Volkswagen: a German word which translates literally as people’s car (Knorr). Perhaps one of the truest testaments of German ingenuity, as evidenced by its technological breakthroughs and designs in the automotive industry. In Germany, circa 1930’s, the plan for making a people’s car was not a new idea. There had been numerous attempts commercially at mass producing a car with low gasoline consumption on extended mileage. But all of the previous efforts by different corporations ended in failures (Knorr).
It was in 1933 however, when this realization made its first baby steps, when The Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler met with Ferdinand Porsche, President of an automotive design company, Porsche Buro, to discuss Hitler’s idea of mass-producing a sedan-type car for the German people (Mayer). In 1938 the first models of V38 cars were introduced, although Hitler unexpectedly changed its name to KdF Wagen, “Kraft durch Freude” which means Strength through Joy in German, mainly for propaganda purposes (Knorr).
By 1939 a handful of VW38’s and VW39’s were produced in KdF Wagen factory, just to prove to the public that the factory was already operational and to showcase what the final appearance of the car would look like (Knorr). During World War II, KdF Wagen factory kept a steady production of Type 82s Kubelwagens, this was basic military vehicle that had the same parts as the KdF Wagen, but had a flat-sided body. This was basically Germany’s jeep during the war (Knorr). KdF also produced an amphibious vehicle, the Type 128 then later the Type 166, also known as Schwimmwagen.
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There were around 50,000 Type 82’s and almost 16,000 Schwimmwagens made in KdF during the War. These cars were the basis of the beetle when the War was over (Knorr). The British army took control of the partly-damaged KdF factory when the War was over, and before the end of 1945, the factory under the leadership of Major Ivan Hirst, was already producing more than 2000 cars, most of which came from surplus parts left during the war. After only a year they were producing 10,000 cars (Knorr). Sometime after 1945, the British named the company Volkswagen.
In 1949, control of the company was handed over to the German government after Ford Corp. rejected it for fear that it would just be a waste of money. Heinrich Nordhoff was chosen as senior executive to Volkswagen (Knorr). Late in that year, the idea for a transport vehicle was developed, and the very next year, the VW Transporter was born (Knorr). As early as 1950, under the very able leadership of Nordhoff, Volkswagens, now popularly called Beetles, were already being exported to Denmark, Sweden, Luxumberg, Belgium, and Switzerland (Knorr). In 1950, production in South Africa began.
In 1952, a dealership was opened in England (Knorr). A plant in Brazil was also opened, and later in 1960, another one opened in Australia. The beetles we see today are mostly from 1958, when the company made a beetle with a larger rear window, to increase rear visibility by as much as 30% (Mayer). Volkswagen had a very successful advertising campaign in U. S. A. during the 1960’s, due perhaps to the success of Walt Disney Films’ Herbie, The Love Bug. Very successful was the campaign that before the 60’s end, Volkswagen was producing over 1,000,000 beetles per year; with 1969 as the most successful year ever (Knorr).
The beetles’ sales began it decline late in the 1960’s. The main complain was its low stability in high speeds on American highways. Add to that the ever-increasing government regulations on safety and emissions (Knorr). By 1977, except in Brazil, Volkswagen stopped the production of Beetle sedan (Knorr). Volkswagen’s Success: The Other Side During the 1930’s, at a time when Europe was experiencing tremendous economic crisis, the German Volkswagen group personified the big corporations in the service of the Nazi war machine. Among Ferdinand Porsche’s closest friends were: The Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, Dr.
Robert Ley-leader of the German Labour Front, SS Heinrich Himmler and Fritz Sauckel-who rejoiced in the pompous title of General Plenipotentiary for Manpower Allocation (Clairmont). Porsche had perfect understanding of the importance of productivity, and the need for its constant increase was an obsession to him. Porsche’s friend, Fritz Sauckel, who’s responsible for deportation of workers, had for his first directive on labour: Foreign workers will be treated so as to exploit them to the greatest possible extent, with a minimum of outlay (Clairmont).
To the already existing methods to increase productivity, e. g. longer working hours, faster rate of work, new labour-saving techniques, Porsche and the Nazi war machine added a fourth, which they had rediscovered: slavery (Clairmont). The Nazi slogan ‘joy through work’ or freude durch arbeit, deteriorated for the slaves into ‘annihilation through work’ or vernichtung durch, arbeit. At Volkswagen, the foreign workforce subjected to forced labour was exposed to the cold, incessant beatings, malnutrition, and early death (Clairmont).
Volkswagen also played an essential role in the victories of the blitzkrieg. Being the Chairman of the Panzer committee, Porsche pioneered innovations for a wide range of armored vehicles, including the Tiger and the Ferdinand destroyers (Clairmont). He also developed such retaliatory weapons as Fi 103 flying bombs, which indiscriminately targeted civilians, the Focke-Wulf interceptor that terrorized the Allied bombers, and the Ju 88, Luftwaffe’s most used bomber (Clairmont). For the Nazi’s in WW II, economic policy for slaves was hellish.
In Hitler’s own accord on his ‘sub-human’ views on the Slavs in Untermenschen: As for the ridiculous hundred-million Slavs, we will mould the best of them to the shape that suits us and we will isolate the rest of them in their own pigsties; and anyone who talks about cherishing the local inhabitants and civilizing him goes straight off to a concentration camp (Clairmont). There were more than 5. 75 million Soviet prisoners of war in Germany. Only a little more than a million of them, who had served German shareholders so well, were alive when they were liberated (Clairmont).
. When the War ended, Volkswagen factories were devastated, but, thanks to the Allies, it soon rose from the ashes. The Beetle became the symbol of Germany’s economic miracle, and Porsche’s Nazi affiliations gave way to the Christian Democratic Union (Clairmont). The conversion had been smooth. Different slogans appeared. Ferdinand Porsche asserted his faith in the free market, the building of Europe, and Democracy (Clairmont). Volkswagen Today CEO Martin Winterkorn, in an annual news conference in Wolfsburg, Germany: A difficult 2009 lies ahead of us—one of the most difficult years in our company’s history (Mayer).
Finance Chief Hans Dieter Poetsch, on management-positioning of VW for recovery: We do not yet appear to have reached the bottom (Mayer). Winterkorn expects to see VW emerge stronger from the global crisis, that the company is sticking to its goal of becoming the world’s biggest automaker in unit sales by 2018. Currently, Toyota is Number 1 (Mayer). • Skoda recorded an operating profit of 565 million euros, down by 147 million euros year-on-year due to the unfavorable exchange rate of the Czech crown (Mayer).
• Seat lost of 78 million euros compared with an 8 million euro profit in 2007 due to economic difficulties in Spain (Mayer). • Bentley posted a 10 million euro profit, down from 15. 5 million euros amid a substantial decline in the luxury car market (Mayer). Conclusion In the annals of Automotive Industry, Volkswagen clearly had been the most controversial, historic, and successful, both in sales and in socio-cultural influence. Its global mass appeal is evident along the streets of almost all the cities in the world, defying the laws of product life cycles and time itself.Volkswagen is still one of the major players in the industry, and its eyes are focused on regaining the top spot.
Clairmont, Frederic F. Volkswagen’s History of Forced Labour. Le Monde Diplomatique. English Ed. 11 January 1998. 24 March 2009 <http://mondediplo. com/1998/01/volkswag> Knorr, Ben. VW History. Westminster College. 15 October 1998. 24 March 2009 <http://people. westminstercollege. edu/staff/bknorr> Mayer, Bettina. Volkswagen Sees One of Hardest Years in History. Automotive News. 12 March 2009. 24 March 2009 <http://autonews. com/article/20090312/COPY01>
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