The VW Beetle invaded America 65 years ago, in January 1949. Though it went on to sell over half-a-million units in a single year in the mid-1970s, in its first year the distinctive, ultra-compact car sold a grand total of two.
The first VW Beetle was brought to the United States by a Dutch businessman, Ben Pon Sr. of New York. Though sales in that first year were sluggish to say the least, within a few years the car became a favorite of budget-conscious car buyers who wanted a reliable vehicle at a lower cost than the typical American gas-guzzler.
But it wasn’t just the low price and good fuel economy that attracted American buyers. The VW Beetle soon became a fashion statement in itself, seen as a statement of rebellion against the hegemony of Detroit automakers and their enormous cars that dominated American roads at the time,
“They were so adaptable, you could turn them into a dune buggy, you could hop it up, you could paint it wildly,” Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum, told The Los Angeles Times. “It was the car of the hippie movement and of the counterculture.”
In 1968, the height of 1960s the anti-war and hippie era, VW sold 423,000 Beetle cars to American motorists.
The Beetle also established German automaker Volkswagon as major force in the United States auto industry. By 2013, the company had 11 models on the U.S. market, including the latest version of the VW Beetle, and sold 407,704 cars.
The latest Beetle is the third version, aptly named “Type III.” The original VW Beetle, Type I, was discontinued in 1977, but 21 years later, Vollkswagon brought the Beetle back. Type II featured a sportier design and did well at first, selling 80,000 cars per year at its peak.
By 2010, interest had waned, with sales of the Type II not even reaching 20,000. So Volkswagon put the kibosh on that model, too.
The third and current design of the VW Beetle hit the market in 2012. But last year, Beetles made up just over 10 percent of Volkswagon’s 408,000 sales.