I step right into a production-line-adjacent convention room on the Volkswagen Beetle manufacturing unit in Puebla, Mexico. The air inside is tinged with the aroma of what appears to be a close-by toilet leaking its wretchedness into the air-con vents. A presentation slide entitled “How can be work” particulars the day’s schedule upon a projection display screen on the different finish of the room. Clearly, I am not in the USA.
I, together with a handful of US and Canadian media colleagues, are ushered round a desk. We’re given a schedule rundown and security briefing lasting a mere 15 minutes, after which we’re directed towards the manufacturing ground to assist construct a home-stretch batch of Volkswagen Beetles. In only a few weeks’ time, VW’s Bug can be swatted.
This factory-floor fast-tracking runs in stark distinction to my Volvo S60 . With Volvo, I used to be put via a half-day’s coaching to learn to carry out only one activity on the road. At the moment with the Beetle, I will be putting in entrance bumper and radiator covers, mounting the right-rear wheel, bolting within the rear suspension and inserting the entrance emblem.
I do not thoughts the chance to be concerned in additional of the Beetle’s manufacturing course of, in fact. We’re speaking about one in every of historical past’s most acknowledged and influential machines. For the reason that Beetle’s inception in 1938, greater than 23 million Bugs have crawled out of VW factories the world over, from Germany to Nigeria, Indonesia to Eire and presently, Mexico. Getting an opportunity to construct among the remaining examples of the “Individuals’s Automobile” is a type of tales I will doubtless inform my grandchildren.
My first activity is to put in the entrance bumper cowl on a Stonewashed Blue Beetle headed to a Chinese language buyer. Bumper meeting would have been a quite easy course of had I been given a crack at multiple automobile. That is not within the playing cards, although, so I am going about my duties like a toddler navigating alongside the Brooklyn Bridge’s railing.
Fortunately, I’ve bought a supervision security internet of professionals standing round me. For these women and men who work the road daily, correct element mounting is a matter of muscle reminiscence. Click on collectively a couple of electrical connectors, bang on the physique panels excellent so that they snap into place (type of such as you’re enjoying “Punch Bug” or “Slug Bug” with the Beetle itself) and 6 screws later, the little Beetle’s cute face is full.
That is not the top of my job at this station, nevertheless. I nonetheless should set up a black plastic panel that sits beneath the hood forward of the radiator, a activity that is merely a matter of lining up the element and banging it in. Simpler mentioned than executed, I quickly notice. My childish banging proves futile, so a line employee helps me by realigning the piece after which popping it into place as effortlessly as your most up-to-date breath. As soon as that is full, the automobile continues down the road, by no means for me to see it once more.
The latter three meeting duties show smoother with different Beetles. My three-year-old fumbling is not disruptive sufficient to make a large number of mounting the right-rear wheel. Neither is putting in the rear suspension, which is solely a matter of torquing 4 bolts on both sides and letting the pc validate my value by lighting up with inexperienced OKs. Putting in the entrance VW emblem is definitely an automatic course of, however I get to put one on a Bug’s nostril anyway, as a result of why let an excellent photograph op go to waste?
By the numbers
Surprisingly, simply 48 % of the Beetle’s meeting is by robotic. The opposite 52 % is by hand. At the moment’s Beetle, which has slid to turn out to be VW’s least-popular car within the US, shares its meeting line with Volkswagen of America’s greatest vendor: the Tiguan compact crossover SUV. This recognition chasm is obvious as I stretch my eyes down the manufacturing line. About one in each 10 autos is a Beetle, and there are moments strolling alongside the ground the place nothing however Tiguans flood my sockets.
Over the course of three shifts inside a 24-hour manufacturing day (Monday to Friday and typically two shifts on Saturday), 937 new autos emerge off the road, 170 to 180 of that are Beetles. As well as, each unit is take a look at pushed. Enjoyable truth: in response to surveys distributed by the plant’s human assets division, the take a look at drivers are the manufacturing unit’s happiest staff.
Come on, get joyful
After attending to play on the manufacturing line, VW lets me briefly take a look at drive some Beetles exterior the manufacturing unit. I am stunned at how heavy the (1998-2011) New Beetle’s steering is, and the way it feels extra sporty to drive than the present (2012-2019) Beetle, which is a comparative snooze fest. I am most excited to drive the 2003 Beetle Ãšltima EdiciÃ³n (Ultimate Version), the final of the unique air-cooled Beetles. The Ãšltima EdiciÃ³n is far quieter than any traditional Beetle I’ve heretofore skilled. Fashionable seating makes it categorically comfy, too, however from there, its modernity slopes into the abyss.
The Ãšltima EdiciÃ³n has no energy steering, however that is superb, as there’s little weight over its nostril. The automobile’s clutch, brake and gasoline pedals, nevertheless, delineate evolution in reverse. The clutch is as gentle as any economic system automobile’s third pedal from 2019. The brake pedal trails the clutch’s up to date ease, however scrubbing velocity is not terrifying: Not like earlier Beetles, you needn’t stomp midway to the ground earlier than barely stopping in time. Even nonetheless, the pedal’s modulation is precision’s distant cousin. Touring farther again in time, the throttle is straight out of World Conflict II, by some means feeling heavier and clumsier than Beetles I’ve pushed from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
The Ãšltima EdiciÃ³n proves extra ponderous than I would anticipated, but it surely’s a heartening reminder of an automotive icon whose manufacturing has lasted longer than the typical human lifespan.
Is that this actually ‘goodbye’?
The Beetle’s demise is the lamentable results of how the world has moved away from the spunky and towards the sensible. In its 1960s heyday, the unique Beetle checked a slew of bins for the pragmatic however imaginative American shopper. At the moment, crossover SUVs converse to consumers padlocked by bottom-line idealism. The present Beetle lacks the cargo area, inside quantity and trip peak that as we speak’s shopper calls for. Consequently, the Beetle is now an unsustainably sluggish-selling life-style play. VW delivered roughly 14,000 Beetles within the US final yr, in response to GoodCarBadCar. That is a far cry from 423,000 US gross sales in 1968, in response to Euronews.
And so, as America and the remainder of the world have moved past Beetle Mania, so, too, should the Bug’s manufacturing unit in Puebla. The Beetle’s discontinuation will liberate area to construct extra of VW’s fashionable Tiguan.
Whereas Volkswagen at the moment has no plans to resurrect the Beetle after manufacturing ends in mid July, I am prepared to guess cash the Bug will return someday subsequent decade. VW’s new, extremely limbercan spawn a litter of autos as various because the and the . It seemingly would not take a lot of a enterprise case or a ton of growth cash for VW to engineer an electrical Beetle off that versatile structure.
In consequence, assembling among the final Beetles actually seems like “See ya later,” versus a remaining “goodbye.” Not less than, that is what I hope.