VW bids goodbye to the Beetle

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Volkswagen has announced that the iconic Beetle, known as “The Bug” in the US, 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.

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. Its signature rounded body hit the roads in a new form in the late 1990s 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 that broke in 2015 and brought it legal claims totaling billions.

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

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.

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 counter-culture 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. The insect-inspired vehicle 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.

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.

 

cmb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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