Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In July of 2019, production on what is perhaps one of the most iconic and important cars of all time came to an end. Volkswagen is one of the world's largest automakers. It houses brands such as Audi, Porsche and Bentley. But perhaps its best known vehicle is this little thing: the Volkswagen Beetle. There are few vehicles in the history of the world that have been as important as a Volkswagen Beetle. This car arose from the ashes of Nazi Germany, became a symbol of the 60s counterculture, and has been immortalized over and over in film and popular culture. It is perhaps been in production longer than any other car in history over the entire lifespan of the car. Volkswagen sold over 21.5 million original Beatles. That makes it the most successful car design ever. Even more than the famed Ford Model T, which it eclipsed in total sales on February 17, 1970, to more than 22.5 million of all three versions of the Beatles have been made in terms of popularity. The Beatles nameplate trails only the Volkswagen Golf and the Toyota Corolla among passenger cars. And now it might be gone forever. To understand the beetle, it helps to know it's strange and sometimes disconcerting history. Specifically, the car that became a hippie icon and Hollywood star actually traces its roots back to Hitler's Third Reich. The name Volkswagen in German means people's car and the Volkswagen Beetle was originally intended to be exactly that, a car for the people in the early days of the automotive industry. Cars were a luxury only the wealthiest could afford. Of course, this began to change when makers such as Henry Ford pioneered production methods that made cars accessible to the every man. At that time, the term Volkswagen was not yet a brand name, but a term used in automotive circles to describe a relatively new concept of the people's car, a vehicle that would be attainable for the masses. The idea of mass motoring also appealed to Adolf Hitler, who had risen to power in Germany in 1933 and was reputed to be quite a car enthusiast. An engineer named Ferdinand Porsche? Yes, that Porsche submitted a proposal to the new German government to design a small lightweight people's car. In 1934, Ferdinand Porsche was directed to create a people's car for Germans to travel to New Orleans and also to be used as military vehicles. Though several other automakers had also presented designs for a people's car, Hitler took up Porsches idea in large part because of Porsche's reputation in racing. It was this design that would later become the Volkswagen Beetle. In 1938, the National Socialist Trade Union called the German Labor Front, started the Volkswagen Work Company and began building a factory to produce the cars. The group planned to make 150000 people's cars within the first year of the factory's plant, opening in 1939, 300000 in the second year and 450000 in the third. In 1938, Porsche's car was revealed and Hitler named it the KdF-Wagon. The letters K,D,F stood for the German phrase strength through joy. A Nazi era propaganda slogan. As war broke out, the factory intended to build the cars was retooled for weapons and eventually military vehicles. All customer orders for the planned car were cancelled. Even for those who had paid out of their salaries for them, the use of the factory for weapons ended on April 11th, 1945, when American forces arrived. The Americans turned over the management of the region to the British who recognized the utility of the factory and providing a livelihood for local Germans. They switched the factory over to make civilian vehicles. There were shortages of raw materials and other obstacles. But this began the modern era of the car, officially called the Volkswagen type one and known to much of the world as the Beatles. The British occupying forces in charge of the factory made several decisions that were crucial to Volkswagen's future. They set up a sales force, a department for servicing the vehicles and a school for training mechanics. The British even trained mechanics themselves, using members of the British Army's own Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They also made the choice to start exporting cars, beginning the transformation of the Volkswagen Beetle and the company itself into the international icons they are known to be today. Volkswagen was selling across Europe into the United States and even in Africa by the 1950s. Volkswagen and its Beetle both became symbols of what people called Germany's economic miracle. The name given to the country's rapid reconstruction and revival in the years following World War Two. Well, you know, the beetle had two kind of lives. I mean, its early life in Europe was during the rebuilding after the war. So a lot of people in Europe viewed it as cheap, affordable transportation. And it didn't become a cultural icon like it is in the U.S. now, in the U.S., when when kids were buying them in the 60s, it was sort of rebelling against their parents. You had big American cars were the norm. These were cheap, affordable, exotic, really, because you're from Europe. And I think that that's what helped establish them as as a big cultural icon. The car also gained a unique reputation in some of the markets where it was sold, especially in the United States. It was a car that stood apart. It enjoyed a rare kind of class looseness in that it was beloved by a wide range of buyers from all different backgrounds. It appealed to wealthy and working class buyers alike. It also gained a reputation as one of the emblems of the 60s counterculture. The small car was cheap to buy and easy to fix, and along with the VW bus, symbolized the rejection of the large fuel guzzling American cars of the time. By the 1970s, the Beatles, now decades old design was losing ground to a new generation of cars with water cooled engines and front wheel drive, which boasted more interior space and larger trunks. The car also began to fall behind competitors in safety and fuel economy. The revaluation of Germany's currency also posed competitive problems for Volkswagen, forcing the company to raise prices in markets such as the United States. Between 1970 and 1976, Volkswagen of America's sales dropped from around five hundred sixty five thousand vehicles to just over 230000, and its market share was a mere two point three percent. Volkswagen began to broaden its lineup of vehicles producing the golf, polo and Passat over the next three decades. The beetle faded into the background and the company became better known for its successors. In 1998, Volkswagen decided to bring the Beetle back in a new form as a bubbly front engined car. The new beetle was one of the leaders of the trend of retro styled cars that followed, which included such models as the Chrysler P.T. Cruiser and redesigned Ford Thunderbird with its bright colors and small flower holder on the dashboard. The car attracted a new generation of customers seeking a unique and fun vehicle. There were some fans of the old bill who appreciated the cars revival, but others complained that the new beetle had a cutesy appearance and that its price point was relatively high compared with its predecessor. So I think there was this great welling of of of looking back and that sort of died out now that we're in the new and the new well into the new millennium. And I think people are beginning to look forward again. The car was a disappointment to longtime fans and purists hoping for a return to the original air cooled rear engine vehicle. Nevertheless, it was something of a hit with a new generation of drivers. And Volkswagen sold more than one point two million new beetles globally between 1998 and 2010, while Volkswagen promoted its new beetle in major markets such as the U.S., the original Beetle was still selling in other markets around the world, especially in Latin America, for at least three years. Volkswagen was selling two different versions of the Beetle to different sets of customers. Production of the original Beetle continued until 2003 at Volkswagen's factory in Puebla, Mexico. A mariachi band followed the final car as it rolled down the production line. Production of the Beetle at the Pueblo facility didn't end with the original VW bug. In fact, it would be home to all Beetle production for the 1998 and 2011 versions of the car that had been sold in 91 markets around the world. But sales of the second generation beetle declined as its novelty wore off and the trend in retro auto design waned. So in 2011, Volkswagen redesigned the vehicle again, this time with a more understated aesthetic that bore more of a resemblance to the original and was more grown up than its predecessor. It failed to capture the minds of buyers and never hit the sales numbers of the second generation. Part of the trouble was that Volkswagen was refining the design of the Beetle at a time when people were beginning to abandon cars. It held on for a few years, selling over one hundred seventy five thousand in the U.S. during its run. But then it was gone. On July 10th, 2019, Volkswagen announced the end of production of the iconic Beetle. The second generation, if you look at the design of that thing, it actually hews closer to the original the a little bit flatter. I think it looks really good. I like I'd like what they have done in making it a more sort of grown up design. But the problem is that you're stuck there. You're stuck with a two door coupe in a market that has gone SUV crazy. Could the beetle ever return to the world? Never say never. Said one Volkswagen executive. But the automaker also said there were no immediate plans to replace it. Volkswagen has been focused on its push toward developing family vehicles and electrified cars, but its influence lives on and other cars the company has made. Perhaps most striking is the planned revival of the Volkswagen bus. Volkswagen said it plans in 2022 to begin producing a version of the I.D. Buzz concept bus it introduced a few years ago. The original bus, which was first produced in 1950, was built on the original Beatles platform. So even after its death, the Beatles could continue to leave marks on the automotive world.