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MEXICO LAST BUG
Associated Press The final edition of the Volkswagen Beetle is shown off to jounalists at a plant in Puebla, Mexico, Thursday.

PUEBLA, Mexico (AP) — Outlined in chrome trim and sporting a CD player, Volkswagen on Thursday launched the final edition of the famed Beetle, the cult classic that the company plans to stop producing later this summer.

Members of the media and company officials gathered under a cavernous white tent to bid farewell to one of the most famous cars in history. The special "retro" edition was driven into the event by factory worker Armando Pasillas, who has been working 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.

Volkswagen plans to produce 3,000 final edition Beetles in the colors sky blue and beige. The last Beetle will roll off the assembly line on July 30. 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.

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.

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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. But they were also popular with kidnappers. Trapped behind the driver and with the assailant blocking the passenger door, victims couldn't escape.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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