VOLKSWAGEN is entering a new era as a car maker: for the first time since it restarted production after the Second World War, it won’t have a Beetle in its model range.
Though the third-generation model you see here is only loosely connected to the original “people’s car”, the retirement of the long-running model brings to an end VW’s 81 year run of on-and-off Beetle production.
It also brings to a halt — temporarily, at least — one of the largest production runs for a single nameplate ever. According to Volkswagen, some 23.2m Beetles across all three generations have been built over the decades, of which 21.5m were the iconic first-generation model that went out of production in 2003.
While VW is seemingly still open to building new cars inspired by its iconic older models (a pure-electric MPV inspired by the original campervan will enter production in 2022), the Beetle isn’t set to make a return anytime soon. Instead of building a fourth-generation version, the car maker will retool the former Beetle factory in Mexico for a far different model: a Volkswagen T-Roc-sized compact SUV for the North American market.
Since it’s bringing a pretty pivotal chapter for Volkswagen to a close, it’s perhaps no surprise the Beetle you see here isn’t destined for a private buyer. Instead, the retro hatchback will be displayed in Volkswagen’s museum in Mexico; a stone’s throw away from the plant in Puebla at which it was built.
Given North America’s affinity with the Beetle (nearly five million examples of the first-generation model were sold in the US), the last two Beetles heading to the States will also be preserved in perpetuity. Instead of a museum exhibit, though, Volkswagen of America will preserve the pair as part of its heritage vehicle collection.
Volkswagen Beetle history
1925 The Austro-Hungarian engineer Béla Barényi (a later pioneer of safety crumple zones in cars) submits a basic design for what would eventually become the Volkswagen Beetle.
1934 Ferdinand Porsche builds the first Beetle prototypes.
1938 The first Volkswagen Beetle (or, as it was known then, the KdF-Wagen) is built. Production ends a year later due to WW2.
1945 Under the stewardship of the British Army’s Major Ivan Hirst, limited production of the “Volkswagen Type 1” (aka the Beetle) restarts.
1946 The 1,000th Volkswagen Beetle is made at the Wolfsburg factory.
1949 The 50,000th Beetle is built; the soft-top Convertible version enters production.
1952 The first Volkswagen Beetles are imported into Britain.
1955 Volkswagen makes its millionth Beetle.
1968 Volkswagen starts referring to the Type 1 officially as the “Beetle”.
1972 With 15,007,034 examples made, the Volkswagen Beetle becomes the world’s best-selling car.
1978 Beetle production ends in Europe, though continues overseas in Brazil and Mexico.
1996 Volkswagen reveals the “New Beetle”, a Golf-based hatchback inspired by the original economy car. Production begins the following year.
2003 The 21,529,464th and final original Volkswagen Beetle is built in Mexico.
2011 Volkswagen replaces the “New Beetle” with the third-generation Beetle.
2019 The final Volkswagen Beetle is built in Mexico. Roughly 23.2m Volkswagen Beetles were built across all three generations.