Punch bug! It’s almost impossible to resist the classic and whimsical design of the Volkswagen Beetle. 

Volkswagen is famous around the world for its innovative and reliable German engineering. The car manufacturer has surpassed its corporate beginnings to become one of the most iconic motor vehicles on the planet, even though its flagship product isn’t even in production anymore. 

The Volkswagen Group is the largest automaker in the world by sales. Though it was once a bastion of American and European car sales, the company now gains forty percent of its profits and sales from China.

This name is so ubiquitous that the company’s slogan is simply “Volkswagen”. This German word translates literally to “the people’s car”, and it’s apropos for a company that has moved beyond its roots to provide reliable transportation for millions across the globe. 

Hitler History Lesson

Perhaps the most controversial thing about Volkswagen is its origin, which is not widely known.

The company was championed by Adolf Hitler starting in 1934 as a way to create access to vehicles for the German people. It was a cause that was important to Hitler, who saw how automobile transportation was a populist issue and a critical next step for the German people. 

To that end, the company was officially formed in 1937 in Berlin by the National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) as the “Gesellschaft Zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH”,  or the Limited Liability Company for the Preparation of the German People’s Car. The whole reason for the company was to create a car that was accessible to the people. Hitler mandated the specifications for the vehicle, namely that it must be capable of transporting two adults and three children at the speed of one hundred kilometers per hour, and that it must be air-cooled. Originally, the car was called the Porsche Type 60. This name later changed to the Volkswagen Type 1, but it’s commonly referred to as the Volkswagen Beetle.

There were payment processes and funding through the Nazi government integrated into the production of the car, a move to allow the average German family to afford it.

During the war, Volkswagen’s production switched over to military vehicles. Historians estimate that three-fifths of the labor used by Volkswagen during the war years was slave labor supplied from concentration camps. Volkswagen set up a survivors’ fund for the descendants of those slaves following a 1998 lawsuit. 

Post War Revival

Had it not been for British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst, Volkswagen as we know it might not exist. The company’s assets had been heavily bombed during the war. Hirst was placed in charge of the area including the Volkswagen infrastructure during the Allied occupation following the war. As the rebuilding of Germany progressed following the war, Volkswagen was transformed from a military company to a civilian one in large part by Hirst. 

In the next few decades, Volkswagen would become a highly important symbol of West German ingenuity and promise. During these post-war years Volkswagen Beetles, commercial vans, pickup trucks, and campers became increasingly profitable and widely regarded vehicles. 

Volkswagen Today and Beyond

Today, Volkswagen is owned by the Volkswagen Group that’s based out of Wolfsburg, Germany. The company has more than three hundred thousand employees all over the world. Its annual revenue is north of two hundred and seventy-five billion dollars per year, with a production output of more than eleven million vehicles every year. 

With a long and sometimes storied history, this car manufacturer has proven to be able to withstand even the most intense challenges.