From Wire Reports
Volkswagen’s “Love Bug” has been squashed by the SUV boom.
The German automaker marked the end of production of the iconic Beetle on Wednesday at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, and wasted no time talking about what will take its place: a compact sport utility vehicle. It’ll be a beefed-up version of a model sold in China named Tharu, which internally is code-named Tarek even though a VW spokesman said that will change once it goes to market.
“We’ll adapt the Chinese model for this market,” Steffen Reiche, chief executive officer of VW’s Mexico business, said during an event at the Puebla plant. “Our version will be the stronger one, the rougher one compared to the Chinese one.”
Demand for the Beetle and hatchbacks has been crushed by years of low gasoline prices and the American consumer’s appetite shifting toward SUVs and pickups. Trucks have been capturing record share of the U.S. market, prompting automakers including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford to drop many of the passenger car models from their lineups.
For VW, it’s the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.
That included being a part of Germany’s darkest hours as a never-realized Nazi prestige project. A symbol of Germany’s postwar economic renaissance and rising middle-class prosperity. An example of globalization, sold and recognized all over the world. An emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the United States. Above all, the car remains a landmark in design, as recognizable as the Coca-Cola bottle.
The car’s original design — a rounded silhouette with seating for four or five, nearly vertical windshield and the air-cooled engine in the rear — can be traced back to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was hired to fulfill Adolf Hitler’s project for a “people’s car” that would spread auto ownership the way the Ford Model T had in the U.S.
The United States became Volkswagen’s most important foreign market, peaking at 563,522 cars in 1968, or 40 percent of production. Unconventional, sometimes humorous advertising from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach urged car buyers to “Think small.”
Though first produced in Wolfsburg, Germany, production ended there in 1978 as newer front drive models like the Golf took over. But the Beetle wasn’t dead. Production went on in Mexico from 1967 until 2003 — longer than the car had been made in Germany. Nicknamed the “vochito,” the car made itself at home as a rugged, Mexican-made “carro del pueblo.”
Production of VW’s new compact SUV will begin at Puebla in 2020, with the model reaching U.S. dealerships in 2021.
VW announced the plans about a month after Mexico became the first country to ratify the overhauled North American free-trade deal known as the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The accord requires that 75% of vehicle content be sourced from North America to cross borders tariff-free.
The rules represent a “big challenge” for VW, whose regional content is now at 64%, Reiche said.
VW’s Puebla plant also builds the Jetta sedan and Tiguan SUV. Reiche said the very last edition of the Beetle will be sold online through Amazon.