The Rise and Fall of the Volkswagen Beetle

The Rise and Fall of the Volkswagen Beetle

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars ever made is the. In its eighty-one year run the quirky little car sold over 23 million units and left treat marks in ninety-one countries worldwide. But Volkswagen officially produced its last beetle in 2019.

So how did the VW Beetle take over the world?

First of all, the Volkswagen dates back all the way to the 1930s and was commissioned by non-other than Adolph Hitler.  Hitler wanted a car that the general public could afford. So, He tapped an engineer, a fellow Nazi party member called Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. He designed the Volkswagen (“people’s car”).

Volkswagen type-1

Production of the Volkswagen type 1 began in Wolfsburg, Germany 1938. It was a two-door car with an air-cooled engine in the back. But when WW II started manufacturing for the general public stopped. The only Volkswagen made at the time was for military officials. Hitler himself drove a convertible version.  

After the war the British took over the factory, and within the first year they’d produced 10,000 Beetles because it filled the demand for cheap and practical cars across war torn Europe.

In 1949, Volkswagen took the Beetle to the United States, and it was a massive success because unlike the big flashy cars that were popular of that era with their chrome and fins, the Beetle modest size and teardrop shape stood out.

Not only did it look cute, it was durable. At the time, most of the VW Beetle’s early success was down to advertiser Bill Bernbach. His revolutionary 1959 ad campaign focused on the Beetle’s oddball features, as its strengths. The campaign was a success as Volkswagen sales jumped 52% in the United States as other European imports dropped 27%.

The Volkswagen Beetle was perfect for hippies as it was the exact opposite of cars that parents liked. Plus, it was cheap, easy to maintain and it could last all those long California road trips. A new Volkswagen Beetle in 1967 cost $1600 about twelve grand in todays money, a Ford Mustang would have cost about $2700 or about $20,600 today.

Then Hollywood stepped in, introducing “Herbie The Love Bug” in 1968 and it went on to get five movie spin offs.  That same year Volkswagen sales in the US hit an all time high with 423,000 cars sold.

By 1972 the 15th millionth Beetle rolled off the manufacturing line, breaking the Ford model T forty years standing record for the bestselling car in the world. But soon the road became bumpy for the Beetle in America.

In the 1980s the car faced high competition from newly introduced Japanese vehicles. But as sales slumped in the US the Volkswagen Beetle found success abroad.

However, VW wasn’t ready to give up on America just yet. In 1998 VW made a radical change. They introduced a completely new Beetle model called the new Beetle.

Volkswagen Beetle 1998

The 2012 design of the VW Beetle closely resembled the VW Golf.

Anyways with fuzzy steering wheels and candy colors, the car was a nostalgic throw back and it kind of worked.

Then in 2015 Diesel gate happened. The scandal revealed VW had cheated on emissions tests on their Diesel models including the Beetle. VW paid over $30 billion to settle the case in 2018.

The Beetle was known to convey trust due to its reliability and longevity but the Diesel gate scandal broke that trust and the Beetle’s final lap wasn’t far behind.

By 2018 the Beetle made up just 4% of VW’s sales.

Even with a worldwide fandom and somewhat iconic status, the Beetle just wasn’t selling new units anymore. In 2019 VW announced it was ending production of its storied car.

Frankly the decision was down to changes in the market. Small cars now struggle as SUVs are the norm.

The final Beetle rolled of the line in Puebla, Mexico July 2019.

After eight decades world wide success and arguable legendary status, is this really the end for the Volkswagen Beetle? Hopefully at some point in the future VW can bring it back as a cool looking electric Beetle.

Darrell Flinch

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