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VW bids goodbye to the 'New Beetle'

September 14, 2018

Volkswagen has announced that the "New Beetle," a playful spin on the classic bug, will become a thing of the past as of next year. Many Americans have fond memories of the car, despite its roots in Germany's Nazi past.

A gold Beetle
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Carlson

German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) announced Thursday that July 2019 would be the last production month for the iconic Beetle, currently in its third generation.

The classic compact car, which was first developed in Nazi Germany in 1938, went on to become a symbol of hippie culture in the 1960s. Two decades after US sales were discontinued, VW revamped the signature rounded body in a new form with the production of the "New Beetle," complete with built-in flower vase. The car was updated once again in 2012.

VW's plans to shelve the car come as the American branch of the carmaker turns its focus to mass-market electric vehicles and larger family-oriented cars. Globally, VW is struggling to recover from the "Dieselgate" scandal, which broke in 2015 and brought with it legal claims totaling billions.

Before production ceases, the company will offer US customers two special models — the Final Edition SE and Final Edition SEL — starting at roughly $23,000 (€19,670).

People admire a Beetle
The "New Beetle," introduced in the US in 1998, came with a built-in flower vaseImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Will the Beetle be back?

Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen Group of America, Hinrich Woebcken, didn't rule out restarting Beetle production in the future. It's a move the company has taken with the similarly iconic VW Bus, which the company decided to revamp in 2017.

"Never say never," Woebcken said in a statement. 

The CEO acknowledged that shelving the car would be a turning point for many.

"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.

Read more: Volkswagen caught between its past and its future

Herbie sits on the pavement
Herbie, the anthropomorphic Beetle of film, helped popularize the car in the US in the late 1960s. It has featured in several movies since then, most recently in 2005 (above).Image: picture-alliance/Everett Collection/Walt Disney

The Beetle evokes a host of emotions for many individuals, with many Americans affectionately calling the insect-inspired car "The Bug." The car was also immortalized in films, including the 1968 Disney movie "The Love Bug" featuring the Beetle Herbie, and was featured in Andy Warhol's colorful graphic prints.

While the car invokes nostalgia for 1960s counterculture among older Americans, it is also a coveted car for children, who keep their eyes peeled for the rounded vehicles on the road in a game known as "Punch Buggy" or "Slug Bug," which involves punching your neighboring passenger in the arm upon seeing one. 

VW's Nazi origins

The car has its roots in Germany's Nazi era. It was first developed by Ferdinand Porsche, also the founder of the eponymous car company, with support from Adolf Hitler. The Nazi ruler ordered the carmaker in 1934 to create a mass-market "people's car," or "Volkswagen," and in 1937 formed the state-run "People's Car Company" to develop it.

Read more: Germany's love affair with the car

Hitler gives a speech before cars as Nazis look on
Hitler laid the cornerstone for the original Volkswagenwerk, or "People's Car Company."Image: AP

Following World War II, the Allied forces prioritized Volkswagen in order to help strengthen the German auto industry.

While the Beetle did not originally sell well in the US during the 1950s due to Volkswagen's Nazi origins, its popularity eventually took off in the late 60s and 70s, before American production ceased in 1979.

In recent years, sales of the car have taken a hit, dropping year by year and remaining significantly below sales numbers for fellow VW cars the Jetta and the Passat.

Stories round about the Beetle

cmb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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