The Volkswagen Beetle – A success story
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Since its inception in 1938, the Beetle has been the longest production run of any single car design ever, with over 21 million being produced since its creation.
The car has come to symbolise not just an era, but a lifestyle, starting a trend which has changed the face of the automobile industry around the world. Literally, the Volkswagen Beetle became a way of life for millions of people who owed their previously unknown mobility to this legendary car.
The Beetle acted as Germany's ambassador all over the world - with a sound that you couldn't overhear, with a presence that you couldn't mistake and, at the same time, with an appeal that was unmatched. The most significant period for the Beetle came in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the car became an icon to represent everything about that particular generation - flower power, bellbottoms, hippie culture and freedom.
The Beetle's unique and quirky designs diffused its popularity throughout the world. From a symbol of all-American simplicity and durability in the 1950s, the Beetle came to embody the counterculture of the 1960s. Standing apart from its tail-finned counterparts, Beetles all over America were decorated with psychedelic designs and colourful daisies. For decades, it was the most popular imported car in the United States.
The ‘Creation' of the Beetle
The story of the Beetle began on 17 January 1934 when Ferdinand Porsche wrote his Expose regarding the construction of a "German People's Car". In his opinion, a people's car, or Volkswagen, should be fully adequate and reliable automobile, low in weight and with "foolproof equipment".
It was to be fast with a powerful engine able to propel the car speedily over any mountain pass. The seating layout should provide excellent comfort - and all this was to come at a low price. The design brief set improbable demands. The result was a milestone car with an unforgettable rounded shape. Practically from scratch the Volkswagen proved to be a huge leap forward in automotive history.
None of the Beetle's design principals were in themselves completely new - a modern streamline all-steel body, torsion bar suspension, a robust and economical rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive. However Porsche's Stuttgart office fashioned a functional combination of these elements, which was a breath of fresh air in the motoring world of the day. This marrying of a visionary concept with fanatical attention to design detail gave rise to both a revolutionary and timeless vehicle.
The first prototype of the sedan was completed on 5 February 1936. Three trial vehicles of the "V3" version were built and covered over 50,000 km in an endurance test conducted from October to December 1936. The knowledge here was pumped back into the following 30 specimens which ran through a full-scale endurance test under the abbreviation "VW 30". The vehicle that was ready to go into production in 1938 was a technical sensation.
To set up the factory and production systems, Ferdinand Porsche searched American automobile factories to recruit experienced émigré German engineers. Only then was the car given its final shape. It was perfected in a model wind tunnel and corrected in actual usage. Furthermore, it proved possible to develop a very simple suspension system. The topic of discussion at this time was the engine selection. In the end, a four-cylinder Boxer engine got the green light.
In September 1939, the Second World War began and the civil production of the Beetle was converted to military production. This development shed significant light on the future of the Beetle as on account of the war it had to sustain the most challenging test which no other car had ever been subjected to before (and today). It performed very well; in any climatic condition (from torrid Africa to icy Russia) and on any type of ground (in the mud, in the sand and the snow). The Beetle never stopped.
In August 1945, the British military authorities, who managed the factory in trust from 1945 until 1949, commissioned the Volkswagen plant with the production of 20,000 sedans. In December 1945, mass production of the Beetle started with 55 assembled vehicles. In a secluded location on the Mittelland Canal, the factory, with the rubble from the war cleared out of the way, housed a community of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They built up their new homeland from the chaos.
The Volkswagen employees, plagued as they were by their struggle for survival, could not foresee that it would become a success story. But in 1946, the first milestone was already reached: the 10,000th Volkswagen was completed.
In the next three years, restrictions and external events worked against the establishment of the factory. Deliveries to private persons were not permitted and coal shortages in 1947 led to the Volkswagen plant being shut down temporarily. But the success story continued. In 1948, the workforce already numbered 8,400 employees, who built almost 20,000 vehicles.
Exports started in August 1947. The Pon brothers from the Netherlands were employed as the Volkswagen general importers and received 56 Beetle sedans as the first delivery. One year later, exports were expanded to Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland. The first sought-after foreign currency flowed in: 4,464 Beetles brought in a tidy 21 million DM.
Even with the weak buying power after the currency reform in Germany, the Beetle continued to be a success story with sales growing at a rapid rate, this truly was a "people's car". In times when snow plows and winter tires were ideas still to come, the Beetle managed to climb on icy roads, the rear engine provided adequate traction for the driving wheels.
On 8 January 1949 a Beetle left the Netherlands, heading across the ocean towards the United States. It proved to be the ambassador for both Germany and the Volkswagen plant and successfully gained a foothold in the New World. The flood of improvements continued in this year, for the most part, however, they were felt more than they were seen.
On 13 May 1949 the 50,000th Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the line. Such sensational production numbers were attributed to Volkswagen General Director Heinrich Nordhoff, who maintained extremely close and warm relations with the workforce. His farsighted business policies, especially his contribution towards an efficient sales and customer service organisation, lay the foundation for the rise of Volkswagen to the largest automobile manufacturer in Europe.
Nordhoff's demands for exemplary customer service made in the 1950s still apply today. He gave customer service top priority. As the sales figures rapidly increased the number of Volkswagen-licensed repair shops also grew, and many of them developed into major operations. Volkswagen made the effort to ensure the supply of replacement parts around the world.
Meanwhile, the people in Wolfsburg quickly got used to large numbers: in 1950 the 100,000th Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the production line; one year later, Volkswagen had already reached a quarter million - even though material shortages led to a temporary production shutdown and reduced working hours. In 1952, annual production exceeded 100,000 units for the first time. The 500,000th Volkswagen Beetle was produced in 1953 making the Volkswagen share of car production in the Federal Republic of Germany 42.5 percent.
In 1955, it happened: the 1,000,000th Volkswagen Beetle was produced. In an extremely successful business year, production increased to 280,000 vehicles. In the annual average, daily production exceeded 1,000 vehicles for the first time.
Annual production had now reached a scale of more than 700,000 Volkswagen Beetles, and continued to grow until the "sound barrier" of one million vehicles built was broken in 1965. The 10,000,000th Volkswagen Beetle was produced in 1967. Meanwhile, there were already five plants in Germany - Hanover, Kassel, Braunschweig (Brunswick) and Emden in addition to Wolfsburg.
By 1973, total production was over 16 million, and by 23 June 1992 there had been over 21 million produced. Today, the Beetle is the world's best-selling car design.
Beetle Marketing Campaign
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Volkswagen produced several innovative and successful advertising and TV campaigns for the Volkswagen Beetle that is still legendary today. One ad in the 60s described the Beetle and the Coke bottle as the two best known shapes in the world. Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), the advertising agency for Volkswagen produced at the end of the 1960's an ad that was titled "What the world loves about Germany", it included a colourfully mixed collection of pictures: Heidelberg, a cuckoo clock, sauerkraut with dumplings, Goethe, a dachshund, the Lorelei - and a Beetle.
From 1968 to 2005, a pearl white 1963 fabric sunroof Beetle with racing number "53" and red, white and blue stripes named "Herbie" starred in The Love Bug series of Disney comedy films which added to its popularity. Also made famous is the Autobot Bumblebee, a canary yellow Beetle in the toy, comic and cartoon line The Transformers. These campaign successes and a reputation for reliability and sturdiness helped production figures to exceed the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T, when Beetle No. 15,007,034 was produced on February 17, 1972, breaking a new world record.
The New Beetle
In 1998 Volkswagen launched the New Beetle which incorporates the signature features of the classic model and takes the design to the next level. In mid 2005 the Volkswagen cult car was optically sharpened. New lights, refined lines, a fresh colour palette as well as new fabric seat covers are just a few of the details that were changed. Altogether this resulted in a successful facelift that has made the appearance of the New Beetle even more concise.
The front bumpers have received a radiator grille that gives it a sportier look and the synthetic fenders have been given a sharper contour. The clear-glass headlights are even more defined with their oval shape and the front blinkers have been made narrower. In the new model year, colours with imaginative names like "Salsa Red" or "Gecko Green" offer a glimpse of the fresh colours and paints. Altogether, 15 colours are available for the New Beetle. The interior has also been upgraded through chrome framing on the instrument cluster and air vents. The obligatory flower vase - a real classic - has remained untouched.
The contouring of the body is distinctive. It transports the originality of the classic Beetle into contemporary times. The round stern, the domeshaped roof, the rear section, the fenders with the hint of a footboard, the embedded round head - (optional Xenon) and tail lights - bring back memories of the Beetle while the sharp accented lines and windows confirm the up-to-date design and express youthful energy.
The self-supporting body made out of zinc-plated sheet steel, has a twelve-year guarantee against corrosion. And it is high-strength with a positive impact on the crash demeanor and comfort and quality. The firm steel body of the New Beetle as well as the synthetic fenders and bumpers are painted in one step in a specially developed process, so that the colouring is absolutely identical. As done previously, the fenders and bumpers are screwed on, which enables low-cost repairs.
Meanwhile, the high design quality is confirmed by various international awards. The New Beetle received the coveted "Design of the Century Award" from the Industrial Designers of America (IDSA). This honours products whose design plays a significant role in the success of the product or brand. Before that, the New Beetle had received the "Product Design Award" from the Industrie Forum Design in Hannover as well as the award for "Good Design" from the Chicago Athenaeum.
The Beetle has dominated the image of Volkswagen and helped to influence the streets everywhere around the world. Its national and international success has made the Beetle shape one of the most outstanding silhouettes of the 20th century, owed much to the principal of "democratic design." It is still a trusted friend to today's driving generation and it will be even more so with the introduction of a new Beetle in the near future.
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