Having been established 84 years ago in 1937, Volkswagen is one of the longest standing automotive brands out there, and has, over the years, become one of the most popular. Officially named the Volkswagen Type 1, but better known as the Volkswagen Beetle, the two-door, rear-engined, economy car is one of the German automaker’s most iconic vehicles and remained in production from 1938 all the way until 2003. Since then, the brand has released a wide variety of different models throughout the years, but today, the Volkswagen Atlas, Golf, Jetta, Passat, and Tiguan are the brand’s popular mainstream offerings.
While those particular facts may be common knowledge to most, here are five facts that you may not have known:
At the height of German-Nazi rule in 1937, Adolf Hitler actually conceptualized the Volkswagen Beetle, or ‘the people’s car’ in translation – requesting that Ferdinand Porsche and his team engineer an affordable, two-door car that could carry two adults and three children. He wanted to mass-produce these cars for the German population to use on the country’s new road network. Hitler established the VW factory in Fallersleben and in a speech referred to the new car as the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen or “Strength Through Joy Car”. Béla Barényi conceived the original design for the Beetle in 1925 but it took until 1938 for Ferdinand Porsche to finalize the design.
There were saloon and convertible configurations, a large cargo bay was presented beneath the front hood as the car’s engine was mounted at the rear, and in the cabin, there were seats for five passengers. The first iterations utilized a small capacity air-cooled four-cylinder motor with around 25 horsepower, they were relatively compact in size and weighed below 2,000 pounds.
By the end of the second world war, the VW FallerSleben factory had been partially destroyed and the British had taken control of the territory. The British occupation forces wanted nothing to do with the automotive industry and subsequently offered Volkswagen to Ford, at no charge. Henry Ford II, the eldest grandson of Ford’s founder, disparagingly described the Beetle as a “little box” and declined the offer. His right-hand man, Ernest Breech, famously said to him “What we’re being offered here, Mr. Ford, isn’t worth a damn!”. Many executives within Ford also shared concerns about the fact that various VW factories were still very close to potentially turbulent contested zones.
Volkswagen is an umbrella company with twelve brands from seven different European countries under its aegis. The companies include premium automakers Audi, Porsche, and Bentley, appropriated mainstream automakers SEAT and Skoda, superbike producer Ducati, truck manufacturers MAN and Scania, and finally, performance automotive brands, Bugatti and Lamborghini. The Volkswagen Group also offers an array of financial services such as banking and insurance schemes, dealer and customer financing, leasing, and fleet management. Volkswagen also has 123 production plants located around the world.
At first glance, it may seem as though every Volkswagen vehicle has been given a random, fictitious nameplate. But many of them are actually named after various wind currents – The Golf, for example, is the English translation of the German word ‘Gulf’ which refers to the Gulf stream. Jetta is the German word for ‘jet stream’ – a fast flowing, narrow, meandering air current. Passat translates to ‘trade wind’, which are prevailing east-to-west winds, Polo’s are named after the polar winds, and Sciroccos are referenced after the Sirocco mediterranean winds. In the USA, the Golf was sold as the Rabbit for a time. Some of VW’s car names are derived from Greek mythology too, like the Eos, Arteon, and Atlas in particular.
On the 18th of September, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen Group for around 480,000 VW and Audi vehicles with a specific engine that apparently housed an “emissions defeat device”. Two days after the scandal was revealed to the international community, VW’s share price fell a catastrophic 35%. Even so, just a short while after the release of the scandal, VW still sold a record 10.3 million cars worldwide in 2016. VW only managed to amend one in every ten VW vehicles installed with the emissions-cheating software a year after the scandal. By 2017, VW was fixing around 20,000 vehicles affected by the diesel gate emissions scandal a week in Britain diesel gate emissions.