It was a bittersweet moment at the Volkswagen plant in Cuautlancingo, Puebla, yesterday when, serenaded by a mariachi band playing Las Golondrinas and showered with flower petals, the last Beetle to be produced at the plant rolled out the factory doors to head to its final resting place, the Volkswagen Museum in Puebla city.
Volkswagen started producing Beetles in Wolfsburg, Germany, in 1938, and the car quickly propelled Volkswagen to international success. Production in Mexico began in 1967, and by the end of the 70s, most Beetles were being made at the Puebla plant.
The original, rear-engine “Vochos” became the car of choice for Mexico City taxi drivers, and are still used as illegal taxis in some parts of the city, although the government stopped renewing licenses for the cars in 2012.
The plant produced 21 million of the original Beetles between 1967 and 2003, when they were phased out by the sleeker, front-engine “New Beetles,” which had started production in 1997.
Between 1997 and 2019, the Puebla plant produced a total of 1.7 million New Beetles, which were sold in Mexico and 90 other countries around the world.
Roberto Berinstain, who has been working at the plant for 31 years, said he remembers the start of production of New Beetles in 1997 as a radical change.
“With the Vochos, we did almost everything by hand and when the Beetle came, everything changed, there was more automation, it was a trip into the future,” he said at the Beetle’s farewell ceremony.
But in recent years, shifting consumer preference towards SUVs in the United States and elsewhere has been hard on the VW Bug. In 2018, Beetle sales in the United States hit a seven-year low of 14,411.
In response to these market conditions, the Puebla Volkswagen plant will shift production from the Beetle to the Tarek, a small crossover SUV.
According to Rey David García Avendaño, general secretary of a union that represents 7,883 workers at the plant, there will be no layoffs, although more than 900 workers accepted a voluntary retirement package offered by the company.
The last batch of 65 Beetles will be sold online in Mexico for US $21,000 each.