Beetle finally squashed

 

The original VW Beetle rolls off a production line for the last time this summer. In its 70-year history, 22 million air-cooled Beetles were produced. They were cheap and reliable, with the slogan "it will run and run and run".

Created on Hitler's orders to give every German family a vehicle, this first Volkswagen, or people's car, entered mass production after the second World War. It symbolised the German industrial miracle and was the car for the rebellious post-war generation. Beetles have enjoyed cult status since then, but its old technology meant sales began to fall in the 1970s.

The Mexican unit of Volkswagen AG said a fall in demand was behind a decision to pull the bug, but there's no date yet for the beetle's exit from production at the Puebla plant, sole producer since 1996. VW's Mexico unit began Beetle production in 1952. There are 1.65 million beetles in Mexico. Since 1999, sales have fallen from 36,500 to 24,500 last year. The car remains a symbol of Mexico City, where it's the standard taxi.

Volkswagen de Mexico's Puebla plant plans to send the Beetle off with a bang - the last edition will include rounded chrome hubcaps and whitewall tyres.

The original Beetle was the basis for the success of the late Stephen O'Flaherty. Motors Distributors Limited, the company of which his son, Nigel, is chairman, controls the importation here of VW, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and VW-owned marques like Audi and Skoda.

When the late Stephen O'Flaherty took on the Beetle's Irish franchise in 1950, he had no rivals. In this period, it was British cars that dominated. Popular wisdom was that the Beetle wouldn't sell here. Stephen O'Flaherty acquired the old tramway depot in Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4 for the car's assembly, now Ballsbridge Motors, a retail operation in the O'Flaherty group.

In charge of assembly in 1950 was the late Denis Connolly. In an interview seven years ago, he recalled the state of the depot initially: "It was cold and wet and manky and building the cars from the CKD boxes was a challenge. But the old bays for inspecting the undersides of the trams came in useful."

CKD, incidentally, stands for Completely Knocked Down. Ireland was the first country outside Germany to assemble the original Beetle and the first assembled car is now in VW's Wolfsburg museum.