Nation/World

VW’s newest Beetle starts production in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Call it the (new) Beetle.

The world’s first models of the redesigned Volkswagen sedan began rolling off production lines at the company’s plant in central Mexico on Friday, with a bigger trunk but also a bit of linguistic baggage.

Company spokesman Israel Victoria says the firm prefers to call it simply “The Beetle,” because “otherwise, it would be ‘the new, new Beetle’ or ‘the newest Beetle.’”

It is not to be confused with the New Beetle, a redesign of the original 1930s stalwart launched in 1997. VW’s plant in Puebla state produced 1.15 million units of the bulbous, rounded New Beetle between 1997 and 2010.

The latest version, the design of which was unveiled in April, has a flatter roof, a less bulbous shape, narrowed windows and a crease along the side — and no flower vase near the steering wheel.

The company said Friday it hopes to be producing 100,000 Beetles annually at the Puebla plant by next year, with about 90 percent destined for export. The new model is expected to be in dealers’ showrooms this fall.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon beamed as he climbed into the driver’s seat of a bright red Beetle — the first car to come off the line — but even he seemed to refer to it by the old name.

“It is a point of pride for Mexico to know that the new Beetle will be fully produced in our country,” Calderon said.

He also took the opportunity to praise the car’s ancestor, which is now sort of known as the old Beetle, or as Calderon called it, the “much loved Volkswagen ‘Vocho’.”

That is a Mexican word roughly equivalent to the American nickname the “Bug” that was applied to the original design, a car known formally in dealerships in Mexico as “The Sedan.”

While the new sedan harkens back a bit more to the original design — widely loved in Mexico because of its low cost and ease of repair — Andreas Hinrichs, president of the board of VW’s Mexico subsidiary, said the latest Beetle isn’t an everyman’s car.

“Our current Beetle is not a people’s car in this sense, but rather an automobile for a style of life,” Hinrichs said.

The Mexican government said the company spent about $400 million to re-tool the plant for the new version of the sedan, and production of the car will keep about 2,000 jobs at the plant.

Calderon expressed hope that Mexico would become one of the world leaders in car production, noting that the export output of all the country’s assembly plants rose by more than 50 percent in 2010, to almost 2 million vehicles.

“The Beetle is a strong symbol of our brand. It combines the emotional heritage of the original Beetle with the future of Volkswagen,” said Hubert Waltl, VW board member for production and logistics of the Volkswagen passenger cars brand.

Puebla state Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle waxed poetic about the car, even though he used the old (new) name.

“The new Beetle will become a contribution of Puebla, and Mexico, to the world,” the governor said at a ceremony launching production.

The standard version of the latest Beetle has an upgraded 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter gasoline engine, and VW will offer the option of a sportier, 200-horsepower, turbocharged engine.



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