PUEBLA, Mexico — More than two decades after Volkswagen A.G. wowed the world with the debut of the retro-styled New Beetle, the auto maker has ended production of the current-generation model.
The very last example to roll out of the Puebla factory was a denim blue coupe that will be kept in a museum in the same town, marking the end of the line for Volkswagen's popular hatch.
The reborn New Beetle that debuted for the 1998 model year was a surprise hit at a time when retro-styled cars were enjoying a moment. It was sparked by a much earlier 1994 concept designed by J Mays, who was at Volkswagen at the time, dubbed the Concept One. That concept car made it into production with very few changes and landed at just the right time, even if it was a little difficult for Wolfsburg to squeeze the drivetrain and underpinnings of the Golf into a very different shape.
The New Beetle captured hearts right away, but it took VW a long time to field a cabriolet version of the car; few remember this now but the cabrio did not debut until 2003, five years after the Beetle reappeared. True to heritage, the New Beetle remained in production longer than its contemporaries — but certainly not as long as the original — receiving a complete redesign only in 2011, more than a decade after it had made a comeback.
The second-gen version of the Beetle tweaked the looks, most notably gaining a flatter roof and ditching the round taillights, and brought a number of special editions. This time, a convertible version debuted much earlier, and in all over 500,000 Beetles of the 2011-generation model left the Puebla factory.
"It's impossible to imagine where Volkswagen would be without the Beetle," said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. "From its first import in 1949 to today's retro-inspired design, it has showcased our company's ability to fit round pegs into square holes of the automotive industry. While its time has come, the role it has played in the evolution of our brand will be forever cherished."
What will take the Beetle's place in the same factory in Mexico? A North American market-focused compact crossover, of course, positioned below the Tiguan.
Will this be the end of the Beetle story? Rumors have swirled in recent years that alongside the ID Buzz, Volkswagen may bring back the Beetle as an electric hatch in one of the first waves of its electric models. The MEB platform that will be used on a variety of electric cars working their way through the pipeline will underpin a number of hatchbacks. So it's certainly possible for a retro-styled, electric Beetle to be added to the range, especially given the fact that VW has already greenlit a retro-styled Microbus.
We have a feeling we haven't seen the last of the Beetle and that in another couple of decades it will celebrate its 100th birthday.