Volkswagen has sold about 500 000 Beetles globally since 1998. Picture: Volkswagen of America

Wolfsburg, Germany - Volkswagen has announced that it will stop producing the Beetle in July 2019, ending a model that looked backward to the 1960s counterculture as the automaker prepares for a leap toward a future of mass-market electric cars.

The original VW Beetle, developed in the 1930s, made a journey from a product identified with Adolf Hitler to a symbol of Germany's rebirth as a democratic, industrial powerhouse after the Second World War. In the 1960s, the Beetle was a small-is-beautiful icon of the postwar baby boom generation. Volkswagen discontinued procution of the Beetle in germany in 1978, but continued production in South Africa, Brazil and Mexico; the last Type 1 Beetles were built in Mexico in 2003.

In the mid-1990s, at a time when Volkswagen was struggling to rekindle sales in the United States, then-chief executive Ferdinand Piech pushed to revive and modernize the distinctive Beetle design pioneered by his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche. The result was a crescent-shaped car called the "New Beetle," launched in 1998, which offered playful touches such as a built-in flower vase.

Turning point

The New Beetle was a hit during its early years, with sales of more than 80 000 in the United States in 1999, but recently the car's sales have suffered along with most other small cars. Volkswagen has sold about 500 000 Beetles globally since 1998, the company said.

The end of the Beetle comes at a turning point for Volkswagen; its past three years have been rocked by the fallout from a scandal caused by its admitted cheating on diesel emissions tests. Now, Volkswagen is gearing up to launch a wave of electric vehicles to appeal to a new generation of environmentally conscious consumers - children and grandchildren of the 1960s Beetle enthusiasts.

Announcing the end of the Beetle, Volkswagen of America head Hinrich Woebcken there were no plans to replace as the company ramped up its electrification strategy - but he didn't rule it out altogether. He referred to the ID Buzz, a concept for a 21st Century reincarnation of the microbus, which Volkswagen has said it intends to put into production as an electric vehicle.