Today marks four decades that the Volkswagen Beetle has been the best selling single car model ever. On this day in 1972, the 15,007,034th Beetle came off the assembly line and overtook the Ford Model T as the world’s most popular car.
This is an interesting honor for a car whose history is directly tied to one of the world’s most ruthless war criminals, and was born from a company that was no one wanted after WWII. But the Beetle would survive to become a symbol for Germany’s economic miracle. Later thanks to good advertising and a sturdy product with spare parts easily available, the rest of the world would also recognize it as an icon.
Taking a product lesson from the Model T, the Beetle was celebrated for not changing just to spur sales. The little bug stayed the same almost every year, and in the process, it became a symbol for the automotive counter culture.
Time would eventually catch up to the little VW as progress in comfort and power even began to trickle down into the budget car ranks. The Beetle began to fall out of favor in many countries, but there were still markets that had a need for the bug. So although 1979 was the last year for Beetles in the U.S., the little VW continued to be built in Mexico and South America. Production finally ended in July 2003 with over 21 million Beetles built.
There will likely never be a car to take the best selling single car title from the Beetle, because we will never again see a car that can successfully live on so long with out changing. A great example of this is that the Beetle is not the best selling name of all time. That honor belongs to the Toyota Corolla, a car whose ten versions thus far combine to give it the crown. In fact, the Beetle doesn’t even take second place as Ford is ahead with the F-150, and the Beetle’s successor, the Golf has sold more copies in its six generations on earth.
Volkswagen could try to catch up to the names that have surpassed its figures by counting the sales of the Golf-based New Beetle, but all true VW bug fans know what a Beetle really is.