It’s the end of the road for Volkswagen’s Beetle.
The car was a fixture of popular culture, featured in the movie “The Love Bug,” and was a symbol of the free-wheeling ’60s for many Americans (despite its origins in 1930s Germany).
However, VW says nostalgia is waning for the iconic vehicle—and so are its sales.
“The market is moving on,” said John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto analyst and industry historian in Boston. “The people who wanted them, mostly baby boomer women, bought them, enjoyed them and they’re on to something else. Younger people don’t know what the point is.”
Beetle buying in the U.S. peaked the same year of the original Disney movie at about 423,000 units sold. The car became a phenomenon again in the 1990s when VW brought it back to America after a 20-year lapse. Last year, VW delivered just 15,166 units — less than one-seventh the sales of the Jetta sedan. SUVs, meanwhile, are capturing record share of the market.
“The nostalgia for the ’60s is going away as the baby boomer generation is going away,” Wolkonowicz said. “Most baby boomers are getting older and need something easy to get in and out of. Crossovers are easy to get in and out of, cars are not.”
“The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle’s many devoted fans,” VW U.S. CEO Hinrich J. Woebcken said in a statement.
Could the Beetle eventually find another rebirth? Woebcken hinted it’s possible.
“As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S. and ramp up our electrification strategy with the MEB platform, there are no immediate plans to replace it,” he said. “But as we have seen with the I.D. Buzz—which is the modern and practical interpretation of the legendary Bus—I would also say, ‘Never say never.'”
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The bug was the original Volkswagen—literally translated as the “people’s car”—and its classic, bulbous form has been featured in many social media posts.
— Volkswagen (@Volkswagen) September 13, 2018
— Volkswagen (@Volkswagen) September 4, 2018
— Volkswagen (@Volkswagen) September 2, 2018
In its newsroom, the company talked about a classic road game of spotting VW Beetles as recently as Sept. 11.
It plans to give the Beetle a proper sendoff, with a yearlong celebration of the model’s history.
Before next July, Volkswagen will have several additional events to mark the heritage and history of its original model. We’ll share our moments online under the hashtag #byebyeBeetle.
“The Beetle is more than a car,” says Woebcken, “it’s what made Volkswagen an integral part of American culture.”
The company shared the news on Twitter.
#Volkswagen announces #VWBeetle Final Edition to celebrate vehicle’s rich heritage as third-generation is set to end production in 2019: https://t.co/M4puVUSkKs #ByeByeBeetle pic.twitter.com/l0HzQilUEz
— Volkswagen USA News (@VWnews) September 13, 2018
Users on Twitter have bemoaned the Beetle’s demise:
i’m so upset about VW discontinuing the beetle. my 13-year-old self’s dream of having one is forever dashed
— Alexandria Yarde (@yardealex) September 13, 2018
This makes me sad.
I grew up riding around in a VW Beetle. I think it was a 1970? My dad JUST sold it about 5 years ago. ððð
My brother and I were both sad. Lol. https://t.co/yeT8TnB89R
— June Musings (@JuneMusings) September 14, 2018
The VW Beetle was also an advertising icon, featuring in the “Think Small” campaign among other famous messaging triumphs. The campaign was given special mention on “Mad Men.”
“The Beetle is one of those rare things; a product that escapes the gravity of its category to become a true cultural icon,” said Adam&Eve/DDB’s chief strategy officer Alex Hesz, who worked on the VW account. “It belongs to those thousands of people who bought it at its peak, the early to mid 60s, particularly in the United States. They are the ‘inventors’ of the modern Beetle, far more so than the pre-war Germans who sketched the now-familiar shape and put the production line together.
“That’s why the Beetle isn’t an icon of 1930s Germany, but an icon of 1960s America. The Beetle is proof that no brand, no business, can decide what their products are or aren’t; only consumers have the power to decide that.”
What do you think of VW’s announcement, PR Daily readers?