Could the beloved VW Beetle, best-selling car of all time and movie star in its own right, really be facing the end of the line?
That’s the grim possibility being touted in the motoring media, with global sales of the revamped Beetle down to around 94,000 cars last year, with just 476 sold in Australia.
VW are on a price-slashing spree, with the poor-selling three-door Polo set for the chop, according to the Detroit Bureau. And the iconic VW Beetle could be next in line.
It’s a sad prospect for the sassy little car which started as a twinkle in Adolf Hitler’s eye, then took a weary, post-war world by storm after being shipped to England from a bomb-damaged German factory in 1945.
A Dubious Past
Initially dubbed “too ugly and noisy” to appeal to the average car buyer, the sunny, funny vehicle soon earned the nickname ‘the bug’, embedding itself in the lives and hearts of several generations of youngsters, surfies, students, progressives and ordinary mums and dads around the world.
It’s shocking to think that such a benign car emerged from dictator Adolf Hitler’s determination to find a ‘People’s Car’ which would match the mass appeal of Henry Ford’s vehicles being churned out in America.
Hitler read Ford’s biography while languishing in a German prison in 1923. Appointed Chancellor in 1933, Hitler swiftly announced his plan to get every German motoring. He delivered Ferdinand Porsche the design brief of a car with air-cooled engine that would carry two adults and three children at a speed of 60mph along the country’s new autobahns, costing 1000 Reichmarks.
The Second World War got in the way of this grand design. But the rescued prototype was sold to the US in a brilliant 1959 ‘Think Small’ advertising campaign, and the newly named Beetle became the biggest selling foreign-made car in America throughout the 60s.
Fame at Last
The pre-war German families busily saving up to buy the much-touted ‘People’s Car’ could hardly have imagined the vehicle would go on to star in six Hollywood movies, beginning its stellar career in the 1968 smash The Love Bug. Herbie is an anthropomorphic 1963 VW Beetle truly with a mind of his own. Capable of driving himself, he gets into all kinds of scrapes, while proving a serious contender in a variety of races.
Through many sequels, Herbie finds himself passed down from owner to owner, even working as a taxi at one point. But it all works out in the end. Herbie falls in love with a bright yellow New Beetle in his final outing (so far anyway): Herbie: Fully Loaded in 2005.
What’s Next for the People’s Car?
The VW New Beetle was launched in 1997, in a bid to pull the bug into a new century. While it bore a resemblance to the exterior of the original, this retro-motor was a contemporary beast with front – rather than rear – engine, and a succession of special editions which followed.
Loved by women and twice voted Gay Car of the Year, VW have tried to remarket the New Beetle along more masculine lines. ‘Flower Power’ screamed the Berlin billboards when the Mark II emerged in 2011. The ‘Flower’, however, had been crossed out.
Subsequent models, then, have been progressively beefed up in a bid to appeal to a wider audience.
The rugged, higher-riding concept car titled Volkswagen Beetle Dune was scheduled for sale in 2016, hoping to catch a whole new market. Production, however, is now in doubt, with the future of the Beetle under threat.