Goodbye Beetle! Volkswagen Ends Production On One Of The Most Influential And Iconic Models Of All Time
The 9th July 2019 marked the end of an era for Volkswagen as the final Beetle rolled off the production line in Puebla, Mexico after an 81-year production run for the nameplate. Much has changed on the motoring landscape over those eight decades yet the Beetle remained pretty much the same for the best part of the last century.
The original ‘Type 1’ Beetle was a utilitarian economy car designed to get a beleaguered German populace onto the newly constructed autobahns. Mass production only really got going after the war ended and the model was sold in the US between 1949 and 1977. It remained in production in other parts of the world until 2003, and over 21-million units were eventually sold globally.
The revitalized New Beetle revealed in 1997 was a rather different prospect, sharing its front-wheel-drive, front-engined A4 platform with various contemporary VW Group products,. It was now a far more refined and civilized vehicle, yet its nostalgic styling (including a dashboard-mounted flower holder) endeared it to a new generation of motorists.
Consumer desires (and safety regulations) had clearly moved on and refinement and comfort levels were a far cry from the basic original. Powertrains too were now as up-to-date as any rival and while the base models could be had with small capacity inline-fours, there were also upmarket variants that could be specced with the 150hp 1.8-liter turbocharged engine out of the Golf 4 GTI or a warbly 168hp 2.3-liter inline-five motor.
There was even a limited run of 250 3.2-liter RSI variants, which made 222hp and came with four-wheel-drive, sports suspension and a huge rear wing. Along with the standard manual and automatic transmission options, the newly-released dual-clutch DSG gearbox was also available and a convertible body style was introduced in 2001. The second-generation model remained in production until 2011 and 1.16 million units were built. Not quite the record-breaking number of its predecessor but still commendable for a 14-year production run.
Redesigned for the 2012 model year, the ‘New’ prefix was dropped, and the car was once again updated with the latest A5 platform as used in the Volkswagen Jetta. This third-generation Volkswagen Beetle was larger in every direction than its predecessor and while there were no mad RSI-type models, the new range still offered a broad range of naturally aspirated and turbocharged gasoline powerplants as well as a handful of turbodiesels for the European market.
The US got the 2.5-liter inline-five initially ,which made way for the turbocharged 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter four-pots in later years. This time the convertible came just a year after the coupe was launched and a number of special edition models were introduced along the way too. Notable variants include the limited-edition GSR, of which only 3500 were built and which was modeled after the 1973 Super Beetle of the same name; there was also a Dune version with a rugged off-road look, unique paint options and increased ride-height over the standard model. While this model was improved in every area over the previous generations, it didn’t capture the buying public’s imagination quite like the original had and 530,000 cars were eventually sold over its eight-year production run.
Volkswagen’s announcement that it would cease production of the Beetle did not come with any promises of revitalizing the nameplate in the future but don’t discount them resurrecting this iconic name in the years to come. As Volkswagen Group of America’s then-President and CEO Hinrich Woebcken said last year, “There are no immediate plans to replace it. I would also say, ‘Never say never’.”
The shift in consumer tastes towards SUVs in recent years and VW’s perennially successful entry-level Golf model range may have been partly to blame for the Beetle’s declining sales figures, but with the focus now firmly on all-electric vehicles─such as the revitalized Electric VW bus scheduled for a 2020 launch─don’t discount there being a modern take on this classic model in the not-too-distant future. It might even be based on the recently revealed minimalist I.D. Buggy, a basic yet modern EV. It could just be another legend in the making.
Images courtesy of Volkswagen