Volkswagen overcame countless challenges to become the world’s second largest automobile company.
It withstood the test of time and devastating effects of the World Wars.
Volkswagen in German means the people’s car and true to its name, the company was founded to make cars for the common people of Germany on 28 May 1937.
The first car of Volkswagen was the Volkswagen Beetle.
This car was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, the son of Anton Porsche, a master panel-beater.
Ferdinand Porsche is also the founder of the Porsche automobiles.
He was born on 3 September 1875, in the Kingdom of Bohemia (now Vratislavice nad Nisou, Czech Republic).
From a young age, Ferdinand Porsche was a free thinker, self-taught engineer and a non-conformist.
He was very passionate about designing.
In 1900, when he was a teenager he won many design awards for Lohner-Porsche.
Ferdinand Porsche developed Lohner-Porsche, the first gasoline electric hybrid car.
He also designed Egger-Lohner, a front-wheel drive car.
Later, in the next decade Ferdinand Porsche contributed in the designing of the race cars, passenger cars and aircraft engines.
During World War I, he designed aircraft engines for Austria.
His dream for the masses-
During the 1900s, when the other major car manufacturers were building sophisticated, luxurious and expensive cars, Ferdinand Porsche wanted to build a simple, small and affordable car.
Even though his works were so diversified, he always wanted to develop a vehicle for the common man because during those times in Europe only the very rich people were able to afford cars.
Inspired by Ford-
Ferdinand Porsche was very inspired by Henry Ford and his Model T cars and the impact they made on America so he longed to similarly impact Europe with his own cars much like Ford.
He pitched his idea of making a small affordable car to the European car manufacturers but all of them rejected him.
So, after facing many rejections, Ferdinand Porsche started his own company to realise his dream of making small cars.
He observed that the cars at that time were big, very expensive and not aerodynamic, so he decided to make small, sleek, aerodynamic and affordable cars.
Ferdinand Porsche had no dearth of great ideas but he lacked funds to work upon them, so he tried to raise funding for his project.
But unfortunately, this time also he faced rejections for his funding requests.
The end of the rejections-
Luckily, his woes ended in 1933, when his friend in the industry introduced him to Adolf Hitler.
Later, Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Hitler met at a hotel room in Berlin to talk over the idea for a people’s car.
In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was the newly appointed chancellor of Germany and he was also the leader of the Nazi party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party).
Adolf Hitler was keen to showcase the German engineering to the world, so at the Berlin Motor Show, he declared to offer 250,000 Reichsmark to any German company that builds a race car for the approaching Grand Prix season.
In 1934, the racing seasons were held and the cars designed and engineered by Ferdinand Porsche dominated the races.
Because of this success, he won the German government contract to make three prototype cars.
The requirements of these cars were that they should sustain the high speeds on the Autobahnen (the federal controlled-access highway system).
The birth of Volkswagen-
The Volkswagen was founded on 28 May 1937 by the German Labour Front and the Beetle cars were designed.
Initially, the Beetle was called the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen which meant Strength Through Joy Car.
The official leisure organization of the Nazi Germany was Strength Through Joy.
This organisation was responsible for many things like the pension schemes, workers holidays, sports facilities, building large ships to encourage tourism in Germany and even the Strength Through Joy Car.
They also offered affordable leisure activities like plays, concerts, libraries, trips and holidays to the middle class after the economic depression of the 1920s.
Eventually, the Strength Through Joy Car was shortened to Volkswagen, in German it meant the people’s car, as the name Strength Through Joy was too large.
The birth of Beetle-
The Beetle car was built with the middle class in the mind who wanted a reliable and affordable car to move around.
The middle class at those times valued the qualities of reliability and affordability more than speed and design of cars.
The Beetle car was initially made available for 390 US dollars and its maximum speed was around 100 km/h (62 mph).
Nearly 300,000 orders were received for the Beetle Cars.
How World War II affected Volkswagen?
Even though a few cars were produced, not even a single car was delivered to the customers before World War II began.
World War II broke out in 1939 when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.
The company was not in a position to manufacture cars because they were completely focused on helping the nation to fight the war.
The Beetle car was modified into a jeep by the German army.
The jeep had an open-top and was called the Volkswagen Kübelwagen or the bucket-seat car.
So, instead of the Beetle cars, the Volkswagen factory made military vehicles like the amphibious Type 128 and 166 Schwimmwagen.
As the Volkswagen factory was manufacturing the military equipment, it was often made a bombing target and was frequently bombed.
And by the time World War II ended in 1945 and the peace prevailed, the Volkswagen factory was almost completely destroyed.
Later, an unexploded bomb was detected in the power generators of the factory.
Today, there would be no Volkswagen in the world, if that bomb would have exploded.
Adding to the woes, Ferdinand Porsche was jailed in France for working for Adolf Hitler.
And he assumed that his dreams of making cars for the masses would never get realised and he was 72 years old at that time.
But Ferdinand Porsche did not lose hope and upon getting released from the jail, he used to spend long hours on the manufacturing floor discussing with the workers.
During these times, the economy of Germany was completely devastated by the war and many people even struggled for food.
So, the creation of jobs was urgent for the livelihood of the people, so that the people can earn money to stay alive.
The re-birth of Volkswagen-
Luckily, the Volkswagen factory which was badly damaged due to bombing, once again started production, thanks to Ivan Hirst of the British army.
And eventually, the Volkswagen Beetles were produced.
The Beetles had a very simple air-cooled engine.
Initially, the Beetles were employed by the German postal service, Deutsche Post.
During these times, the Ford was offered the whole Volkswagen free of cost.
But the Ford rejected the offer as they felt that the Volkswagen was useless.
The beginning of the Porsche legacy-
By 1948, Ferdinand Porsche was no longer directly associated with the production of the Beetle cars.
He got involved into another project of making Porsche 356 cars.
This car spurred the Porsche legacy.
And in 1950, Ferdinand Porsche toured the Volkswagen factory for the last time and was content to see his dream of producing small, affordable cars getting realised.
And he passed away on 30 January 1951 in Stuttgart, West Germany at the age of 75.
The magic of marketing-
Initially, the success of the Volkswagen Beetle was only limited to Europe and the Beetle cars were not selling well in America.
During those times, the Americans preferred large powerful cars, so the tiny and moderately powered Beetle cars were unattended.
So, to sell the Beetle cars in America, the company adopted several clever and honest marketing methods.
For example, they made a deal with the car retailers.
According to the deal, the car retailers had to purchase three Beetles for every single Jaguar car.
During those times, the big Jaguar cars were very popular in America.
This move was very successful by which the Americans developed a liking for the Beetle cars so much that after a period they began to prefer Beetles over the Jaguar cars.
Spreading the wings worldwide and touching one million mark-
Eventually, as the production of the Beetle cars increased, they started to gain popularity all over the world.
The cars were very reliable because of their great quality control and engineering.
The main reason for the reliability of the Beetles was that in the initial stages of the development, the prototypes of Beetles were tested by the German Army for thousands of miles, by which the bugs in the car were noted and later rectified.
So, by the time the car was made available to the general public, the car was almost perfect with great reliability.
By 1955, Volkswagen manufactured one million Beetle cars.
And the Volkswagen Beetle became very popular in the late 1950s, because of the huge demand; some customers had to wait for 12-18 months to get their hands-on the cars.
During the 1960s, the Beetle cars became an icon for the counterculture revolution in America.
Acquiring numerous companies-
Inspired by the success of Beetle, Volkswagen acquired Audi in 1965.
With the passage of time, the craze for the Beetle cars started to decline and as a result their sales plummeted.
So, to make up for this the Volkswagen launched several new models of cars into the market like Volkswagen Golf, Passat and Polo.
And in the 1980s, they acquired a 75 percent stake in SEAT, a Spanish car manufacturer.
In 1988, Volkswagen brought Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.
And in 2000, they also added Skoda to their portfolio.
Volkswagen brought Scania in 2008.
In 2010, they acquired an Italian design and engineering company, Italdesign Giugiaro.
Italdesign Giugiaro is credited with the designing of cars for various famed car companies like Aston Martin, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Fiat, Ferrari, Hyundai, Lexus, Lotus Cars, Mitsubishi, etc.
They are well-known for designing the cars in classic, eye-catching styles and the most famous one being the DMC DeLorean in 1981.
And in 2012, Audi, a subsidiary of Volkswagen acquired Ducati, an Italian motorcycle manufacturer.
Volkswagen also owns MAN and Porsche.
Now, the Volkswagen group has over 53 subsidiaries.
Apart from making automobiles they also offer financial services like loans, insurance, investments in 48 countries.
The current position of Volkswagen and other interesting facts-
- Now, Volkswagen is one of the largest and most valuable companies on the earth with a net worth of over $74 billion.
- It is the second largest automobile brand only after Toyota.
- They produce 13 percent of all the passenger cars worldwide.
- Volkswagen group employs over 671,205 people and it is the biggest employer in the automobile industry, much bigger than the Toyota.
- Volkswagen has 121 production plants in 31 countries.
- They are present in 153 countries.
- The names of some of the Volkswagen cars are taken from the wind currents across the planet, like the Volkswagen Polo is named after the polo wind, the Volkswagen Passat is named after a German trade wind, Passat and the Volkswagen Jetta is named after the jet stream in the sub tropics to the middle latitudes, affecting the Pacific air travel
- The Volkswagen car models, Volkswagen Golf, Beetle and Passat are listed in the top ten best selling cars of all time.
- An entire town was built for lodging the workers of the first Volkswagen cars; it was named as Wolfsburg in Germany. Now, the Volkswagen is headquartered here.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does Volkswagen mean?
Volkswagen in German means the people’s car.
This company was established with the motto of making cars for the common people of Germany.
Are Volkswagen Beetles still being made?
No, Volkswagen has stopped making Volkswagen Beetles.
The last Volkswagen Beetle was produced in 2019.
Why was Volkswagen Beetle discontinued?
The main reason for the discontinuation of Volkswagen Beetle was its diminishing popularity.
The customers started preferring other small vehicles of Volkswagen like Golf (Rabbit), Jetta or Tiguan over Beetle.
Will Volkswagen bring back the Beetle?
No, Volkswagen has no plans of reviving Beetle.
Volkswagen is instead more focused on electric vehicles.
What Volkswagen owns?
Volkswagen Group owns many renowned brands and they are as follows-
• Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles
• Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A.
• Traton (MAN, Scania, and Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus), etc.
Where are Volkswagen cars made?
Volkswagen manufactures its cars in many plants located across the world and they are present in the following countries-
• North America
• Czech Republic
• South Africa
• United Kingdom
What did Ferdinand Porsche invent?
Ferdinand Porsche invented the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle known as Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid, the Auto Union racing car and the Volkswagen Beetle.
What Volkswagen cars are made in Germany?
The following Volkswagen cars are made in Germany-
• VW Passat and VW Arteon are made in Emden, Lower Saxony.
• Porsche Cayenne, Porsche Panamera and Porsche Macan are made in Leipzig, Saxony.
• VW ID.3 and VW ID.4 are made in Zwickau, Saxony.
• Audi A4 saloon, Audi A5 Cabriolet, Audi S5 Cabriolet, Audi A6
• Audi S6, Audi RS6 (C6), Audi A6 allroad, Audi A7, Audi A8, Audi S8, Audi R8 and Audi Q7 V12 TDI are made in Neckarsulm, Baden-Württemberg.
• Porsche Cayenne, Porsche Boxster/Cayman,VW T-Roc Cabriolet and Škoda Karoq are made in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony.
• VW Golf, VW Golf Sportsvan, VW Touran, VW Tiguan and SEAT Tarraco are made in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony.
• Porsche 991 is made in Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg.