The History of Volkswagen
Volkswagen (VW) is an automobile manufacturer based in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront). Volkswagen is the original marque within the Volkswagen Group, which includes the car marques Audi, Bentley Motors, Bugatti Automobiles, Automobili Lamborghini, SEAT, koda Auto and heavy goods vehicle manufacturer Scania. In 2009, the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG endorsed the creation of an integrated automotive group with Porsche under the leadership of Volkswagen.
Volkswagen means "people's car" in German. Its current tagline or slogan is "Das Auto". Its previous German tagline was "Aus Liebe zum Automobil", which translates to: "Out of Love for the Car", or, "For Love of the Automobile".
In November 2009, Volkswagen and Porsche overtook Toyota to become the world's largest car manufacturing group in terms of production.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler declared his intentions for a state-sponsored "Volkswagen" program. Hitler required a basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph). The "People's Car" would be available to citizens of the Third Reich through a savings scheme at 990 Reichsmark, about the price of a small motorcycle (an average income being around 32RM a week).
Despite heavy lobbying in favor of one of the existing projects, Hitler chose to sponsor an all new, state owned factory. The engineer chosen for the task was Ferdinand Porsche. By then an already famed engineer, Porsche was the designer of the Mercedes 170H, and worked at Steyr for quite some time in the late 1920s. When he opened his own design studio he landed two separate "Auto for Jedermann" (car for everybody) projects with NSU and Zndapp, both motorcycle manufacturers. Neither project come to fruition, stalling at prototype phase, but the basic concept remained in Porsche's mind time enough, so on 22 June 1934, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche agreed to create the "People's Car" for Hitler.
Changes included better fuel efficiency, reliability, ease of use, and economically efficient repairs and parts. The intention was that ordinary Europeans would buy the car by means of a savings scheme ("Fnf Mark die Woche musst Du sparen, willst Du im eigenen Wagen fahren" "Save five Marks a week, if you want to drive your own car"), which around 336,000 people eventually paid into. Prototypes of the car called the "KdF-Wagen" (German: Kraft durch Freude "strength through joy"), appeared from 1936 onwards (the first cars had been produced in Stuttgart). The car already had its distinctive round shape and air-cooled, flat-four, rear-mounted engine. The VW car was just one of many KdF programs which included things such as tours and outings.
VW Type 82EErwin Komenda, the longstanding Auto Union chief designer, developed the car body of the prototype, which was recognizably the Beetle known today. It was one of the first to be evolved with the aid of a wind tunnel, in use in Germany since the early 1920s.
The building of the new factory started 26 May 1938 in the new town of KdF-Stadt, now called Wolfsburg, which had been purpose-built for the factory workers. This factory had only produced a handful of cars by the time war started in 1939. None was actually delivered to any holder of the completed saving stamp books, though one Type 1 Cabriolet was presented to Hitler on 20 April 1938 (his 49th birthday).
The company owes its post-war existence largely to one man, British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst, REME. In April 1945, KdF-Stadt, and its heavily bombed factory were captured by the Americans, and subsequently handed over to the British, within whose occupation zone the town and factory fell. The factories were placed under the control of Oldham-born Hirst. At first, the plan was to use it for military vehicle maintenance. Since it had been used for military production, and had been in Hirst's words a "political animal" rather than a commercial enterprise, the equipment was in time intended to be salvaged as war reparations. Hirst painted one of the factory's cars green and demonstrated it to British Army headquarters. Short of light transport, in September 1945 the British Army was persuaded to place a vital order for 20,000. The first few hundred cars went to personnel from the occupying forces, and to the German Post Office.
By 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month, a remarkable feat considering it was still in disrepair. Owing to roof and window damage, rain stopped production and new vehicles were bartered for steel required for more production.
The car, and its town changed their Second World War-era names to "Volkswagen", and "Wolfsburg" respectively, and production was increasing. It was still unclear what was to become of the factory. It was offered to representatives from the British, American and French motor industries. Famously, all rejected it.
As mentioned above, the Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg came under British control in 1945; it was to be dismantled and shipped to Britain. Thankfully for Volkswagen, no British car manufacturer was interested in the factory so it survived by producing cars for the British Army instead.
From 1948, Volkswagen became a very important element, symbolically and economically, of West German regeneration. Apart from the introduction of the Volkswagen Type 2 commercial vehicle (van, pickup and camper), and the VW Karmann Ghia sports car, the company pursued the one-model policy until 1968.
Volkswagens were first exhibited and sold in the United States in 1949, but only sold two units in America that first year. On its entry to the U.S. market, the VW was briefly sold as a "Victory Wagon". Volkswagen of America was formed in April 1955 to standardize sales and service in the United States. Production of the Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle increased dramatically over the years, the total reaching one million in 1955.
On February 17, 1972 the 15,007,034th Beetle was sold. Volkswagen could now claim the world production record for the most-produced, single make of car in history. By 1973, total production was over 16 million.
In 1964, Volkswagen succeeded in purchasing Auto Union, and in 1969, NSU Motorenwerke AG (NSU). The former company owned the historic Audi brand, which had disappeared after the Second World War. VW ultimately merged Auto Union and NSU to create the modern day Audi company, and would go on to develop it as its luxury vehicle marque. However, the purchase of Auto Union and NSU proved to be a pivotal point in Volkswagen's history, as both companies yielded the technological expertise that proved necessary for VW to survive when demand for its air-cooled models went into terminal decline as the 1970s dawned.
Volkswagen was in serious trouble by 1973. The Type 3 and Type 4 models had sold in much smaller numbers than the Beetle and the NSU-based K70 also failed to woo buyers. Beetle sales had started to decline rapidly in European and North American markets. The company knew that Beetle production had to end one day, but the conundrum of replacing it had been a never-ending nightmare. VW's ownership of Audi / Auto Union proved to be the key to the problem - with its expertise in front-wheel drive, and water-cooled engines which Volkswagen so desperately needed to produce a credible Beetle successor. Audi influences paved the way for this new generation of Volkswagens, known as the Polo, Golf and Passat.
However, the pivotal model which would turn Volkswagen's fortunes emerged as the Volkswagen Golf in 1974, marketed in the United States and Canada as the Rabbit for the 1st generation (1975-1985) and 5th generation (2006-2009). This was a car unlike its predecessor in most significant ways, both mechanically as well as visually (its angular styling was designed by the Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro). Its design followed trends for small family cars set by the 1959 Mini the Golf had a transversely mounted, water-cooled engine in the front, driving the front wheels, and had a hatchback, a format that has dominated the market segment ever since. Beetle production at Wolfsburg ended upon the Golf's introduction, but continued in smaller numbers at other German factories (Hanover and Emden) until 1978, but mainstream production shifted to Brazil and Mexico.
In the 1980s, Volkswagen's sales in the United States and Canada fell dramatically, despite the success of models like the Golf elsewhere. Four years after signing a cooperation agreement with the Spanish car maker SEAT in 1982, Hahn expanded the company by purchasing a majority share of SEAT up to 75% by the end of 1986, which VW bought outright in 1990.
By the early 1990s, Volkswagen's annual sales in the United States were below 100,000, and many car buyers found the company's products to be lacking in value. Some automotive journalists believed that Volkswagen would have to quit the North American market altogether. VW eventually realized that the Beetle was the heart and soul of the brand in North America, and the firm quickly set about creating a new Beetle for American and Canadian showrooms.
In 1994, Volkswagen unveiled the J Mays-designed Concept One, a "retro"-themed car with a resemblance to the original Beetle but based on the Polo platform.
In the late 1990s Volkswagen acquired the three luxury brands Lamborghini (through Audi), Bentley and Bugatti which were mainly due to Ferdinand Pich and added to the group portfolio. Audi's plans for Lamborghini included a small supercar later to be named the Gallardo, and a new halo vehicle, the Murciélago, and later the Reventon limited edition halo car. In late 2008 the idea of a 4-door saloon for the Lamborghini brand was shown in the form of the Lamborghini Estoque concept.
The VW 1L will be available in 2010, in limited numbers. The 1L is a lightweight two-person vehicle made out of a magnesium frame covered by an unpainted carbon-fiber skin. Every component of the vehicle is intended to reduce the vehicle's weight. Aluminum brakes, carbon-fiber wheels, titanium hubs, and ceramic bearings all contribute to the vehicle's light weight of a mere 290 kg. To reduce the weight even further, and to increase the aerodynamics of the vehicle, there are no rearview mirrors. Instead, the car is equipped with cameras that display visual information to the driver through the internal LCD screen. The car is extremely fuel-efficient, each gallon of fuel will take you over 235 miles. The fuel tank holds just 1.7 gallons, making the entire travel distance capability about 400 miles per tank. Its top speed is 120 km/h (75 mph), which although not very fast is a welcome tradeoff for the huge savings in fuel consumption.
By the end of Quarter 3, 2009, Volkswagen had overtaken Toyota as the world's largest car manufacturer, selling c. 4.8m vehicles (4.4m estimated by IHS Global Insight) in the 9 months to the end of September. By comparison Toyota had sold just 4m in the same period. Toyota later challenged this claim, stating that their production figures were 4.9m. However, the independent source for the data, IHS Global Insight, re-stated its belief that Volkswagen had overtaken Toyota in the first 3 quarters of 2009. Whilst this is a significant change in the global pecking order, it's widely believed that Toyota will overtake Volkswagen again, as production is ramped up as the world emerges from its economic slump. However, Volkswagen should retain the number two spot, having also overtaken GM in recent months. Volkswagen is aiming to become, sustainably, the world's largest car maker by 2018.
In December 9, 2009, Volkswagen AG and Suzuki reach a common understanding to establish a close long-term strategic partnership.
Volkswagen has always had a close relationship with Porsche, the Zuffenhausen-based sports car manufacturer founded in 1931 by Ferdinand Porsche, the original Volkswagen designer. The first Porsche car, the Porsche 64 of 1938, used many components from the Volkswagen Beetle. The 1948 Porsche 356 continued using many Volkswagen components, including a tuned engine, gearbox and suspension.
The two companies continued their collaboration in 1969 to make the VW-Porsche 914 and 914-6, whereby the 914-6 had a 6-cylinder Porsche engine, and the standard 914 had a 4-cylinder Volkswagen engine, and in 1976 with the Porsche 912E (USA only), and the Porsche 924, which used many Audi components and was built at an Audi Neckarsulm factory. Most 944s also were built there, although they used far fewer VW components.
In September 2005, Porsche announced it would increase its 5% stake in Volkswagen to 20% at a cost of €3 billion, with the intention that the combined stakes of Porsche and the government of Lower Saxony would ensure that any hostile takeover by foreign investors would be impossible. Speculated suitors included DaimlerChrysler, BMW, and Renault. In July 2006, Porsche increased their ownership again to 25.1%.