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RIP Herbie: A very brief timeline of the VW Beetle

RIP Herbie: A very brief timeline of the VW Beetle
[Photo: frank mckenna/Unsplash]

This week, the last VW Beetle will roll off the production line at the Volkswagen plant in Puebla, Mexico. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its iconic Beetle model, marking the end of the road (*cough*) for a vehicle that has been in production since 1938. Over its eight-decade run, the car with the rounded roof silhouette, engine in the back, and surprisingly capacious seating capacity became an icon of design and pop culture.

Here are some of the milestones over the Beetle’s impressive run:

  • 1935: The Volkswagen, aka “people’s car,” was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to provide low-cost transportation for the masses, akin to the Model T Ford’s popularity in the U.S. (Hitler reportedly had a poster of Henry Ford in his office.)
  • 1938: Designer Ferdinand Porsche came up with the rounded shape that defined the Beetle for decades to come, a design as recognizable as the Coca-Cola bottle, according to the AP. At an address in 1938, Hitler christened the new vehicle as the “Kraft durch Freude-Wagen, or in English, the Strength Through Joy Car.” World War II broke out in 1939, putting the brakes on production.
  • 1945: The German factory is now in the hands of the British, who learned from WWI and realized a functioning economy and decent jobs were important to rebuilding the country. The factory in Wolfsburg is reopened in 1945, and the Volkswagen goes back into production, providing cars to occupation forces stationed in Germany.
  • 1950: After some success in the overseas market and some time after the war, the first VW made its way to the U.S. It wasn’t until 1955 that Volkswagen of America was formed.
  • 1959: When U.S. carmakers started to make smaller cars, VW realized it had to advertise. It hired agency Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach (DDB) and made advertising history with its 1959-1960 “Think Small” campaign.
  • 1968: Disney kick-started Beetle fever with its “Herbie” franchise. The Love Bug debuted in 1968, starring what would now be considered a self-driving, self-aware Beetle that engages in wacky hijinks and bests the competition on the race track.
  • 1968: The same year, the United States became Volkswagen’s most important foreign market, peaking in 1968 with 40% of production or 563,522 cars headed to the U.S., per the AP.
  • 1972: The Beetle passed the Ford Model T as the best-selling car of all time. It remains one of the best-selling cars of all time in the U.S.
  • 1994: A new, modernized version of the Beetle is unveiled at the Detroit auto show. In 1998, the newly minted New Beetle started rolling off the production line and, according to Car and Driver, was “a sensation.” Fun fact: VW’s CEO at the time was Ferdinand Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson.
  • 2003: The last VW Beetle Type I rolls off the production line in Puebla, Mexico. Although Beetle production was halted in the rest of the world due to emission standards, the relatively lax environmental laws in Mexico let Type I production continue long after.
  • 2018: VW announced in September that it would manufacture a “Final Edition” Beetle series before ending production in 2019.
  • 2019: The last VW Beetle Final Edition leaves the Puebla assembly plant, bound for a museum and the history books. According to CNN, the factory will be used to produce a new compact SUV intended for the North American market.
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