27 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Volkswagen

Volkswagen has been the largest car maker in Europe since the 1970s. It also has the largest assembly plant (Wolfsburg) and best selling car (Golf) in Europe.

Being a German company, Volkswagen group positions its brands at the premium part of the market – Audi is mass premium, Volkswagen is semi-premium while Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti are prestige marques. Only the Spannish SEAT and Czech Skoda target at the lower end of the market, but they still share the high quality and engineering standard of the group because of extensive platform and component sharing.

Brief History

Volkswagen was born out of the will of Adolf Hitler. It was believed that during his imprisonment in 1924, Hitler read some books about the story of Henry Ford and was deeply impressed. Soon after he came to power in 1933, he made two decisions: 1) started the construction of Autobahn super highway to interconnect the major cities in Germany; 2) assigned Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche to develop a mass production car for his people.

He wanted every family to have a car in its garage, therefore the car was called Volkswagen, or People’s Car in English. The car were to be produced by NSU.

According to the requirements set by Hitler, Porsche designed a rear-engined car with an air-cooled flat-four engine. It used air cooling because the dictator thought his kingdom would soon expanded to African desert. The car was not particularly advanced, but it was designed with great attention to details, taking into reliability, economy, ease of production and maintenance into consideration.

Today this car is known to the world as Beetle, or what the American called Bug.

In 1941, the great factory was built (out of the mandatory deposit from German people) and pilot run was completed. Unfortunately, the broke out of WW II meant it was soon converted into an arsenal. The Volkswagen car was also modified to military vehicles which was really used in the North African desert.

The road car was put into shelf until the war ended.

Volkswagen Beetle

After the war, the Volkswagen factory came under the control of British forces. The British examined the car and was not very interested to produce it in their home country, but they helped the German to rebuild the factory and renamed the town to Wolfsburg. Production of the car increased quickly, especially since it started exporting to the US, where its cult looks and good practicality made it a hit.

Its sales accumulated to 1 million units in 1955, 15 million units in 1972 (which surpassed the old record held by Ford Model T) and eventually topped 21.5 million units when the last Beetle rolled off the production line in Mexico in 2003.

So far the story seems like the history of Beetle. In fact, Volkswagen was virtually a one-model company until the early 1970s. It tried to find a new design to replace the car but every time failed – the 1500 in 1961, the 411 in 1968 and the front-wheel-drive K70 in 1970.

The hatchback Polo, which was based on Audi 50, relieved some pressure, but the declining sales of Beetle eventually drove the company into a loss in 1974.

Volkswagen Golf Mk1

Luckily, the same year launched the Giogiaro-designed Golf (American called it Rabit), a car that saved the company and became another core model in the following decades. In the 80s and 90s, Polo and Passat started taking some pressure off the shoulders of Golf. The product portfolio of Volkswagen became healthier.

Volkswagen acquired Auto Union in 1965 and NSU in 1969, merging them into Audi. It took nearly 3 decades to build Audi into a successful premium brand like Mercedes and BMW.

In the 1980s it started internationalising – SEAT was bought in the mid-80s, Skoda in the early 90s, then in 1998 its CEO Ferdinand Piech bought 3 marques in a row: Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. Unlike the American, Volkswagen showed skills and patience to turn around these brands while maintaining their individuality.

In the late 2000s, a failed attempt of takeover by Porsche resulted in a counter takeover. Porsche became 11th brand of Volkswagen. Meanwhile, it acquired minority stake in Suzuki to strengthen its small car strategy.

Copyright 1997-2013 by Mark Wan Return to AutoZine home page

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