• The Volkswagen Beetle sold over 23 million units in its 81-year run.
  • From its dark origins in 1930s Nazi Germany to the "Summer of Love" in 1967, the VW Beetle is one of the most recognisable cars ever made.
  • In 2019 the final Beetle rolled off the line in Puebla, Mexico - but after eight decades, has it finally hit the end of the road? Scott Keogh, Volkswagen America CEO, says "never say never".
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.


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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. A new Volkswagen Beetle in 1967 came in at $1,600, about 12 grand (R180,000) in today's money. A Ford Mustang would've cost you about $2,700, or about $20,600 (R300,000) today.

And then Hollywood stepped in, introducing Herbie the Love Bug in 1968.

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.

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.

The Beetle's final lap was in 2018, where it 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.

Why the decision is made to say bye-bye Beetle and to end the Beetle is frankly the market has changed dramatically. Small cars struggle. It's now an SUV marketplace.

The final 2019 Beetle rolled off the line in Puebla, Mexico, in July 2019. After eight decades, worldwide success, and arguably legendary status.

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