The Very Last Volkswagen Beetle Rolls off the Production Line
- The final Volkswagen Beetle ever made, a Denim Blue coupe, was built today in Puebla, Mexico, and will go on display at VW’s museum there.
- In its place, Volkswagen de México’s Puebla plant will produce a new North American crossover positioned below the Tiguan.
- Volkswagen has sold more than 1.7 million of this third-generation Beetle, which was introduced as the New Beetle in 1998.
This is finally the end of the road for the long-serving Volkswagen Beetle as the very last third-generation model rolled off the production line in Mexico today, having sold more than 1.7 million copies worldwide since its debut in 1998.
But, as everyone knows, the Beetle dates back many decades earlier to a less than auspicious debut as the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, who wished for a “people’s car” that could have the same societal influence on Germany that Henry Ford’s Model T did in the States. The original Beetle, a.k.a. Type 1, survived long past its logical expiration date. Cheap, efficient, instantly recognizable, and yet somehow enigmatic, the original air-cooled Beetle transcended its initial purpose, and, like the classic Willys Jeep, the Fender Stratocaster, and the Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker, it evolved into a cultural icon despite, or possibly because of, its inherent drawbacks. It saw a couple of significant updates and numerous running changes along its 65-year run, but production of the Type 1 lasted until 2003, with the last model rolling off the line at the same Mexico plant where the third-gen modern Beetle ended its run today.
Although the air-cooled Beetle disappeared from the U.S. market in the late 1970s for a multitude of reasons, it seemed at the time that a new Beetle was inevitable; we just didn’t think it would take until 1998 to get one. After several years of rumors and teasers, the New Beetle arrived just as an entire generation of buyers of growing affluence realized they were suffering from a debilitating case of nostalgia. Anxious to identify with the cultural touchstones of the past, they flocked to the New Beetle, which provided all the warm and fuzzy memories without triggering the nightmares inherent of its ancestor, a vehicle powered by a 40-hp 1.2-liter engine that could barely maintain 60 mph on an incline.
When it came, the New Beetle was dramatically improved in nearly every metric: ride; comfort; noise, vibration, and harshness; and reliability-well, for Volkswagen of the late ’90s, anyhow-and modern conveniences such as air conditioning and an automatic transmission. But those who stuck around long enough to get past the cute factor discovered that for the period, the New Beetle was a pretty darn good car, too. Did anyone care that the water-cooled engine was in the front? Maybe, but progress has a cost, and if the car could be made safer and more practical to produce, only the most hard-core devotes seemed disappointed.
Not long after its launch, Volkswagen began utilizing the Beetle as a palette for experimentation, creating convertibles and a turbocharged version, numerous special editions including a Barbie Beetle, a Denim Edition, and the Beetle Dune, among many other special editions and one-off concepts. The last major redesign came with the 2012 model year, when VW attempted to add an air of masculinity to the design and dropped the “New” from its name, simply calling it the “Beetle.” This also marks the point where the entire production of all third-gen Beetles was shifted to the Puebla facility, although the cars were shipped to 91 markets worldwide.
Although we’re sad to see the Beetle-new, old, or otherwise-fade off into the golden-hued sunset, Volkswagen isn’t finished mining its past for future product. Just two years ago Volkswagen confirmed the I.D. Buzz for production, signaling the next wave of forward-facing vehicles with a foot in the past. A modern interpretation of the classic Microbus, the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz electric vehicle is a high-tech tour de force, and it’s scheduled to hit showrooms in 2022.