Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the Beetle was one
of the world’s most popular and successful vehicles.
Volkswagen is one of the world’s most well-known car manufacturers. The creators of the legendary Volkswagen Beetle, this once small company has grown into one of the largest automakers in the world.
Today, it owns some of the world’s most prestigious automotive brands, produces a greater number of top-selling cars than any other manufacturer and boasts some of the world’s most acclaimed vehicles in its line-up.
From the somewhat infamous origins of the Beetle to some of the numerous brands Volkswagen now owns, keep reading to learn six things you probably didn’t know about Volkswagen.
Today, Volkswagen owns Lamborghini, Porsche, Bugatti and Bentley
Although most of its vehicles only cost a fraction as much as those manufactured by high-end brands like Porsche and Bugatti, Volkswagen is one of the most successful car manufacturers of all time.
Over the last few decades, Volkswagen has acquired Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley and several other high-end car companies. Volkswagen also owns some cheaper car brands such as SEAT and Skoda through the Volkswagen Group.
As well as expanding through acquisition, Volkswagen has expanded into a selection of other countries. Although it’s a German company, Volkswagen now produces cars in the United States, India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Spain and several other countries.
Although Volkswagen isn’t the world’s largest automaker – it still produces fewer vehicles annually than Toyota – it’s the largest automotive company in Europe and the world’s second largest car company.
The classic Volkswagen Beetle was still manufactured until 2003
Most people think of the Volkswagen Beetle as an icon of the mid-20th century – a car that made motoring accessible to people that previously couldn’t afford to buy their own vehicle, and Germany’s equivalent to the BMC Mini.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Volkswagen was on top of the world with its cheap and simple Beetle. The small, simple and reliable car faced almost no competition in Europe and dominated the market for decades after it was launched.
As well as selling amazingly well in Europe, the Beetle was a surprising success in the United States – a country that usually preferred bigger cars – thanks to smart marketing efforts by Volkswagen’s marketing agency DDB.
Although sales of the Beetle declined in Europe throughout the 1970s as Japanese cars like the Toyota Corolla became more popular, Volkswagen continued making the Beetle for overseas markets until the early 21st century.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the final Beetle rolled off the assembly line in Volkswagen’s Mexican factory. The car, which was finished in Aquarius Blue, was given the name of Ultima Edicion and received a mariachi band serenade as it was finished.
They keep incredible production records, even for classic cars
Few companies have record keeping practices as thorough as Volkswagen’s. If you own a classic Volkswagen, you can apply to receive its birth certificate online at the Volkswagen website.
Although it takes round eight months for Volkswagen to process requests, they can usually work out your car’s production information and provide useful information to give you more background knowledge on your car’s history.
If you don’t own a classic Volkswagen but would like to buy one, Volkswagen even provides data sheets on their classic vehicles that you can use to make an informed decision as a buyer.
Yes, Hitler sketched the Beetle, but he didn’t really do much else
It’s hardly a secret that Volkswagen started producing vehicles shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. The usual explanation is that Hitler thought up the iconic Beetle himself and was the driving force behind its success.
While Hitler did sketch out the basic design for the Beetle, the car didn’t enter into mass production until after the war. Instead, a limited number were made during the Third Reich, most of which were prototypes or military vehicles.
Hitler provided some basic specifications for the car – that it should be able to drive at 100 km/h comfortably, use an air-cooled engine and cost very little to build – but wasn’t actively involved in its design or production.
Instead, Ferdinand Porsche, who founded the Porsche Car Company in 1931, played the largest role in the design of the Volkswagen Beetle. His team built prototypes of the Beetle and started producing the car on a small scale from 1941 onwards.
They produced the most imported car in the US during the 1950s
Although Volkswagen is best known for the iconic Beetle, its most successful car in the United States was for a long time the much less well known – at least by today’s standards – Karmann Ghia.
Designed by Italian master Luigi Segre, the Karmann Ghia was a stylish two-door sports car fitted with a flat-four engine. More expensive than the Beetle, it used a number of innovative developments aimed at increasing luxury and performance.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Karmann Ghia was the most imported car in the United States. Its success allowed Volkswagen to expand its product line up during the 1970s, introducing cars like the Scirocco and the mega-successful Golf.
During WW2, modified Beetles were used as military vehicles
Although the civilian version of the Beetle didn’t enter mass production until after the Second World War was over, a military version was produced in large numbers during the war for use in campaigns in Russia, France and North Africa.
The Volkswagen Kübelwagen – a modified version of the Beetle designed for use in rugged terrain – was produced during the war for the German Army. It was viewed by the Allies as Germany’s equivalent to the Jeep.
Although the Kübelwagen performed relatively well and was by far the favourite of most German units of the off-road vehicles available, the Allies weren’t impressed by the few Kübelwagens they captured throughout the war.
A 1943 American report referred to the Kübelwagen as “the German equivalent of the American ‘Jeep’” and claimed it “is inferior in every way, except in the comfort of its seating accommodations.”
Interestingly, British companies were given the chance to bid on the rights to build the civilian Beetle after the war. They rejected the chance to receive Volkswagen’s factory, claiming that the Beetle was “quite unattractive to the average buyer.”