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