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The Beetle Final Edition and the End of an Era

by | Sep 27, 2018

There have been times, throughout the decades of production of the Volkswagen Beetle, where its future was uncertain. When the car was first produced as a funds-raising con during World War II, eventually to be adopted by the British and used for military vehicles, a question mark hung over the strange little predecessor to the modern sedan. At the war’s close, when the British were offered the Volkswagen company and turned it down, one could have easily wondered what was to come. Through oil shortage and parts shortages, through overreaching government regulations, and through a history of scandal most recently culminating in the emissions disaster of 2015, Volkswagen has weathered its fair number of storms.  

But they are about to embark upon a new journey with one less ship in their fleet–and it is the most iconic of them all.

Earlier this month, Volkswagen officially announced that 2019 will be the final year of production for their legendary, famous, infamous and occasionally sentient Volkswagen Beetle. This era ends on the anniversary of the Volkswagen’s arrival in America seven decades ago, in 1949, and will be marked by the special Beetle Final Edition models. And, of course, great fanfare will help to both introduce this special model and celebrate a long and historically important production life, one that influenced wars, trades, and western society as a whole. 

And the Beetle Final Edition does appear capable of holding such an esteemed role in the Volkswagen Beetle legacy. It is undoubtedly the all-grown-up version of the Beetle from yesteryear, the girl next door who kept her cuteness but lost the braces and glasses. With a sleek rear spoiler, retro-modern gauges and body and interior color inspiration drawn from the 1970s Jeans Bug and the traditional Harvest Beige color, the Beetle Final Edition is sure to marry the past and present as Volkswagen has never done before. Because, unlike with the very first Volkswagen Beetle, or yet, many variants that followed, the team at Volkswagen is well aware that they are producing a classic car.  

And yet, despite the fanfare and excellence in engineering, design and general fun factor, it’s hard not to wonder why the era of the Bug is coming to a close. With models like the 2018 Tiguan nearly single-handedly supporting the company, Volkswagen is in the black, but Beetle numbers are not alone in a deficit of sales, with the Beetle convertible experiencing a -14.8% drop in sales from August 2017 to August 2018 year to date numbers. While the coupe’s numbers were down by 5.4% for year change from 2017 to 2018, their year to date sales numbers were actually up by 8.1%. With models such as the Golf SportWagen and the Jetta Sedan showing far more dire numbers, one cannot help but assume that the decision to bring the Volkswagen Beetle to a close was not a financial one, but instead, a deliberate decision to capitalize on an important date, stir positive news for a company ripe with scandal and create a product for consumers to get excited about.

What will Volkswagen look like without the iconic Beetle? Likely, it will lose a little of the something that makes it stand out on the road. It is much in part thanks to the Beetle that sedans were ever produced en masse, let alone able to become the most ubiquitous vehicles on the road. Volkswagen continues to drag out their slightly-updated VW Bus endeavors, but with nothing concrete in the production schedule, the company is like to fade more into the model of other mid-level car marquees, rife with mid-sized sedans, cross-overs, and minivans. 

And perhaps that is part of Volkswagen’s plan. After the last few years, fading into general good-enough-ness may be a welcome change from the heat of the spotlight after the curtain got pulled back. It is hard to fault them for wanting to write their own narrative. 

But is it, and the Beetle Final Edition a good enough narrative for the little car that almost didn’t time and again, for a car that fought in wars, that filled city streets, that stood as an icon of a movement?

Is the Beetle Final Edition and this somewhat rushed race to the finish the proper farewell to a car that has outlasted presidencies, countryships and dozens of other car brands, with the same declarative design that makes it recognizable at any age truly the farewell this car deserves?

And is this choice a way for Volkswagen to take the heat off and write a future for their company without the more memorable eras of years past a Hail Mary, or a definitive step toward something spectacular?

From here, this near-final year of Volkswagen Beetle production, only time will tell. 

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