On the 20th of December 2013 the vehicle with the longest continuous production of all ended, everywhere in the world. The last production line a few miles outside Sao Paulo in Brazil has finally closed down.
The vehicle, whose story starts in 1950, have been (and it still was when the plant shut down) very popular in Brazil, but the introduction of safety legislation that expects vehicles being fitted with ABS and passenger and driver’s airbags forced production to an end. As the model was designed more than 60 years ago, it is impossible to introduce that technology in the car. 13,600 workers are employed at VW’s Anchieta plant, 700 of which were building the Kombi. Over that long period of time, the assembly line never changed, with things like painting the vehicles still carried out by hand instead then with robots.
Very popular, very practical
Production didn’t end because of falls in the demand, VW wasn’t obstinate about keeping it in production but rather applied the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy. The history of this vehicle is quite fascinating. Ben Pon noticed that workers in Wolfsburg plant used an old Beetle to move parts around. That inspiration made him sketch a new vehicle, with lots of space inside. Its first appearance was in 1949 as the Bulli, followed by different models: Transporter, Camper, Bus, Type2 and more. Its huge popularity allowed VW to open new factories, one of which is the Anchieta one in 1957 (it is now the biggest plant outside Germany). During its production, 3.5 million were sold, mainly to construction companies that need to transport people or materials around, but it’s also been transformed into ambulances over the years.
Its most famous version though is perhaps the camper that we often associate with hippies, appeared in 1951. Before closing down, VW decided to make 1200 Lase Edition Models for collectors, featuring design elements like whitewall tires and vinyl interior.
They’ll miss it!
Despite its lack of comfort, its sharp lines, the steering that is the exact opposite of comfortable, a four speed gearbox with a stick that is at least hard to reach, it is a fashionable and practical vehicle. In a country where nearly 88% of the streets are unpaved a vehicle that is light, with good traction and easy to repair is ideal and is what mostly determined its success in that country. Workers won’t lose their jobs at the plant, as there are many opportunities to move them on other lines. The departure of this vehicle though, could be a problem for local businesses in Brazil as it was reliable, cheap to run and to buy. Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister, started an investigation to determine whether to make an exemption for the Kombi, as its design don’t allow those features the low imposes.