In Mexico, the last Beetle has left the factory; Volkswagen says goodbye to the historic car, but is already thinking about electric versions
Volkswagen produced its last Beetle, which rolled out of a factory in Puebla, Mexico. In its third generation, the Beetle was one of the most iconic cars to drive on streets and roads in its 74-year life. This week it said its final goodbye to the sound of mariachis and applause from the factory workers.
From 1945, when it started being produced in Germany right after the end of World War II, until 2019 it has sold 21 million units. In Brazil, the Beetle became a VW Beetle and sold less than in Germany, where it could count on the strength of VW in its homeland, and in the United States, where the strength of the “American way of life” boosted sales in the 1950s and 1960s.
The history of the Beetle began in 1932, in Germany on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s ascension, when the designer Ferdinand Porsche designed the NSU Type 32, which would be the base for the Beetle. In 1934, with Porsche wanting to create a “car of the German people” (the name Volkswagen means “people’s vehicle” in German), a contract was signed with the Nazi government. Hitler, already in power, participated in the creation of the car. He demanded that the vehicle be robust and cheap in order to dominate the streets. The idea was that the car would be both military and civilian. Austrian designer Erwin Komenda was in charge of the body design.
The first prototypes date from 1936. In 1938 the KDF-Wagen hit the streets. German workers were able to purchase the car through a kind of consortium. Production, however, came to a halt with the outbreak of World War II.
In 1945, with the end of the conflict, the British decided to resume production of the model, this time under the name VW Type 1, then Beetle, as a way to distance the car from Hitler. The word, so popular, would end up influencing the name of the most famous band of all time, The Beatles, who were even called the Silver Beetles in their early formations.
In 1949, with the VW factory back in German hands, the first units arrived in the USA. In Germany, the success of the auto industry helped the country to recover from the destruction of the war.
In Brazil, the Beetle became the 1200 Sedan and later the VW Beetle. It arrived in the country in 1950, in an imported batch. Until 1952, the car began to be assembled in Brazil, but with parts coming from Germany. Starting in 1953, Volkswagen began local production of the car in a warehouse in the district of Ipiranga, in São Paulo. Only in 1959 the assembler would create the São Bernardo do Campo plant, in the Great São Paulo. The VW Beetle reigned in Brazil until 1986, when production was interrupted. It returned under the Itamar Franco administration and was manufactured between 1993 and 1996.
The revival of the Beetle, christened the New Beetle, came in 1998, with great success. It was born from a concept presented in Detroit in 1994, when VW tested the new lines of the old Beetle on the basis of a Golf model. In the USA, 80 thousand units were sold in 1999 alone. With less exaggerated rounded shapes and a retro look, the model was the work of designer J. Mays. It was a great success, selling 380 thousand units in the USA and 500 thousand globally. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the production of the VW Beetle went on full steam until 2003, when it was shut down. In Germany production had already ceased since the 1970s.
In the wake of the new Beetle fever, another Hollywood movie, a sequel to the original: “Herbie Fully Loaded” in 2005, starring Lindsay Lohan, who was on the rise at the time. It did not become a cult reference like the first one.
In a second generation, when it was renamed just Beetle again, the car did not make the expected success, hardly competing with the SUVs that dominated the market. In 2018, in Los Angeles, Volkswagen warned that it would no longer be manufactured starting in 2019.
The end may not be final, however: there are already rumors that it could be resurrected, with a new design and, this time, fully electric. Another nostalgic possibility, this time for 2022, is the relaunch of the VW Bus (the famous van, in Brazil), in an electric model. Already a concept of the automaker, the I.D. Buzz.
The last 65 units manufactured can be found starting at $20,895 and also come in a convertible version. It is only possible to buy them online.