Volkswagen announced the last of its iconic Beetle compact cars would roll off assembly lines in 2019. While there will be two special models manufactured before production ceases, it's the original "Bug" that still generates the most emotion among its fans. DW looks at how views of the "people's car" have changed over the decades.
Hitler wants a 'People Car'
In the 1930s, Nazi ruler Adolf Hitler tapped Ferdinand Porsche (L) to design a "Volkswagen," or "people's car" — an affordable, mass-market vehicle that could carry a family and luggage. He came up with a two-door, rear-engine vehicle that could cruise at top speeds of 100 km/h (62 m/hr). Initial production of the car remained small.
The Beetle booms
Sales of the car, officially named the Type 1, picked up after the British, one of Germany's post-WWII occupying powers, relaunched Volkswagen factory production. In 1955, the millionth car rolled off the assembly line. It was only then that the rounded car earned its nickname "the Beetle." The moniker was then carried over into numerous languages as sales of the car spread around the globe.
From film to driveways
It took a while for the Beetle to become popular in the US, however, in part due to the car's Nazi roots. But a 1960s marketing rebrand and the car's starring role in the 1968 movie "The Love Bug" as Herbie (above), a Beetle with a mind of its own, sealed its place in the hearts of Americans — and in their garages.
The Beetle is back
Beetle sales in the US plummeted in the 1970s and production there ceased in 1979. By that time, the car was being produced around the world, including in Mexico and Latin America. In the 1990s, VW decided to give the car another go in the US. They revamped the design and released the New Beetle (above) in 1998, complete with a built-in flower vase.
Saying 'adios' to the original
As the New Beetle took off in the US, global production of the original Type 1 Beetle came to an end. By July 30, 2003, when the last of its kind came off the production belt in Puebla, Mexico, over 21,500,000 had been produced. The final car (above) received a ceremonial sendoff complete with mariachi band. Dubbed "El Rey" ("the king"), the car was sent to VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Despite no longer being made, the original Beetle remained popular and recognizable, often linked to 1960s nostalgia. However, it also made a political statement. While holding the post of Uruguay's president from 2010-2015, Jose Mujica continued to use his 1987 Beetle to get around (above). The old car, part of his personal abstention from luxury, cemented his reputation as a humble politician.
A place in drivers' hearts
The VW entered its third generation in 2012, with the production of a new model in the US. But just six years later VW said it would cease making the car in 2019, instead focusing on electric and family vehicles. VW's CEO left the door open to revive the much beloved Beetle in the future. Until then, however, the iconic car will continue to hold a place in the hearts of old and young alike.
Volkswagen has announced that the "New Beetle," a playful spin on the classic bug, will become a thing of the past as of next year. Many Americans have fond memories of the car, despite its roots in Germany's Nazi past.
German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) announced Thursday that July 2019 would be the last production month for the iconic Beetle, currently in its third generation.
The classic compact car, which was first developed in Nazi Germany in 1938, went on to become a symbol of hippie culture in the 1960s. Two decades after US sales were discontinued, VW revamped the signature rounded body in a new form with the production of the "New Beetle," complete with built-in flower vase. The car was updated once again in 2012.
VW's plans to shelve the car come as the American branch of the carmaker turns its focus to mass-market electric vehicles and larger family-oriented cars. Globally, VW is struggling to recover from the "Dieselgate" scandal, which broke in 2015 and brought with it legal claims totaling billions.
Before production ceases, the company will offer US customers two special models — the Final Edition SE and Final Edition SEL — starting at roughly $23,000 (€19,670).
Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen Group of America, Hinrich Woebcken, didn't rule out restarting Beetle production in the future. It's a move the company has taken with the similarly iconic VW Bus, which the company decided to revamp in 2017.
"Never say never," Woebcken said in a statement.
The CEO acknowledged that shelving the car would be a turning point for many.
"The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle's many devoted fans," Woebcken said.
The Beetle evokes a host of emotions for many individuals, with many Americans affectionately calling the insect-inspired car "The Bug." The car was also immortalized in films, including the 1968 Disney movie "The Love Bug" featuring the Beetle Herbie, and was featured in Andy Warhol's colorful graphic prints.
While the car invokes nostalgia for 1960s counterculture among older Americans, it is also a coveted car for children, who keep their eyes peeled for the rounded vehicles on the road in a game known as "Punch Buggy" or "Slug Bug," which involves punching your neighboring passenger in the arm upon seeing one.
VW's Nazi origins
The car has its roots in Germany's Nazi era. It was first developed by Ferdinand Porsche, also the founder of the eponymous car company, with support from Adolf Hitler. The Nazi ruler ordered the carmaker in 1934 to create a mass-market "people's car," or "Volkswagen," and in 1937 formed the state-run "People's Car Company" to develop it.
Following World War II, the Allied forces prioritized Volkswagen in order to help strengthen the German auto industry.
While the Beetle did not originally sell well in the US during the 1950s due to Volkswagen's Nazi origins, its popularity eventually took off in the late 60s and 70s, before American production ceased in 1979.
In recent years, sales of the car have taken a hit, dropping year by year and remaining significantly below sales numbers for fellow VW cars the Jetta and the Passat.