One of the key elements of the German post-World War II economic miracle has reached something a milestone this month.
The Volkswagen Beetle, one of the reborn German auto industry’s most enduring and fabled icons, celebrates 65 years since it first arrived in the United States. In January 1949, a Volkswagen “Type 1,” or Beetle, was shipped to New York City. Sent to Ben Pon, Sr., who was a Dutch businessman and the world’s first official Volkswagen importer.
It was the first time the Beetle, which went on to become something of a counter-culture staple by the 1960s, was sold in the United States. In fact, sales skyrocketed by 100% after the first one was arrived: VW sent a second one that year and it sold too.
Sales of Beetles rose from those two to more than 35,000 within six years. That interest led to the establishment of the first Volkswagen of America headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in October 1955.
By 1960, the figure climbed to 300,000 as the car’s simple styling as well as its modest and practical nature found a niche during the gaudy tail-fin era of the late 1950s and very early 1960s.
“Since its arrival in the United States 65 years ago, the Volkswagen Beetle has preserved its reputation of being more than just a car, but a symbol of uniqueness and freedom,” said Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. “The Beetle has become part of the cultural fabric in America and we are proud that its rich heritage continues to live with fans around the States.”
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Owners modified their Beetles with custom paint jobs and even created open-top dune buggies, the Beetle fit perfectly into the cultural revolution happening in the 1960s. By 1968, more than 423,000 Beetles were being sold in the United States each year.
However, like many popular vehicles, interest waned. In 1977, the last “Type 1” Beetle rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg, Germany. However, production of the “old” Beetle continued in production in Mexico for more than another quarter of century. Those vehicles were sold in Mexico and other markets around the world until VW ended production for good in July 2003.
Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle in 1998, a vehicle that paid styling homage to its predecessor, although its engine was water-cooled rather than air-cooled, and mounted at the front rather than at the rear.
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Redesigned for just the second time in history, the third-generation Beetle entered the U.S. market in 2011.
The third generation Beetle has far more power and a myriad technology and safety features unheard of during the 1950s.
(Want to know why VW’s Dune isn’t the Beach Boys’ buggy, Click Here.)
Volkswagen, which is now the world’s second-largest automaker, sold more than 43,000 Beetles in the United States in 2013, making it one of the most popular vehicles in the Volkswagen family, and a leader in the market for two-door specialty coupes and convertibles.
VOA also has grown from selling two Beetle models in the U.S. to a brand that offers 11 different models that are sold by 644 dealers. In 2013, Volkswagen sold 407,704 vehicles, its second straight year of selling more than 400,000 vehicles and the first time this feat had been achieved since the 1970s when the momentum created by the success of original Beetle drawing buyers to the VW brand.