If you ask people what they think is the world’s most iconic car, almost all of them will tell you that it is the Volkswagen Beetle. The Beetle, also known as the Volkswagen Type 1 and the Bug, is a two-door economy car with a rear engine. Despite having a relatively small size, the Beetle is designed to fit up to five people, although some countries limited the passenger capacity of the vehicle to four.
The Volkswagen Beetle is intended to be “the people’s car” during the peak of Nazi Germany, as Adolf Hitler wanted to mass-produce a car model that is cheap and accessible for all residents of the country. However, due to some slight problems caused by the Spanish Civil War, the development and production of the Beetle were delayed. But, the Beetle was eventually released in the 1940s and had since then become a popular choice for many drivers that wanted to have an affordable but reliable car. To learn more about the development and subsequent production of one of the greatest cars ever made, here is the history of the Volkswagen Beetle.
Development of the Beetle
The conceptualization for the Volkswagen Beetle started in April 1934, when Adolf Hitler tasked Porsche to create a “Volkswagen,” a German word that basically means “people’s car” in English. A meeting that occurred in May 1934 at the Kaiserhof Hotel finalized the plans for the vehicle, with Hitler stating that the car should be able to accommodate two adults and three children. Furthermore, the car will also be available to German citizens via a savings scheme that will allow them to buy the car for 990 Reichsmark, which is the same price for a motorcycle back then. The plan would eventually give birth to the Volkswagen company on May 28, 1937.
Before Adolf Hitler even gave the order to Porsche, the company had already started developing prototypes for what would be the predecessor to the Beetle. The first prototype was the Type 12, which was created in 1931 and had a similar body shape to the Beetle. There were three Type 12 prototypes that were produced, but all of them were destroyed during a bombing raid in Stuttgart in 1945.
The official start for the production of the Beetle was in 1938, and there were about 210 units that were produced in the same year. The first convertible unit ever built in the factory was given to Hitler. Besides the Type 1, the Volkswagen factory also built the Type 82 (a light military vehicle), the Type 166 (a four-wheel-drive amphibious vehicle), and Type 87 (a four-wheel-drive version of the Beetle).
The Beetle after the War
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II, the Allied Forced followed the Morgenthau Plan that eliminated Germany’s capabilities to wage more wars by forcibly closing the factories that create weapons for the country and eliminating other industries that may help strengthen the country’s military strength. Because Volkswagen was a company that helped the war efforts of Nazi Germany, its total car production per year was reduced, as the country could only produce 10% of what it used to manufacture in 1936.
In 1945, the American forces gave the British full control of the Volkswagen company, but no car manufacturer in Britain wanted to even touch Volkswagen because of its unattractiveness caused by the result of the war. However, the British government handled the reins of the company, which then survived by producing vehicles for the British Army. One of the people that wanted to keep the company alive was British Army Major Ivan Hirst, who persuaded the government to order 20,000 cars from Volkswagen. The government agreed, and it was in March 1946 when the factory was able to produce 1,000 vehicles per month for the army.
After building more than 10,000 cars for the military, Volkswagen then transitioned to producing Type 1 Beetle units for civilian use. By 1947, the number of civilian Beetles produced was at 9,000, and in the year, Volkswagen manufactured 19,244 units due to popular demand.
In 1949, the company appointed Opel manager Heinz Nordhoff to be the director of the factory. Thanks to Nordhoff’s guidance, the production and popularity of the Volkswagen Beetle increased tenfold, and they were able to produce the one-millionth unit in 1955. By 1972, Volkswagen had more than 15 million units sold, and in 1992, the company had 21 million units produced.
Decline of the Beetle
Even though the Beetle was quite popular in the 1950s up to the 1960s, the vehicle suddenly faced fierce competition starting from the 1970s, as many car manufacturers were now able to produce budget-friendly cars that have better features than the Beetle. Some of these rival models include the Opel Kadett, the Ford Escort, and the Renault 5. Despite the rivalry, Volkswagen was still able to sell significant amounts of Beetle units per year, although they soon realized that they needed to introduce a new model to keep their company fresh in the industry. The new model that serves as the successor to the Beetle was the Volkswagen Golf Mk1, which is a small family car produced from 1974 to 1987.
As Beetles were becoming obsolete by the 90s, Volkswagen experienced low sales for the model, which prompted them to focus their marketing on their other models. By 2003, the annual production of the Beetle decreased to 30,000, a low number for the Beetle considering that it used to sell more than 1 million units per year in the 70s. Because of the low sales, Volkswagen decided to end its production in 2004.
Although it is not being produced anymore by Volkswagen, there are still many people around the world that are buying secondhand Beetles, as most of them have dreamed of owning one and had no opportunities to buy the vehicle during its years in production. Because of its iconic and unique look, the Volkswagen Beetle still has plenty of fans today, and you may often see many refinished and repaired Beetles on the road that will truly capture everyone’s attention.