Volkswagen of America, Inc. announced last week that it will end production of the iconic Beetle in 2019. To celebrate the Beetle’s rich heritage, two special models will join the lineup for its last model year, namely a 2019 Final Edition SE and a 2019 Final Edition SEL.
If memory serves me correct, Volkswagen has made similar “last Beetle” echoes the last couple of years, although this time the “last Beetle” notice comes thanks to an official corporate news release right to my inbox.
Thus, it is clear the final Beetle will indeed roll off the assembly line in ’19. However, if you read between the lines of the following statement, the Beetle may one day find another electric generation to do a market re-birth.
“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,” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., adding, “As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S. and ramp up our electrification strategy with the MEB platform, there are no immediate plans to replace it (the Beetle). But as we have seen with the I.D. BUZZ, which is the modern and practical interpretation of the legendary (VW Micro Bus) Bus—I, I would say ‘Never say never’ (when it comes to a new electric Beetle). We’re excited to kick off a year of celebrating one of the true icons of the automotive world, with a series of events that will culminate in the end of production in Puebla (Mexico) in July 2019.”
Thank you Mr. Woebcken for the official “last Beetle” quote, and especially for keeping Beetle lover hopes alive and mentioning the soon to arrive modern-day VW Bus. The ID BUZZ VW Micro Bus is expected to be on dealer floors by 2022, which is now just three model years away and looks great from all the promotional photos.
Now, for a little Beetle history.
In 1933, German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler selected Ferdinand Porsche, of Porsche motorcar fame, to develop Germany’s “People’s Car.” In German vernacular, Volkswagen is pronounced “folksvagen” and means “Volks” for “peoples,” and “vagen” for wagon or car. Hitler felt that a reliable, low priced and well-built car could be available to his masses, especially families with two or three kids that could sit in the back seat. In this sense, he was correct.
Porsche wasted little time moving on his boss’s request and he produced three prototypes, all of which received Hitler’s approval. Hitler had to pick one, and settled on a rear-engine, air-cooled 4-cylinder model that could reach a top speed of 62 MPH and operate in extremely hot weather.
After the Fuhrer’s demise and the end of WWII in May of 1945, the Beetle was exported to other countries and its popularity began. It arrived in the United States in 1949, although its unique “Beetle” looks didn’t impress most American consumers. They felt the Beetle was funny looking and too small and underpowered for their needs as post WWII Americans sought new homes, modern appliances, expansion of television and bigger cars. Compared to a powerful 1949 Olds Rocket or Hudson Hornet Straight Six, the VW had no chance of impacting American car sales.
Initially, Americans were correct. However, thanks to its low price and somewhat “grows on you” lovable looks, VW’s in the 1950 decade gained in popularity and by 1955, VW had sold its 1-millionth Beetle worldwide. Here in the U.S. the Beetle design stayed the same as planned while in March of 1953, the old two-piece rear window from 1949 to 1952 was replaced by a single window followed by a full width rear window in 1957. For VW‘s Beetle, these were the only changes in appearance.
In the 1960s, the Beetle and sibling Microbus finally found a home in America thanks to the “flower child” psychedelic era, highly promoted around the Haight-Asbury area of San Francisco to name but one major geographical influence. Back then, if you were young and into that scene and weren’t driving a VW Beetle or Micro Bus, you were a “hippie secondary.”
Through the 1960s, Beetles and Micro Buses were everywhere, and sales kept improving. Thanks to Woodstock in 1969, the Beetle and Micro Buses received lots of free advertising as photos of hundreds of them were in all the major newspapers and magazines that covered the musical extravaganza.
Beetle sales boomed, and by 1972 the 15th million Beetle was built worldwide surpassing the total production of the Ford Model T. In 1977, Volkswagen Beetles were no longer available in the U.S., but other countries still sold them. Then in 1985, all Beetle production moved to Mexico, which had been building them starting in 1955 as one of many worldwide assembly lines.
The final Porsche style rear engine Beetle rolled off the assembly line in 2003. These final edition rear-engine models featured special decor designed to send the Beetle off in style. The final rear-engine 2003 models were only available in two colors – beige and light blue. Today’s 2019 Final Edition models will feature two similar colors in beige and blue and several more.
Following the old style 2003 Final Edition Beetle which was sold in non-U.S. markets, a New Beetle appeared in the states in October of 1997 as a 1998 model, featuring government compliant emissions and a front engine, front drive format. Although it still mimicked the Beetle models we all came to appreciate, it was actually built on the VW Golf platform and was new in body design only. (Still, it made a big impression)
I’ll most likely be Test Driving the new 2019 Final Edition VW Beetle, so stay tuned and we’ll tell you everything about the real, for sure, last ever (well, maybe not) Volkswagen Beetle for 2019 and I can’t wait to see the new electric Micro Bus in 2022, God willing.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at email@example.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840)