Volkswagen to terminate iconic 'Beetle' cars in 2019 after 7 decades of production

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
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In this Nov. 18, 2015, file photo the 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune is displayed at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)
In this Nov. 18, 2015, file photo the 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune is displayed at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)

Volkswagen announced Thursday it would end production of its iconic "Beetle" cars in 2019 after adding a pair of final editions of the bug-shaped vehicles.

The curvy-topped sedans, which shook off Nazi origins to become a global auto phenomenon, are being sidelined as Volkswagen emphasizes electric cars and larger family-oriented vehicles.

But company officials, still trying to completely turn the page after 2015's costly "dieselgate" scandal, opened the door to reviving the model at some point, alluding to the company's 2017 decision to unveil a revamped Volkswagen Bus as a possible template.

"As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the US and ramp up our electrification strategy...there are no immediate plans to replace it," Hinrich Woebcken, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement.

"But, I would also say, never say never," he added.

"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.

Volkswagen plans to offer the two final edition models in both coupe and convertible styles. The cars will include nods to earlier versions and be priced at $23,045 and up, the company said.

'60s icon

The vehicle's history goes back to the Nazi era, having first been developed by Ferdinand Porsche with support from Adolf Hitler, who in 1937 formed the state-run Volkswagenwerk, or "The People's Car Company." After the war, the Allied countries eventually made Volkswagen a priority in an effort to revive the German auto industry.

The sedans made their US debut in the 1950s, but sales were weak, in part owing to the company's Nazi origins.

The advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernback in 1959 rechristened the car the "Beetle," and began touting the vehicle's small size as an advantage to consumers, according to the History Channel.

It became a symbol of utilitarian transportation often used by hippies.

The car attained further popularity with the 1968 Disney movie "The Love Bug" with the role of "Herbie," the story of a racing Volkswagen with a mind of its own. Sales peaked that year at about 423,000 units, according to Bloomberg News.

Andy Warhol did prints featuring the car and a Beetle featured prominently on the cover of "Abbey Road," the final Beatles album to be recorded.

U.S. sales ceased in 1979, but the vehicle continued to be produced in Mexico and Brazil, according to Car and Driver. The last of the original bugs was produced in Puebla, Mexico, in 2003.

VW revived the "New Beetle" in the United States in 1997.

Volkswagen revived it in the U.S. in 1998 as a more modern "New Beetle," but it attracted mainly female buyers. The company revamped it for the 2012 model year in an effort to make it appeal to men, giving it a flatter roof, less bulbous shape, a bigger trunk and a navigation system.

The special editions, which come in coupe and convertible body styles, get unique beige and blue colors in addition to the normal hues. They also get standard extra chrome, new wheels and three-color ambient lighting inside.

U.S. sales rose fivefold to more than 29,000 in the first year, rising to just over 46,000 in 2013 but tailing off after that. Beetle sales slipped 3.2 percent to 15,667 in 2017 in the United States, a fraction of the sales for the Jetta and Passat sedans.

At the Detroit Auto Show in January, the German automaker unveiled a revamped version of the Jetta and also touted the Atlas, a new mid-sized SUV.

VW continues to deal with the fallout from the "dieselgate" scandal that broke in September 2015.

The company, having already paid out costly government settlements, is fighting billions of dollars in additional claims lodged by shareholders who saw their stock plummet in value after authorities cracked down on VW over the installation of so-called "defeat devices" into 11 million cars worldwide to fool regulatory emissions tests.

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