Journalists and company officials gathered under a cavernous white tent to bid farewell to one of the most famous cars in history. Gleaming with chrome trim and sporting a CD player, the new bug was driven in by factory worker Armando Pasillas, who has worked at the plant since 1967 — three years after it opened in Mexico.
"You feel a little sad because it is finally over," he said. "We knew this day was coming for years, and now it has arrived. All there is to do now is move forward."
The last bug is little-changed from its first prototype, pieced together in Nazi Germany in 1934. Over the years, the car's windshield has gotten wider and the frame became more compact and aerodynamic.
The plant in Puebla, 65 miles southeast of Mexico City, was the only place the Beetle was still being produced. Production for the U.S. market stopped in 1977 because the car's rear, air-cooled engine didn't meet safety and emissions standards. Brazil stopped making it in 1996.
The bug remained wildly popular in Mexico for decades, but it fell out of favor recently as growing trade agreements allowed competitors to flood the Mexican market with cheap, compact vehicles.
Then Mexico City officials ordered the capital's taxi drivers to stop using the "vocho," Mexico's Spanish nickname for the bug.
The green-and-white taxis, usually with their front passenger seat ripped out, were a symbol of the city. They were also popular with kidnappers. Trapped behind the driver and with the assailant blocking the passenger door, victims couldn't escape.
Still, the Beetle will remain a fond memory for most Mexicans.
Volkswagen plans to produce 3,000 final-edition Beetles, in sky blue and beige. The last Beetle will roll off the assembly line on July 30.
Jens Neumann, president of Volkswagen's North American region, said 2,999 of the cars will be sold for $8,000 each, slightly more than the Beetle's current $7,500 price tag. The last car will be sent to the Beetle's birthplace in Wolfsburg, Germany.
"Right now, we don't want to think of such a sad moment," Neumann said. "We want to celebrate with all of you the last great version of this sedan, the last edition."
Volkswagen marked the occasion with souvenir piggy banks, ashtrays and candles shaped like the rounded car. There was also a replica of Herbie the Love Bug, the star of the wacky 1970s movie of the same name, and a film with footage showing the car as a favorite among hippies and returning World War II veterans alike.
Company officials said Pasillas and other employees who worked on the old Beetle will be reassigned to new jobs at the Puebla plant, which also manufactures the Jetta and the futuristic new Beetle introduced several years ago as a successor of the bug.
While the old Beetle may no longer be in Volkswagen showrooms, it is far from gone, said Reinhard Jung, president of the executive committee of Volkswagen Mexico.
"The vocho is disappearing from production, but that doesn't mean it will disappear from the streets," he said.