The Volkswagen Group, commonly just shortened to Volkswagen or “VW” is a German multinational automotive enterprise that designs, builds, markets and sells cars all over the world. Beyond their own flagship VW brand, the Volkswagen Group (VAG) is also the owner of many other well-known and successful car brands, such as Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Skoda and more. Moreover, VW is a company with a great deal of interesting history, which we will cover in today’s blog.
Founding and War Years
Volkswagen was first formed by the German Labour Front in 1937, then working under the Nazi-controlled government. As the literal translation of the Volkswagen name — people’s car — suggests, the idea was to create an automobile that wasn’t just within the reach of the very wealthy, but also the poorest earning about 32 marks a week (about $5). The goal was to build a car costing about the same as a small motorcycle, roughly 990 marks, or $396.
When the private sector failed to satisfy the cost bracket, the government stepped in to subsidize the idea with a savings plan that people could pay into before receiving their car. The outbreak of the Second World War changed all of that, as well as the future of VW as a brand forever.
The end of the war brought utter destruction to VW’s homeland of Germany, but also renewed hope. Released from the grip of the Nazi state, VW was able to revive itself under new leadership, and especially Heinrich Nordhoff, who first acted as an assistant to the British military governor Ivan Hirst, and then went on to run VW’s famous Wolfsburg facility himself after the occupation of West Germany ended.
Early post-war years were extremely challenging for VW because of the economic and refugee crises in Germany, as well as the country now being divided and many previous suppliers of key components like carburettors being lost in the Soviet-occupied zones in East Germany. However, an indomitable spirit and steady recovery in the years following 1949 saw VW come back to life.
VW Early Models – Type 1 and Type 2
Before the war, VW’s design team had created what we now know today as the Beetle, arguably the single most iconic model ever produced by Volkswagen. This was the initial “people’s car” come to life, but the war years interrupted its proper release and propagation. The post-war years, however, saw a return of the Beetle model, known officially as the Type 1. The 1949 Volkswagen “split rear window” sedan model became a true icon of a recovering Germany. This was actually the only car model pursued under Nordhoff’s administration of the company, as well as the Volkswagen Type 2 commercial can — the earliest version of the recently revived VW Camper/VW Van, now the electric ID.Buzz.
The Type 1 and Type 2 dominated VW’s range for the first couple of decades. Nevertheless, VW expanded and standardized its offerings into the US, Canada, and the UK. It was in 1960 when the company finally became the Volkswagen AG (VAG) or Volkswagen Group that we now know. By the late 1960s, demand for the Beetle was diminishing as other brands started to generate more stylish and creative models. VW also rose to meet this challenge.
Expanding the Range
From 1961 onwards, Volkswagen started to expand its range, starting with the Type 3 model and by 1969 the Type 4 model, both family-friendly estates. An SUV-like model was even created in 1973 called the Type 181, or more commonly as the “Trekker” in Europe. However, the Type 3 and Type 4 models were not successful, with the Type 181 only bringing some financial success when it was adopted by the West German military. By 1973, Volkswagen was in dire straits, and needed more commercially viable models, as the Beetle had once been.
As it happens, it was VW’s previous acquisition of Audi/Auto Union that was the most decisive in turning fortunes around. Innovations from this new wing, including new water-cooled engines, allowed the eventual creation of some of VW’s most iconic marques: Passat, Scirocco, Polo, and of course Golf.
The Passat arrived first (1973), followed by the Scirocco in 1974, and then perhaps the greatest creation that secured VW’s future — the VW Golf, also in 1974. What you might not know is that the VW Golf was marketed as the “VW Rabbit” in North America for the first-generation models. The Polo came in 1975, another iconic compact that together with the Golf would form the bread and butter of VW’s success, particularly in Europe.
The Golf, Polo, and Passat continued to get updated into new generations, and continue to do so today, with the former two finding major success in Europe, and the latter eventually finding a gargantuan market following in an emerging China. Even the VW Beetle made a comeback in 1997, enjoying production until finally being discontinued in 2011.
Latest Models and Electrification
While some names have made it to the model lineup of VW in the 21st century, the new focus is on the creation of electric models. The current range includes the many familiar faces like the Golf and Polo, but also now a large range of popular SUVs and crossovers such as the T-Cross, Taigo, T-Roc, Tiguan, and Touareg. New compact cars made it into the range, too, like the VW Up, not to mention estate versions like the Golf Estate, and Passat Estate.
Right now, of course, Volskwagen is much more about promoting its electric range of vehicles known as the ID series. Current models include the ID.3, ID.4, and ID.5, as well as the ID.Buzz which is based on the iconic VW Camper. Like many major car makers, VW has committed to a widespread reduction of its emissions, and is investing heavily in both electric vehicle and battery production across its entire corporate family. Other brands owned by VW are engaging in the electric car revolution, most notably the Audi e-tron series, one of the most successful luxury electric models produced to date.