Mexican musicians play at a ceremony marking the end of production of Beetle cars, at VW’s assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico. Picture: REUTERS
Mexican musicians play at a ceremony marking the end of production of Beetle cars, at VW’s assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico. Picture: REUTERS

Production of the third-generation Beetle came to a halt last week as the last model rolled off the production line in Puebla, Mexico.

It’s a sad occasion for Volkswagen fans, as the venerable “Bug” has been with us in various shapes and forms since its debut in 1938 as an affordable vehicle commissioned by Adolf Hitler to promote car ownership among Germans.

Designed by Ferdinand Porsche to be an attainable car for the masses, the car overcame its somewhat dark origins and helped put Germany back on the industrial map after World War 2. Exported all over the world and soon built in other countries, this basic but dependable vehicle became a cultural icon: one particularly (and perhaps most ironically) embraced by the hippy movement that swept across the US during the 1960s.

German assembly of the original air-cooled, rear-engined Beetle may have ended in 1978, but it carried on being built in Mexico until 2003. In total, 21,529,464 were made, making it one of the best-selling cars the planet has known.

In an attempt to entice a new generation of buyers (and cash in on the power of nostalgia), Volkswagen released the water-cooled, front-engined New Beetle in 1998, a cute and curvy homage to the original that rode atop a modified Golf chassis.

In 2012 it was given a refresh with more masculine styling cues and torquey turbocharged engines. Sales of the New Beetle were never as high as VW had hoped and now, following consumer obsession towards SUVs, it is being relegated to the history books and its production plant retooled to build a new SUV for the US market. Still, an innings of 81 years is nothing to be ashamed of.

More than 21-million Beetles were built, making it one of the planet’s best-selling cars. Picture: REUTERS
More than 21-million Beetles were built, making it one of the planet’s best-selling cars. Picture: REUTERS

The last units of the Beetle to roll off the Mexican assembly line were given a send-off by a mariachi band and surrounded by proud factory workers.

The Puebla factory, which already produces VW’s Tiguan SUV, will make the Tarek SUV in place of the Beetle starting in late 2020, Volkswagen de Mexico CEO Steffen Reiche said.

The last Beetles will be sold on Amazon.com in a move symbolising the company’s embrace of the future, Reiche said.

“Today is the last day. It has been very emotional,” he said. The current design was the third version of the Beetle after two earlier cancellations and revivals of the marque.

With its funky design and inexpensive price, the original Beetle became a success story over subsequent decades. In the 1960s, the Beetle was a small-is-beautiful icon of the postwar Baby Boom generation. The Herbie movies, which featured a zany anthropomorphic vehicle, helped stoke Beetle fever.

Goodbye, little Bug, you will be missed.