103°F
weather icon Clear

End of the road for Volkswagen Beetle after 8 decades

Updated July 9, 2019 - 7:02 am

FRANKFURT, Germany — Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model this week at its plant in Puebla, Mexico. It’s the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning the eight decades since 1938.

It has been: a part of Germany’s darkest hours as a never-realized Nazi prestige project. A symbol of Germany’s postwar economic renaissance and rising middle-class prosperity. An example of globalization, sold and recognized all over the world. An emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the United States. Above all, the car remains a landmark in design, as recognizable as the Coca-Cola bottle.

The car’s original design — a rounded silhouette with seating for four or five, nearly vertical windshield and the air-cooled engine in the rear — can be traced back to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was hired to fulfill German dictator Adolf Hitler’s project for a “people’s car” that would spread auto ownership the way the Ford Model T had in the U.S.

Aspects of the car bore similarities to the Tatra T97, made in Czechoslovakia in 1937, and to sketches by Hungarian engineer Bela Barenyi published in 1934. Mass production of what was called the KdF-Wagen, based on the acronym of the Nazi labor organization under whose auspices it was to be sold, was cancelled due to World War II. Instead, the massive new plant in what was then countryside east of Hanover turned out military vehicles, using forced laborers from all over Europe under miserable conditions.

Re-launched as a civilian carmaker under supervision of the British occupation authorities, the Volkswagen factory was transferred in 1949 to the Germany government and the state of Lower Saxony, which still owns part of the company. By 1955, the one millionth Beetle – officially called the Type 1 — had rolled off the assembly line in what was now the town of Wolfsburg.

The United States became Volkswagen’s most important foreign market, peaking at 563,522 cars in 1968, or 40% of production. Unconventional, sometimes humorous advertising from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach urged car buyers to “Think small.”

“Unlike in West Germany, where its low price, quality and durability stood for a new postwar normality, in the United States the Beetle’s characteristics lent it a profoundly unconventional air in a car culture dominated by size and showmanship,” wrote Bernhard Rieger in his 2013 history, “The People’s Car.”

Production at Wolfsburg ended in 1978 as newer front drive models like the Golf took over. But the Beetle wasn’t dead yet. Production went on in Mexico from 1967 until 2003 — longer than the car had been made in Germany. Nicknamed the “vochito,” the car made itself at home as a rugged, Mexican-made “carro del pueblo.”

The New Beetle — a completely new retro version build on a modified Golf platform — resurrected some of the old Beetle’s cute, unconventional aura in 1998 under CEO Ferdinand Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson. In 2012, the Beetle’s design was made a bit sleeker. The last of 5,961 Final Edition versions is headed for a museum after ceremonies in Puebla on Wednersday to mark the end of production.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
THE LATEST
Toys R Us plans a small comeback with 2 stores this year

The first two new Toys R Us stores — one in Texas, the other in New Jersey — will open in November as part of a small comeback of the defunct iconic toy chain in the U.S.

Top 5 most expensive Las Vegas home sales — PHOTOS

Las Vegas may be crammed with cookie-cutter stucco houses, but there are also plenty of mansions around the valley with wine cellars, game rooms, gyms, movie theaters, and other pricey amenities.

Las Vegas among cheapest places to live for millennials

To determine the 50 most affordable cities for millennials, GOBankingRates analyzed over 700 cities with at least 50,000 residents and a millennial population of 21.6% or greater. Factors included the three-year change in each city’s millennial population, the overall cost-of living index, the median monthly rent and the median home list price.

G-7 finance chiefs issue stark warning about Facebook’s Libra

Finance chiefs from the Group of Seven rich democracies issued a stark warning on Thursday that cryptocurrencies like Facebook’s Libra should not be allowed before “serious regulatory and systemic concerns” are put in check.