Volkswagen is like a household name for vehicles. Many people associate this name to the Beetle which was a popular vehicle in the 1960s and onwards, although production started in the late 1930s. The history of Volkswagen started in May 28, 1937 when Adolf Hitler commissioned the formation of a state-owned automobile company that was to be called Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later that same year, the company was renamed to Volkswagenwerk which means “The People’s Car Company.” It was the German Labor Front which ran its operations from its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Hitler had an ambition to develop and mass produce a speedy and affordable vehicle that the company could sell to the public for 1,000 Reich marks or less, which was equivalent to about $140 at that time. He then called Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian automotive engineer to design such a car. It was in 1938 that the model car was first shown to the public in a Nazi rally, and in 1939, it was displayed in the Berlin Motor Show. However, soon after, World War II began and production of the people’s car halted. After the end of the war, Volkswagen’s factory was in ruins and the Allies put much effort to revive the company.
Sales of Volkswagen cars in the US were initially low because of the company’s historic connection with the Nazis. People were also not used to its unusual rounded shape and small size. But a positive turn happened in 1959 when Doyle Dane Bernbach, an advertising company, launched a campaign calling the car “Beetle,” and emphasizing its small size as advantageous to customers. In the next several years, Volkswagen cars became a top seller in the US. Consequently, in 1960, the company became a public company as the government sold 60 percent of its stock to the public. About twelve years later, Beetle surpassed the record set by Ford Motor Company for its worldwide production of the Model T at 15 million vehicles from 1908 to 1927.
In the early 1970s, sales for Beetles started to become sluggish, partly due to the fact that its design remained unchanged since its first introduction in the 1930s. It bounced back when sportier models were later introduced such as the Rabbit and the Golf. It was in 1998 that the company also started selling the “New Beetle,” which showed modifications from its predecessor. Finally, in July 30, 2003, after 65 years and more than 21 million original Beetles produced, the company decided to stop its production. The last unit to roll off the production was in Puebla, Mexico. This last original Beetle produced was nicknamed El Rey and it was sent to the company’s museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Today, Volkswagen is the biggest automaker in Germany and the second largest in the world. It currently has three models which are on the top 10 list of best-selling cars of all time, namely Volkswagen Beetle, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Passat. Some of its latest models also won recognitions as World Car of the Year in various years, namely Volkswagen Golf (2009), Volkswagen Polo (2010), Volkswagen up! (2012) and Volkswagen Golf (2013). This made the company garner the most number of World Car of the Year recognitions by any automaker.