Does a Volkswagen Beetle by any other name—coccinelle (ladybug) in French, kodok (frog) in Indonesian, vocho (beetle) in Spanish—sound as cute? After selling it on and off in the United States for nearly seven decades, VW is squashing its iconic curved car. The company has ended global production of the bulbous Bug of advertising, movie, and Hot Wheels fame.
German engineers introduced the Beetle in 1938. Adolf Hitler had wanted a “car of the people”—a Volkswagen—that Germans could afford. He hoped to spread auto ownership the way Henry Ford’s Model T had in the United States.
The car—officially called the Type 1—featured a rounded body with seating for five, a nearly vertical windshield, and a rear engine. History buffs trace its distinct design to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche (yep, the same).
In 1949, the VW Beetle emigrated to America. But post-World War II Americans weren’t thrilled about buying anything German. They rejected the Beetle almost entirely: VW sold only two in the United States that year.
But the Beetle came back. By 1955, the millionth Bug had rolled off a German assembly line. And by the 1960s, VW was selling hundreds of thousands of Beetles per year to the U.S. market. The model—and its cousin the VW Microbus—became symbols of no-frills transport often used by hippies.
German production of the original Beetle ended in 1978, and U.S. sales stopped in 1979. Still, Beetle production continued from 1967 to 2003 in Mexico—longer than it had in Germany.
In 1998, Volkswagen introduced a revived “New Beetle” in the United States. The shape was sleeker and more modern. There was one problem: It attracted mainly female buyers. The company later revamped the Beetle again in an effort to make it appeal to men—with a flatter roof, less rounded shape, a larger trunk, and no quirky flower vase. (All new Beetles came with a small clip-on vase that could be attached to the windshield or dashboard. Really.) But the re-do didn’t work: Last year, VW sold only 15,166 new Bugs.
The last Beetle rolled out of the factory in July. (See “Bye-bye, Beetle.”) The end comes as the company is gearing up for mass production of an electric version of its retro-cool VW bus, called the ID. BUZZ.
For now, Volkswagen doesn’t plan to revive the Beetle. But the company won’t rule it out. Says VW of America CEO Hinrich Woebcken: “Never say never.”