Who Made Volkswagen? A Brief History of the Iconic Brand

Volkswagen is one of the most recognizable and popular car brands in the world, with a history that spans over eight decades.

But who made Volkswagen, and how did it become such a global phenomenon?

Volkswagen Headquarter in Germany
Volkswagen Headquarter in Germany

 

In this article, we will explore the origins and evolution of Volkswagen, from its humble beginnings as a Nazi project to its current status as a leading automotive manufacturer.

The Birth of Volkswagen, People’s Car

The idea of creating a cheap and reliable car for the masses was not new in the 1930s.

Several automakers had already attempted to produce such a vehicle, but none had achieved widespread success.

The most influential figure in the development of Volkswagen was Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian engineer who had designed high-end and racing cars for various companies.

He had a vision of a simple and aerodynamic car with an air-cooled rear engine, torsion bar suspension, and a distinctive “beetle” shape.

In 1934, Porsche was commissioned by Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, to design and build a “people’s car” (Volkswagen in German) that could carry two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph).

Hitler wanted to boost the German economy and promote his ideology through mass motorization.

He also planned to use the car as a propaganda tool and a reward for loyal supporters of his regime.

Porsche and his team worked on several prototypes, using ideas and components from other manufacturers, such as Zündapp, NSU, Tatra, and Hanomag.

They also collaborated with the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), a Nazi organization that funded and supervised the project.

In 1938, the first official model of the Volkswagen was presented at the Berlin Motor Show.

It was named KdF-Wagen, after the Nazi slogan “Strength Through Joy” (Kraft durch Freude).

Image of Ferdinand Porsche and his creatures
Ferdinand Porsche and his creatures

 

The Rise of the Beetle

The construction of a new factory in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, began in 1938, with the aim of producing 150,000 cars per year.

However, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 disrupted the plans, and the factory was converted to produce military vehicles and equipment.

Only a few hundred civilian KdF-Wagens were delivered to customers before the war.

After the war ended in 1945, Germany was divided into four occupation zones by the Allied powers.

The Wolfsburg factory fell under British control, and was managed by Major Ivan Hirst, an officer of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Hirst recognized the potential of the Volkswagen car and decided to resume its production for civilian use.

He also secured orders from the British Army and other foreign buyers, which helped to revive the factory and save it from destruction or dismantling.

In 1949, the British transferred the ownership of Volkswagen to the West German government and the state of Lower Saxony.

The company was restructured and renamed Volkswagenwerk GmbH (Volkswagen Factory Limited).

The car was officially renamed Volkswagen Type 1, but it soon became known as the Beetle (or Käfer in German) because of its shape.

The Beetle proved to be a huge success, both in Germany and abroad.

It was praised for its simplicity, durability, affordability, and fuel efficiency.

It also became a symbol of post-war recovery and prosperity.

Image of The Beetle, from 1935 to 2014- The Globe and Mail
The Beetle, from 1935 to 2014- The Globe and Mail

 

The Expansion of the Volkswagen Group

In the 1950s and 1960s, Volkswagen expanded its product range and global presence.

It introduced new models such as the Transporter (or Microbus), the Karmann Ghia, and the 1500/1600 (or Type 3).

It also established subsidiaries and factories in various countries, such as:

  1. Brazil.
  2. Mexico.
  3. Australia.
  4. South Africa.
  5. Canada.
  6. United States.

The Beetle became one of the best-selling cars of all time, reaching over 15 million units sold by 1972.

However, by the late 1960s, Volkswagen faced increasing competition from other automakers, especially from Japan.

The Beetle’s design and technology became outdated and unable to meet the changing demands and regulations of the market.

Volkswagen realized that it needed to diversify its portfolio and innovate its products.

It acquired several other car brands, such as:

  1. Audi (1965).
  2. NSU (1969).
  3. SEAT (1986).
  4. Škoda (1991).
  5. Bentley (1998).
  6. Lamborghini (1998).
  7. Bugatti (1998).
  8. Scania (2008).
  9. Porsche (2012).
  10. Ducati (2012).
  11. MAN (2013).
  12. Scania (2014).

It also developed new models based on front-wheel drive and water-cooled engines, such as:

  1. The Golf (or Rabbit).
  2. The Passat (or Dasher).
  3. The Polo.

Today, Volkswagen is one of the largest and most influential automotive groups in the world.

Volkswagen operates in over 150 countries and employs over 600,000 people.

It produces a wide range of vehicles, from luxury cars and sports cars to trucks and buses.

VW also offers various services, such as:

  1. Financing.
  2. Leasing.
  3. Fleet management.

It is known for its quality, reliability, innovation, and sustainability.

VW is also committed to developing electric and autonomous vehicles for the future.

Conclusion

Volkswagen is a remarkable story of a car brand that rose from a Nazi project to a global phenomenon.

Volkswagen’s the result of the vision and talent of Ferdinand Porsche, the perseverance and ingenuity of Ivan Hirst, and the ambition and creativity of many other people who contributed to its success.

It is a brand that has adapted to the changing needs and preferences of customers and society.

Volkswagen’s a brand that has overcome many challenges and controversies, such as the emissions scandal in 2015.

It is a brand that continues to strive for excellence and leadership in the automotive industry.

 

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