The Day the Beetle Died: Notes from Puebla’s Farewell Ceremony for the Beetle

As of July 10, 2019, Volkswagen no longer makes anything known as the Beetle. This marks the first time in the company’s history that no vehicle known as the Beetle will be produced.

July 11th will be the first ever day that Volkswagen’s Puebla plant does not produce a Beetle. While Americans think back on the Beetle as the oddball, to most Mexicans, the Beetle was the obvious choice. According to VW, 8 in 10 Mexicans grew up with a Beetle in the family to say nothing of the taxis that filled Mexico’s largest cities.

The Puebla plant, meanwhile, VW’s second largest, started construction in 1966 and has been churning out Beetles ever since. After the rest of the world gave up on the air-cooled Beetle, Mexico kept right on producing them, only ending production in 2003, six years after the New Beetle started construction—also at Puebla.

According to Roberto Baristain, who started working at the plant in 1988 and who has worked on each generation of Beetle, building the Beetle was more than just work.

“In spite of my 31 years, the Beetle will always have a piece of my heart,” he said at an event celebrating the construction of the final Beetle.

In fact, Baristain hasn’t just worked on production Beetles. He was involved in the construction of the Concept 1, which would become the New Beetle. After that, he collected more than one million signatures petitioning to have the Beetle built in Mexico.

As fate would have it, Baristain would succeed and since 1997, all Beetles have been built in Mexico. That’s not to say it was easy going.

“The old was made by hand,” says Baristain. “With the New Beetle, there were robots. Everything changed.”

Indeed, in its first year of production, the factory was only made about 60 New Beetles per day. Thanks to strong demand, though, that number would grow tenfold before the end of year. Keeping up with demand was among the biggest challenges of Baristain’s career.

To mark the end of the model, or at least, the name that put VW on the map, Volkswagen de Mexico held a special ceremony to honor the production of the final Beetle. Complete with confetti, a crowd of the people who made it, and a mariachi band, the event was a tribute to a similar event the company held to mark the production of the last ever air-cooled Beetle where a mariachi band played the Beetle out. The tequila that was poured at the 2003 event, though, was foregone here.

The last car, a Denim Blue coupe, will be sent off immediately to Volkswagen de Mexico’s museum in Puebla and is a tribute to the blue Beetle Ultima Edicions that marked the end of the air-cooled Beetle’s production.

Volkswagen USA, meanwhile, will celebrate the long-loved model by setting the last two models destined for the USA. The cars, each finished in Kings Red and sporting custom dashes and keys, will join VW USA’s heritage collection.

Although the event was a bittersweet farewell for VW’s employees, it likely won’t affect their livelihoods as the company says that a new SUV that is smaller than the Tiguan and destined for the US market (among others) will replace it, with production starting in 2020.