This week marks the end of a car that’s not just an automotive icon, but a historical artifact whose story includes Adolf Hitler, Walt Disney and hippies. We’re of course talking about the Volkswagen Beetle.
On Wednesday, the last Beetle — a third-generation “Denim Blue” coupe, pictured above — rolled off the assembly line at Volkswagen de Mexico’s Puebla plant as the brand ends production of the car. But why would an automaker kill off their most recognizable vehicle?
When the announcement was made back in September 2018, Hinrich J. Woebcken, then president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said the company was moving away from the Beetle to be “a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S.” He also noted the company’s EV plans.
But cult is not necessarily synonymous with sales. Roughly 600,000 units of the Beetle have been sold since 2011. Sales have tapered off in recent years as drivers’ tastes are changing. SUVs are the latest trend, with numerous models from Volkswagen brands also playing a leading role. The Beetle has not been able to attain the global success of the new “Volkswagen,” the Golf.
Instead of carrying on the Beetle for posterity, Volkswagen is jumping on the SUV train. In the car’s place, the Puebla plant “will soon shift resources to produce a North American market-focused compact SUV that fits in the manufacturer’s lineup below the Tiguan,” according to a press release.
In essence, the brand is terminating the car that started it all. “Volkswagen” translates to “people’s car” in German. That idea was put into action by Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche in the ‘30s (though it originated with engineer Béla Barényi in the ‘20s), with the first official Volkswagen Type 1 making its debut in 1938. As NPR writes, the British relaunched the brand after World War II and the vehicle took a drastic turn, finding its way into ‘60s hippie culture, Disney’s Herbie movie series and cult gearhead gatherings around the world.
Even though this is the end of the Beetle for now, if we were betting men, we’d put our money on a comeback.
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