(By David McHugh, AP)

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model this week at its plant in Puebla, Mexico…

It’s the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning the eight decades since 1938.

It has been: a part of Germany’s darkest hours as a never-realized Nazi prestige project. A symbol of Germany’s post-war economic renaissance and rising middle-class prosperity. An example of globalization, sold and recognised all over the world. An emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the United States. Above all, the car remains a landmark in design, as recognisable as the Coca-Cola bottle.

The car’s original design — a rounded silhouette with seating for four or five, nearly vertical windshield and the air-cooled engine in the rear — can be traced back to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was hired to fulfil German dictator Adolf Hitler’s project for a “people’s car” that would spread auto ownership the way the Ford Model T had in the U.S.

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Aspects of the car bore similarities to the Tatra T97, made in Czechoslovakia in 1937, and to sketches by Hungarian engineer Bela Barenyi published in 1934. Mass production of what was called the KdF-Wagen, based on the acronym of the Nazi labour organisation under whose auspices it was to be sold, was cancelled due to World War II. Instead, the massive new plant in what was then countryside east of Hanover turned out military vehicles, using forced laborers from all over Europe under miserable conditions.

Re-launched as a civilian carmaker under supervision of the British occupation authorities, the Volkswagen factory was transferred in 1949 to the Germany government and the state of Lower Saxony, which still owns part of the company.

FILE – In this June 16, 1954 file photo, VW beetles are assembled in lines at the Volkwagen auto works plant, which manufactures nearly 900 automobiles each day, in Wolfsburg, West Germany. Thanks to Volkswagen, Wolfsburg boomed in West Germany’s postwar rebirth and today the town and the company are inseparable. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model in July 2019 at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.(AP Photo/Albert Riethausen, File)

By 1955, the one millionth Beetle – officially called the Type 1 – had rolled off the assembly line in what was now the town of Wolfsburg

The United States became Volkswagen’s most important single foreign market, peaking at 563,522 cars in 1968, or 40% of production. Unconventional, sometimes humorous advertising from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach urged car buyers to “Think small.”

“Unlike in West Germany, where its low price, quality and durability stood for a new post-war normality, in the United States the Beetle’s characteristics lent it a profoundly unconventional air in a car culture dominated by size and showmanship,” wrote Bernhard Rieger in his 2013 history, “The People’s Car.”

FILE – In this July 21, 2003 file photo, Volkswagen employees work in the assembly plant of the Volkswagen sedan ‘last edition,’ at the VW plant in Puebla, 65 miles (105 kms) southeast of Mexico City where it will stop producing the cult classic bug on July 30th. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model in July 2019 at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Production at Wolfsburg ended in 1978 as newer front drive models like the Golf took over

But the Beetle wasn’t dead yet. Production went on in Mexico from 1967 until 2003 — longer than the car had been made in Germany. Nicknamed the “vochito,” the car made itself at home as a rugged, Mexican-made “carro del pueblo.”

The New Beetle — a completely new retro version built on a modified Golf platform — resurrected some of the old Beetle’s cute, unconventional aura in 1998 under CEO Ferdinand Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson. In 2012, the Beetle’s design was made a bit sleeker. The last of 5,961 Final Edition versions is headed for a museum after ceremonies in Puebla on July 10 to mark the end of production.

FILE – In this April 27, 1966 file photo, Volkswagen workers drive their Beetle cars from the parking lot on their way home at the end of a days work at the world’s largest single auto plant, the Volkswagen factory (seen in background) in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model in July 2019 at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.(AP Photo, file)
FILE – In this May 26, 1938 file photo, German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler speaks at the opening ceremony of the Volkswagen car factory in Fallersleben, Lower Saxony, Germany. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model in July 2019 at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938. (AP Photo, File)
FILE – In this June 12, 2002 file photo, a Volkswagen Beetle, known as Fusca in Brazil, painted in Brazilian colors on the eve of the Brazilian team’s next match of the World Cup, drives down Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model in July 2019 at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.(AP Photo/Douglas Engle, File)
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Author: ANA Newswire