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  • From its dark origins in Nazi Germany

  • to the "Summer of Love" and the big screen,

  • the Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars

  • ever made.

  • In its 81-year run,

  • the quirky car sold over 23 million units

  • and left tread marks on 91 countries worldwide.

  • But in 2019, Volkswagen officially produced its last Beetle.

  • So, how did this tiny German car take over the world,

  • and has it really met its end?

  • The Volkswagen dates all the way back to the 1930s,

  • commissioned by none other than Adolf Hitler.

  • The Nazi dictator wanted a car

  • that the general public could afford.

  • So Hitler tapped engineer

  • and Nazi Party member Ferdinand Porsche.

  • Yes, that Porsche.

  • He designed the Volkswagen, or "the people's car."

  • Jason Torchinsky: Out of all the ideas the Nazis had,

  • it's the one non-terrible idea

  • because a cheap car for everybody

  • is sort of the thing that the Model T was in America

  • and the Mini was in the UK.

  • Narrator: The Volkswagen Type 1 was a two-door car

  • with an air-cooled engine in the back.

  • Production began in Wolfsburg, Germany, in 1938.

  • But when World War II started,

  • manufacturing for the general public stopped.

  • The only Volkswagens made at the time

  • were for military officials.

  • Hitler himself drove a convertible version.

  • After the war, the British took over the factory,

  • and within the first year, they'd produced 10,000 Beetles,

  • because it filled the demand for cheap and practical cars

  • across war-torn Europe.

  • Torchinsky: Plus it was good on gas,

  • which was still expensive

  • and in short supply in a lot of places.

  • Part of the reason it's got such a curved design

  • is to minimize the amount of sheet metal that it uses.

  • So, it was a resource-efficient design, relatively.

  • It took a lot of human power to build them.

  • But that was actually a good thing at the time

  • because they wanted to give people jobs.

  • Narrator: In 1949, Volkswagen took the Beetle

  • to the United States, and it was a massive success.

  • Unlike the big, flashy cars popular of that era,

  • with their chrome and fins,

  • the Beetle's modest size and teardrop shape stood out.

  • Torchinsky: If you look at it head-on,

  • the biggest thing you'll notice

  • compared to an average car of, like, say, the '50s or '60s,

  • is there's no big grill.

  • It's not intimidating in any way.

  • It's got big, round headlights, like big friendly eyes.

  • It wasn't aggressive, it wasn't trying to hurt you.

  • It was your pal who was your car.

  • Narrator: Not only was it cute, it was durable.

  • Announcer: At Volkswagen,

  • we don't worry about how our car looks;

  • we worry about how it works.

  • Torchinsky: They built the hell out of Beetles.

  • So many other carmakers coming into America had problems

  • with their cars just not being built

  • to take the massive scale of America.

  • The Beetle's engine was designed to be low-revving.

  • You could drive it flat-out all day

  • and it's not gonna kill it.

  • Narrator: No one better catapulted the Beetle to success

  • in the States than advertiser Bill Bernbach.

  • His revolutionary 1959 ad campaign

  • highlighted the Beetle's oddball features

  • as its strengths.

  • Marita Sturken: Those ads were very good

  • at giving the car a kind of voice.

  • It's as if the car is honest, the car is humble.

  • And it's talking to you, the consumer,

  • about these new values of conservation,

  • of thinking small and taking into account

  • broader kind of social issues

  • in even in your decision of what to purchase as a car.

  • Narrator: The campaign was a success.

  • Volkswagen sales jumped 52% in the United States

  • as other European imports dropped 27%.

  • And the misfit car was cemented

  • as a symbol of the counterculture.

  • Torchinsky: If you drove a Beetle, on some level,

  • you were saying, I'm not taken in

  • by all the excesses of capitalism, or whatever.

  • So, it made sense that the hippies would gravitate to it.

  • Narrator: The Beetle was perfect for hippies.

  • It was the exact opposite of the cars their parents liked.

  • Plus, it was easy to maintain,

  • and it could last on those long California road trips.

  • Scott Keough: America was changing from

  • what did the government tell me,

  • what is the truth, what do I believe in as a person.

  • And the Beetle just threw a dart right into that place,

  • and (snaps) magic.

  • Narrator: Not to mention it was cheap.

  • A new Volkswagen Beetle in 1967 came in at $1,600,

  • about 12 grand in today's money.

  • A Ford Mustang would've cost you about $2,700,

  • or about $20,600 today.

  • Keough: It was an honest, straightforward proposal.

  • It had a great price.

  • It didn't over-promise anything.

  • It promised exactly what it was capable of doing,

  • and that's why it caught on.

  • Narrator: And then Hollywood stepped in,

  • introducing Herbie the Love Bug in 1968.

  • Announcer: A mind of his own makes Herbie

  • the sole Bug of the love generation.

  • Narrator: The anthropomorphic Beetle with a big personality

  • would go on to star in five movie spin-offs.

  • That same year, VW Beetle sales in the US

  • hit an all-time peak with 423,000 cars sold.

  • By 1972, the 15 millionth Beetle

  • rolled off the manufacturing line,

  • breaking the Ford Model T's 40-year standing record

  • for the best-selling car in the world.

  • But soon, the road turned bumpy for the Beetle in America.

  • In the 1980s, the car couldn't keep up with competition

  • from newly introduced Japanese vehicles.

  • But as sales slipped in the US,

  • the VW Beetle found success abroad.

  • Torchinsky: So, in America, it was pretty much dead,

  • you know, for new cars by, like, the '80s.

  • But then in Mexico and Brazil and South Africa

  • and other countries, it was still going strong.

  • So every time you thought the Beetle was dead somewhere,

  • it would pop up somewhere else

  • and just kind of keep on going.

  • Narrator: But VW wasn't ready

  • to give up on America just yet.

  • In 1998, VW did what they'd never done before.

  • They introduced a completely new Beetle model.

  • It was called the New Beetle,

  • but technically it more closely resembled the VW Golf.

  • Torchinsky: It was a sort of a return

  • to fun in consumer design

  • when things had been kind of beige and rectilinear

  • and straightforward for so long.

  • It definitely made people give a damn

  • about Volkswagen again.

  • Narrator: With fuzzy steering wheels and candy colors,

  • the car was a nostalgic throwback.

  • And it worked. Kind of.

  • Keough: When you bring it back now, 30, 40-ish years later,

  • obviously, a lot of competition.

  • We were getting 100,000 units versus getting, you know,

  • 400,000, 450,000 units back in the '60s.

  • So, clearly, the market had changed,

  • but it was the right call because honestly

  • it put a shot in the arm for the entire brand.

  • Narrator: And then, in 2015, Dieselgate happened.

  • The scandal revealed Volkswagen

  • had cheated on emission tests on their diesel models,

  • including the Beetle.

  • The company paid over $30 billion

  • to settle the case in 2018.

  • Keough: Did it have an impact?

  • Absolutely.

  • And the reason it impact is we broke the trust.

  • And if you look at what the singular thing

  • the Beetle was so fantastic at: trust.

  • It took millions and millions of families to school

  • across America, to Woodstock, on and on.

  • And the fact that this fiasco broke that trust

  • is absolutely the most unsettling thing.

  • Narrator: And the Beetle's final lap was not far behind.

  • By 2018, the Beetle made up just 4% of VW sales.

  • Even with a worldwide fandom and iconic status,

  • the Beetle just wasn't selling new units anymore.

  • In 2018, Volkswagen announced

  • it was ending production of its storied car.

  • Keough: Why the decision is made to, you know,

  • say bye-bye Beetle and to end the Beetle

  • is frankly the market has changed dramatically.

  • Small cars struggle.

  • It's an SUV marketplace.

  • Narrator: The final 2019 Beetle rolled off the line

  • in Puebla, Mexico, in July 2019.

  • After eight decades, worldwide success,

  • and arguably legendary status,

  • has the Volkswagen Beetle really hit the end of the road?

  • Torchinsky: I don't really buy it.

  • I kind of believe we're going to see

  • another version of the Beetle down the road,

  • and it's probably gonna be

  • an MEB electric Beetle at some point,

  • 'cause they'd be crazy not to.

  • Why wouldn't they do it?

  • Keough: You know, with the Beetle, never say never.

  • It's not in our product portfolio.

  • It's not in our plans.

  • We're certainly gonna keep its, you know, soul alive,

  • as I referenced, but the MEB is a phenomenal platform.

  • We've shown a buggy off of that.

  • We've shown a bus off of that.

  • We've shown an SUV off of that.

  • Never say never.

From its dark origins in Nazi Germany

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The Rise And Fall Of The Volkswagen Beetle

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/24
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