It’s part of a larger influencer campaign that will include postings from other Beetle enthusiasts. The TV ad was also slated for NBC’s Jan. 1 coverage of the National Hockey League’s “Winter Classic,” as well as during college football programing, including the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl.

It amounts to a sizable investment in a campaign for a car that won’t be sold again. The Beetle debuted in Nazi Germany in 1930s and later became countercultural force in the U.S., beloved by hippies. But VW killed the model this year -- the last one rolled out of VW's Puebla, Mexico, plant in July -- as more consumers dump small sedans in favor of crossovers and SUVs.

Cultural heyday

The ad attempts to bridge the Beetle’s cultural heyday with VW’s future, which includes a heavy investment in electric vehicles. The final scene shows the Beetle morphing into a beetle insect and ascending into heaven. It ends with the line “where one road ends, another begins,” as well as the brand’s “Drive Bigger” tagline that was launched earlier this year.

The “Drive Bigger” campaign, which marked ad agency Johannes Leonardo’s initial work on VW, began in June with an ad that referenced the automaker’s global diesel emissions scandal. The scandal began in 2015 when VW was caught installing “defeat devices” on vehicles to manipulate emissions test results. The June ad, backed by Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” positioned the emissions crisis as an impetus for VW’s aggressive move into electric vehicles. The EV push comes as VW tries to recapture environmental high ground it lost in the wake of the scandal.

In “The Last Mile,” VW nods to environmentalism with a scene showing the Beetle driving by a wind farm. Leo Premutico, co-founder and co-chief creative officer at Johannes Leonardo, characterized the ad as “the Beetle giving its blessing to the new path the company is going to be going down.”

With the Beetle a part of so many pop culture moments, the agency had a wealth of real-life footage it could have pulled from. But “part of the reason we wanted to animate this film is to really to paint everybody who's in it, irrelevant of how famous they are, with the same brush -- to really put everyone on the same footing,” Premutico says, referring to the Beetle as “an extremely democratic vehicle.”

“This is obviously a big moment for the company to say goodbye to the vehicle,” he adds. But “when a car is this ingrained in the culture, it’s everyone’s goodbye.”

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Ford spokesman Mike Levine did not respond to a request for comment, but tweeted out a GIF of a laughing Ryan Gosling.

Analysts following the reveal were skeptical the vehicle could make a dent in the lucrative pickup segment, especially with Ford and General Motors both working on their own electric pickups.

GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker's first electric pickup truck model will go on sale in the fall of 2021. "It will be a very capable truck, I'm pretty excited about it," Barra said at an investor conference in New York on Thursday.

Ford aims to sell an electric F-series in late 2021, Reuters reported.

Electric pickups and SUVs could help Ford and GM generate the significant EV sales they will need to meet tougher emission standards and EV mandates in California and other states. The Trump administration is moving to roll back those standards, but electric trucks are a hedge if California prevails

Demand for full-size electric pickups in the near term may not be huge. Industry tracking firm IHS Markit estimates the electric truck segment - both full- and midsize models - will account for about 75,000 sales in 2026, compared with an expected 3 million light trucks overall. The Tesla pickup is not part of that estimate.

Tesla's pickup "will be a niche product at best and poses no threat in the pickup market as we know it today," Matt DeLorenzo, senior executive editor at Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. "The other downside is that this truck will have no federal tax credits by the time it comes out.”

Tesla's Model 3 sedan is the world's top-selling battery electric car. The California-based automaker has so far sold mostly Model S and Model 3 sedans, but also offers the Model X SUV and starting next year the Model Y compact SUV.

Reactions on Twitter ranged from love to hate of Tesla's sharply angled vehicle.

"I just watched tesla release the #cybertruck and honestly? My life feels complete," wrote @aidan_tenud, while @nateallensnyde wrote "Its nice to see Elon Musk make a cardboard box car he drew in kindergarten."

Musk earlier tweeted that the design was partly influenced by the Lotus Esprit sports-car that doubled as a submarine in the 1970s James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me" as well as by the movie Blade Runner.

Reuters contributed to this report

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