Few Beetles were produced before Word War II but the war put a halt to production. After the war, the British authorities restarted production and changed the name of the car to the Beetle in order to free it from the baggage of its Nazi history.
The Beetle became a worldwide hit, selling over 21 million over it’s lifetime. It even could be considered a Hollywood star after the “Love Bug” movies featured a Beetle in the title role.
The original Type 1 design called for an air-cooled engine. That was replaced in 1997 with a new version that had a more traditional engine in it. Volkswagen continued producing the Type 1 until 2003 where the last model of that generation was manufactured at the same plant that the last third generation Beetle was made this week.
The Type 1, air-cooled Beetle was last sold in the United States in the 1970s. Until that time, it had been marketed as a not cool car with a low price tag. (A Beetle in 1969 cost $1,799.) Some of the marketing slogans used were “Live below your means,” and “It’s ugly, but it gets you there.”
It took until 1998 for the New Beetle to arrive. When it did, it found a generation of car buyers who were nostalgic for the 70s, but not interested in a car that ran on a 40-hp, 1.2-litre engine which had trouble hitting 60 miles per hour going up hill.
The New Beetle was an improvement over the old model in almost every way. It was quieter, has a smoother ride, vibrated less, and was much more reliable. It even had air conditioning and automatic transmission.
In 1999, Volkswagen sold 80,000 Beetles in the US alone.
In 2012, Volkswagen stopped referring to the New Beetle, simply referring to it as the Beetle again. It also made an effort to make the car more masculine and began manufacturing all Beetles at the Puebla plant and shipped them to ninety-one markets around the globe.
But the Beetle could not keep up with the popularity of SUVs in the US. It couldn’t even match the popularity of the Volkswagen Golf.
In 2019, a Beetle costs at least $20,000.
Just because Volkswagen has ended the Beetle does not mean the company has stopped looking to its past for new vehicles. Two years ago, Volkswagen announced that it would be producing the I.D. Buzz which is an electric take on the classic Microbus. The new model is expected to arrive in showrooms in 2022.
Meanwhile, the Puebla plant that has produced cars for over 60 years will begin producing a new compact SUV that fits just below the Tiguan in the Volkswagen line of cars.
Scott Keogh, the president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a press release that it was not possible to imagine Volkswagen without the Beetle. He further stated that even though the Beetle was done, it would be “forever cherished” as part of the evolving brand of Volkswagen.
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Karl Bauer, the executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said last year that the current market makes it difficult to justify producing small cars. He predicts more iconic brands will be canceled in the upcoming months.
The last Beetle will be on display in a Volkswagen museum in Puebla.