The Volkswagen Beetle, popularly known as “Ijapa” in Nigeria, is one of the best selling cars of all time. Every Nigerian would have at one point in time had to live with one or knew someone who did.
It began life as a murderous dictator’s dream but became a symbol of peace, love and forward-thinking. It single-handedly established Volkswagen as one of the automotive giants in the world. This is everything you need to know to Get-On-Track with the “Volkswagen Beetle”.
Adolf Hitler – Father of Volkswagen
In 1934, Germany was under the control of a dictator and ruthless commander, his name; Adolf Hitler. While he did a lot of evil to the world, I must say I think he did one thing right.
Adolf Hitler wanted a car to be designed solely for the people of Germany and consequently he created a car company which he called “Volkswagen” meaning “The People’s Car”.
Since he was just an artist and a failed one at that, he hired a race car driver by the name “Ferdinand Porsche” – the father of Porsches – and he gave him a few directives concerning how the car was meant to look.
- It had to be small yet big enough to fit a whole family
- simple to use and maintain and
- dependable enough that it could practically run forever.
Porsche set off with these guidelines and brought forth a design which he called the “Type 1”. Production commenced immediately, and by 1938, the Type 1s started rolling off the production line in Fallersleben.
Two hundred and ten (210) vehicles were produced in that year alone and they were given to military officials. Hitler himself drove a convertible version of the car.
Hitler wanted good for the people of Germany and he didn’t care whose ox was gored in the process, inevitably, he started the second world war in 1939. This resulted in a halt in the production of the vehicle as all the resources were directed towards the war effort; building of military vehicles and other sorts.
By the time the war ended in 1945, Germany was in ruins. The company itself took quite a number of hits, a lot of the sections had been bombed, so the British took over in 1946.
The Resurrection of the Volkswagen Beetle
In 1946, one year after the British took charge of the Volkswagen company in the renamed city of Wolfsburg, they produced about 10000 type ones. These Type 1s were again given to the military officials present in the country, the British military this time.
The car was beginning to be appreciated by both the Germans and the British because it was fuel efficient as gas was a little scarce at the time. This made people turn to it for solace.
It was at this time that the vehicle was given the nickname “Beetle”.
Another reason Volkswagen thrived in the country at that time was because they had a lot of manpower available. The war had made a lot of people jobless, therefore, it was a good way to reduce unemployment and generate revenue for the country.
The Volkswagen Beetle on the Big Stage
In the automobile industry, the success of a car company is measured by its success in the United States of America because It is widely known that the United States is the largest automobile market in the world.
As a result of this Volkswagen decided to start shipping their vehicles to the United States in 1949. On arrival in the US, Volkswagen Beetles were initially rejected by dealerships and it took a whole year before they could convince a few dealers to start selling Beetles.
However, once they accepted the vehicles, the sales took off rapidly. The reasons why this happened are not far-fetched;
- The car was cheap and much more affordable than most other cars
- They were very economical on fuel when compared to other American vehicles
- They were cute looking
- Durable is an understatement for the Beetle; the doors the seat, the trunk… everything was built to take abuse and
- the engine was designed for lower revs so you could drive it flat out all day long
Another reason why they recorded great success was the advertisement strategy they used to market the Beetle. They marketed the features of the car that you would have considered as its weaknesses, as its strengths. Till date the Beetle is synonymous with the acronym; “Think small“.
The success of the Beetle was phenomenal such that, by 1955, just eight years after the project was restarted, Volkswagen had sold 1 million Beetles.
Walt Disney’s Love Bug
In 1968, Walt Disney produced the movie called “The Love Bug”, which portrayed a Volkswagen Beetle as a vehicle with a personality. In the end they used it for about 5 different movies. As a result, that year alone, Volkswagen sold the most they have ever sold of the Beetle; about 423,000 cars.
In 1972, the fifteen million, seven thousand and thirty fourth (15007034) Beetle rolled off the assembly line. Why are we talking about this random number? It’s because this is the total number of the Ford Model Ts ever produced. Prior to that time, the Ford Model T held the world record of the best-selling car of all time, hence, Volkswagen broke that 40-year record and became the best-selling car of that time. A huge party was thrown to celebrate this.
The fall of the Volkswagen Beetle – Enter Japan.
By 1980, Volkswagen could not keep up with competition from the Japanese vehicles like Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans in the United States. This was partly because no change had been made to the Beetle since its inception.
Volkswagen introduced the Golf in the United States and stopped production of the Beetle, shifting their major markets to Mexico, South Africa, Brazil and other countries.
The New Beetle
In 1998, for the first time since 1938 Volkswagen introduced to the world a completely redesigned Beetle. They called it the “New Beetle”. The new Beetle had the looks of the old Beetle with a restyled interior, the engine was placed at the front and was very beautiful to look at.
The New Beetle helped Volkswagen get back on the lips of people and they recorded a good sales number of about 100000 units in 1999. The new Beetle was produced for about 20 years with minor redesigns and refresh
In 2015, a scandal concerning Volkswagen was revealed to the public. It was found out that Volkswagen had been cheating on emissions tests on a number of their diesel model vehicles including the Beetle. This scandal resulted in a court case and cost Volkswagen about 30 billion dollars but this was secondary compared to how much trust of the people they lost; the trust they built for over 75 years.
This affected the sale of their vehicles such that in 2018, the sales of the Beetle were just equivalent to about 4% of total sales of the company.
Goodbye Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen announced that they will discontinue the production of the Iconic Beetle in 2019 and we think we all know why; the market had changed, people now preferred SUVs over small cars.
The last Beetle rolled off the assembly line in January of 2019, 81 years after the first Beetle went off the assembly line in Fallersleben. A sad but glorious end to a vehicle that was so small yet so impactive that it is a part of many beautiful memories in many homes worldwide. Thanks for showing us how magnitudinous “small” can be.
The Future of The Volkswagen Beetle.
Speculations are that we will see another Beetle on the way down the road, most probably, an electric version. In the words of Scott Keogh, the CEO, Volkswagen America:
“You know, with the Beetle, Never say never.”
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