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Beetle, old and new, ends for good

July 11, 2019

Mexican Volkswagen staff have bid farewell to their last "New Beetle," the design that in 1997 succeeded the curvy small family car first made famous in postwar Germany.

Mexiko Abschied vom VW New Beetle
Image: Reuters/I. Medina

Wednesday's send-off for a car in metallic-blue was the last of 1.7 million "New Beetles" produced by Volkswagen in Mexico, and ended more than seven "very important" decades of manufacture, said the German car giant.

Volkswagen's Puebla works, southeast of Mexico City, would, however, continue producing different VW models, including the Golf and Jetta, while focusing on electric and larger family vehicles for the United States.

At Wednesday's ceremony, complete with mariachi band and confetti, VW Mexico CEO Steffen Reiche said the era had ended for a car that had "conquered the hearts of the people with its special design and quality."

"Today is the last day. It has been very emotional," he said. 

Devised under Hitler

The first "Beetle," or Käfer in German, was conceived in the 1930s by a design team led by engineer Ferdinand Porsche, tasked by German dictator Adolf Hitler.

During the war, VW used slave labor at what became its headquarters Wolfsburg in northern Germany and documented on site since 1999 in former air raid bunker.

Read more: Hitler and 'his Volkswagen'

After World War II, in Allied-occupied Germany, the car was rebranded and went into mass production. Exports of the reputedly robust vehicle, with a rear air-cooled motor, began to the United States in 1949.

Inspired film character

Its headlights resembling eyes inspired even a film series, starring "Herbie," a fictionalized 1963 Beetle with human characteristics.  

In Mexico City, two-door versions, popularly known as "vochos," became ever-present as taxis.

Original terminated in 2003

The original Beetle series was sold in Germany up until 1985, latterly as Beetles imported from Mexico. Assembly in Mexico was terminated in 2003, ending a total run of 21.5 million cars produced.

In 1997, Pueblo had already begun production of the successor "New Beetle," emulating the original's round shape. A second-generation "New Beetle" followed in 2011.

Climbed hills "without problem'

Mexico City locals on Wednesday said the front-engine "New Beetle" failed to impress.

"The new ones don't get uphill, and the old ones can climb any incline without a problem," said taxi driver Adrian Martinez.

Businessman David Alvarez said his 2008 New Beetle with a roll-down top still "turns a lot of heads in the streets."

Mechanic Juan Jose Fragoso said spare parts to fix older Beetles had become "very scarce," leaving him dependent on a business partner who bought and disassembled broken or abandoned so-called Type 1 Beetles.

The final car produced Wednesday will remain at Volkswagen's museum in Puebla.

ipj/sms (AP, dpa, AFP)

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