Volkswagen is celebrating 65 years since the first Beetle arrived in the United States. Since January 1949, more than 5.5 million Beetle models have been sold in the USA, in three distinctive designs. Here’s some history of the beloved Bug, which became a touchstone for an entire generation and one of the most iconic and recognizable vehicles in the world:
The first Volkswagen in the USA was a “Type 1,” or Beetle, shipped to New York City by Ben Pon, Sr., a Dutch businessman and the world’s first official Volkswagen importer. That car found a buyer immediately, and Pon began importing more.
By the mid-1950s, more than 35,000 Beetle models were on the road in the USA. That number grew to nearly 300,000 within the decade, all attracted by its affordability and practicality, along with its unique design, size, and fuel economy.
From custom paint jobs to open-top Dune Buggy bodies, the Beetle fit perfectly into the counter-culture of the 1960s. Ask anybody who remembers the 60s or 70s, and there was probably a Beetle in their lives. Mine was a deep blue. By 1968, more than 400,000 Beetles vehicles a year were being sold in the United States.
Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle in 1998, with updated styling. A bigger change was that the new engine was water cooled rather than air cooled, and mounted at the front rather than at the rear.
The third-generation Beetle was born in 2011. While staying true to its roots, today’s Beetle would be unrecognizable to buyers in the 1950s, with its powerful and fuel-efficient engines, including a zippy 1.8 liter turbo-charged engine, and state-of-the-art technology and safety features which have earned it a 5-star Safety Rating from the Government’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).
Plus, it’s still fun to drive, and still a cultural touchstone, whether you choose the traditional coupe or the covertible. Base price is just under $21,000, making it one of the most affordable safe cars on the road. And with an EPA rating of 33 mpg highway, it’s also one of the most fuel efficient.
The third-generation Beetle sold more than 43,000 units in the United States in 2013, making it one of the most popular vehicles in the Volkswagen family, and a leading player in the market for two-door specialty coupes and convertibles.
In 65 years, Volkswagen has grown from selling just Beetle vehicles in the U.S. to a brand that offers 11 different models sold by 644 dealers. VW also built an eco-friendly factory in Chattanooga, the world’s first auto manufacturing plant to be LEED certified, much of it powered by a huge solar installation. Read the ecoXplorer article about the VW factory.
Volkswagen of America headquarters is in Herndon, Virginia, just outside Washington, D. C. International headquarters are in Wolfsburg, Germany, near Berlin. One of the prototype models is in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, since the original Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche.
Volkswagen, by the way, translates as “people’s car”, because it was designed from the start to be affordable for everybody.
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