The People's Car: Bye Bye Beetle

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Volkswagen’s Beetle has officially ended production. The last examples of the brand’s famous model rolled off the assembly line at VW’s Puebla plant in Mexico this week, with the company reserving the final one for display at Volkswagen’s local museum. The automaker said the car would live on as “a lasting tribute to the automobile’s rich and storied heritage.”

As one of the most recognizable and historically important cars ever made, the original Type 1 was manufactured between 1938 and 2003. The “New” Beetle hit the assembly line in 1997 before being replaced by the A5 version in 2011. Technically, that’s the car that’s getting the axe. However, with nothing in line to replace it, Beetle as a whole is going the way of the dodo.

Originally formulated as cheap transportation for the masses taking advantage of Nazi Germany’s new road network, the Beetle was designed to be easily manufactured and run as economical as possible. A team of engineers, led by Ferdinand Porsche, finalized the design in 1938. However, Béla Barényi is often credited with coming up with the original concept. In truth, the car’s origins are subject to a massive amount of debate. But its success is not — VW sold roughly 21.5 million in total.

“It’s impossible to imagine where Volkswagen would be without the Beetle,” said Scott Keogh, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “From its first import in 1949 to today’s retro-inspired design, it has showcased our company’s ability to fit round pegs into square holes of the automotive industry. While its time has come, the role it has played in the evolution of our brand will be forever cherished.”

Nothing lasts forever. Despite achieving a ludicrous amount of success worldwide, the Type1 had been around for the better part of a century before its replacement surfaced — helping to launch the modern retro trend. Immediately popular, the New Beetle lacked the longevity of its forebear. But it did help get VW back on track in the United States, which was beginning to sour on the brand.

It’s replacement, the A5, still looked the part but fared comparatively poorly. Annual volume in the U.S. peaked at 43,134 deliveries in 2013. Last year, VW sold fewer than 15,000. The automaker announced it would be the Beetle’s last gasp in the fall.

Still, we can’t discount the car that spawned Herbie, the Meyers Manx, ludicrous sleeper builds, and served as an emblem of the hippie movement just because its FWD offspring weren’t superstars.

While this is supposed to be it for the Beetle, we’re not ruling out the possibility that the nameplate might someday return on an electric model. Volkswagen has already tapped the Type 2 (Mircobus) to serve as inspiration for the upcoming I.D. Buzz EV. The automaker could theoretically use the Type 1 in a similar manner. But the gas-powered bugs appeared to have had their — impressively long — day in the sun.

[Images: Peter Kniez/Shutterstock, Volkswagen]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
8 of 28 comments
  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Jul 13, 2019

    The aircooled Beetle was an early example of platform sharing. There was the Karmann Ghia which was a different body on a near identical chassis. The Typ II Bus which originally had Beetle components; engine, suspension, transaxle and a different frame/van body. Yes it had gear reduction portal axles. The Typ III Fastback, Squareback, Notchback, with the engine cooling system changed so it could have a flatter trunk floor. There were a few years in the 1970s where the Beetle was for sale along side the Golf/Polo, Rabbit in the USA. The first few model years of the Rabbit were awful. I recall more than a few owners that had been loyal VW customers wanting to trade the Rabbits for a Beetle or other aircooled VW. By then the only one left in the USA was the convertible Super Beetle with a high price.

    • See 5 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on Jul 14, 2019

      @pwrwrench Just so ~ The Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection was crude and low cost but it did work pretty well, even in sub zero temps, as long as no one fooled with it . The later AFC system used on Beetles etc. was also simple but vastly better . The only reason I can figure for those wretched Solex A1 platform carbys was co$t . Foolish bean counting mistakes that always cost the parent company customers and they never seem to learn . Best of all was how simple & easy it was to tweak the AFC's air box to make the car run better, faster, more economically and still easily pass the smog test... -Nate

  • Geo Geo on Jul 14, 2019

    Today's Volkswagen is truly completely clueless about the Bug's cultural significance. The Beetle became an icon because of its anti-car symbolism. It was about rebellion. It was about poking a finger in the eye of the establishment, rejecting the over-wrought styling of the day, and not complying to the wishes of the corporate overlords. VW tried to cash in on its history by aping styling cues on a regular, expensive car. It would be like today's Capitol records today signing up four guys with mop-top haircuts, calling them "the Beatles", and creating modern, dull pop songs. For years, there hasn't been a vehicle that has truly captured the imagination of the public. The closest thing to a Bug in North America would likely be the Corolla. Well-built, relatively poor driving dynamics, and (perception-wise) sticks it to the man who wants you to buy American and drive a gas-guzzling, massive truck. Maybe Suzuki should make another go of it. Or Mahindra should try. /rant

  • ToolGuy "The car is the eye in my head and I have never spared money on it, no less, it is not new and is over 30 years old."• Translation please?(Theories: written by AI; written by an engineer lol)
  • Ltcmgm78 It depends on whether or not the union is a help or a hindrance to the manufacturer and workers. A union isn't needed if the manufacturer takes care of its workers.
  • Honda1 Unions were needed back in the early days, not needed know. There are plenty of rules and regulations and government agencies that keep companies in line. It's just a money grad and nothing more. Fain is a punk!
  • 1995 SC If the necessary number of employees vote to unionize then yes, they should be unionized. That's how it works.
  • Sobhuza Trooper That Dave Thomas fella sounds like the kind of twit who is oh-so-quick to tell us how easy and fun the bus is for any and all of your personal transportation needs. The time to get to and from the bus stop is never a concern. The time waiting for the bus is never a concern. The time waiting for a connection (if there is one) is never a concern. The weather is never a concern. Whatever you might be carrying or intend to purchase is never a concern. Nope, Boo Cars! Yeah Buses! Buses rule!Needless to say, these twits don't actual take the damn bus.