Volkswagen says it will stop producing its Beetle compact car in 2019, ending a model that looked backward to the 1960s counterculture as the carmaker prepares for a leap toward a future of mass-market electric cars.
The original VW Beetle, developed in the 1930s, made a journey from a product identified with Adolf Hitler to a symbol of Germany’s rebirth as a democratic, industrial powerhouse after World War II.
In the 1960s, the Beetle was a small-is-beautiful icon of the post-war baby boom generation. Volkswagen discontinued US sales of the “bug” in 1979, but continued production for Mexico and Latin America.
In the mid-1990s, at a time when Volkswagen was struggling to rekindle sales in the United States, then-chief Ferdinand Piech pushed to revive and modernise the distinctive Beetle design pioneered by his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche.
The result attracted mainly female buyers. The company revamped it for the 2012 model year in an effort to make it appeal to men, giving it a flatter roof, less bulbous shape, a bigger trunk and a navigation system.
US sales rose fivefold to more than 29,000 in the first year, rising to just over 46,000 in 2013, but tailed off after that. Overall, VW has sold about 500,000 Beetles globally since 1998, the company said.
The end of the Beetle comes at a turning point for Volkswagen. The German automaker’s last three years have been rocked by the fallout from a scandal caused by its admitted cheating on diesel emissions tests.
Now, Volkswagen is gearing up to launch a wave of electric vehicles to appeal to a new generation of environmentally conscious consumers — children and grandchildren of the 1960s Beetle enthusiasts.
In a statement announcing the end of the Beetle, Hinrich Woebcken, head of Volkswagen of America, said as the company ramped up its electrification strategy, there were no plans to replace the Beetle. However, his statement did not rule that out someday.
“I would say, ‘never say never’,” Mr Woebcken said.