Adolf Hitler, of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, had the intention of developing and mass producing a speedy and affordable vehicle that could cost less than 1,000 Reich marks (which was around $140). Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian automotive, to provide the design for the ‘people’s car.’
On May 28, 1937, Hitler’s government formed the new state-owned automobile company, then referred to as Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Voldkswagens mgH. Later the same year, the company was renamed Volkswagenwerk or ‘The People’s Car Company.’ Back then, luxury cars dominated the auto industry, and most of them were not affordable to regular citizens.
With it’s headquarter at Wolfsburg, Germany, the company was initially operated by the German Labor Font (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which was a Nazi organization. Apart from this ambitious project, Hitler also wanted to establish a network of Autobahns and limited access highways across the country.
Rather unexpected, the car proved reliable after undergoing a hard test. Volkswagen proved that it could maintain 100kilometers per hour on the Autobahn. The test car performed far better that its designers had anticipated. The new car hardly needed any repairs and was able to compete favorably with larger cars in the mountains. Volkswagen also proved reliable in poor roads, winning the trust of its designers and the public.
“It is for the broad masses that this car has been built. Its purpose is to answer their transportation needs, and it is intended to give them joy,” the Fuhrer (leader) declared at a Nazi rally in 1938. However, World War II began soon after the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude) – Wagen) was displayed at the Berlin Motor Show for the first time in 1939. The car was also referred to as “Strength-Through-Joy” car. The war became a hindrance in production and Volkswagen had to halt its operations.
Even after World War II had ended, it became apparent that resuscitating the company was not going to be an easy task. The factory had been left in ruins, and the government was faced with the task of ‘resurrecting’ a company that was the face of the auto industry in Germany.
Compared to other parts of the world, Volkswagen sales in the U.S were slower initially. The car had an unusual rounded shape, was small, and was associated with the infamous Nazi’s. However, things changed in 1959 after an advertising agency launched a landmark campaign. Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a game-changing campaign that dubbed Volkswagen the “Beetle,” arguing that its small size was a unique advantage to its customers.
Volkswagen (VW) became the top-selling import in the U.S over the next years. The German government even sold 60% of the company’s stock to the public in 1960. The government wanted the public to own a stake of the giant corporation. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford Motor Company had set a world record – of 15 million vehicles - with its legendary Model T. However, Volkswagen surpassed that record twelve years later.
In the early 1970’s, sales were dragging, probably because the Bettle had not changed its 1935 design. To counter the plummeting sales, VW introduced sportier models. The company added the Rabbit and the Golf models. While the company was still producing the first design, it began selling the highly advertised “New Beetle” in 1998. The last Beetle was released in Puebla, Mexico, on July 30, 2003, after almost 70 years and more than 21 million units.