Bye-bye, Bee­tle

Ger­man au­tomaker to stop pro­duc­ing iconic car in 2019, mak­ing way for elec­tric cars

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

DETROIT — Volk­swa­gen said on Thurs­day it would stop pro­duc­ing its Bee­tle com­pact car in 2019, end­ing a model that looked back to the 1960s coun­ter­cul­ture as the au­tomaker pre­pares for a leap to­ward a fu­ture of mass-mar­ket elec­tric cars.

The orig­i­nal VW Bee­tle was in­tro­duced in Ger­many in 1938 and came to the United States 11 years later, where it be­came a sym­bol of util­i­tar­ian trans­porta­tion.

In the 1960s, the Bee­tle was a small-is-beau­ti­ful icon of the post­war 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 US, then-chief ex­ec­u­tive Fer­di­nand Piech pushed to re­vive and mod­ern­ize the dis­tinc­tive Bee­tle de­sign pi­o­neered by his grand­fa­ther, Fer­di­nand Porsche. The re­sult was a cres­cent-shaped car called the “New Bee­tle”, launched in 1998, which of­fered play­ful touches such as a built-in flower vase.

The New Bee­tle was a hit dur­ing its early years, with sales of more than 80,000 in the US in 1999, but re­cently the car’s US sales have suf­fered along with most other small cars. Over­all, VW has sold about 500,000 Bee­tles glob­ally since 1998, the com­pany said.

Volk­swa­gen sold a to­tal of 11,151 Bee­tles in the US through the first eight months of 2018, down 2.2 per­cent from the same pe­riod a year ear­lier. US con­sumers look­ing for a small Volk­swa­gen ve­hi­cle over­whelm­ingly pre­fer the Jetta sedan, or a Tiguan com­pact sport util­ity ve­hi­cle. The Jetta, Tiguan and Bee­tle are built for North Amer­ica and other mar­kets at a fac­tory in Mex­ico.

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.

Hin­rich Woe­bcken, head of Volk­swa­gen of Amer­ica, said as the com­pany ramps up its elec­tri­fi­ca­tion strat­egy, there are no plans to re­place the Bee­tle.

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