The History of Volkswagen

Timeline text by Zachary Wilson


1933 – 39

Adolf Hitler approves Ferdinand Porsche’s design for the “people’s car,” or volkswagen. A town called Stadt des KdF-Wagens, now Wolfsburg, is established for factory workers in 1938. Full-scale production is planned for September 1939, but war intervenes.


1939 – 45

During World War II, the Volkswagen plant is primarily used to produce military vehicles, including the SUV-like Kübelwagen and the amphibious Schwimmwagen. By 1943, more than 12,000 prisoners of war are working at the factory, most of them repairing aircraft and building V1 rockets to bomb Britain.

1945 – 47

Stadt des KdF-Wagens is bombed, captured by U.S. forces in 1945, and then handed over to the British. Major Ivan Hirst paints a Volkswagen green and shows it to British officials. They order 20,000. American, British, and French motor companies decline to take over the plant.


Volkswagen, reorganized as a trust under West German control, introduces the Volkswagen Type 2 van, pickup, and camper, and the Karmann Ghia sports car.



The Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle is exhibited and sold in the United States for the first time. Only two units sell that year, but sales soon pick up.


Volkswagen Group of America is formed to standardize service and sales in the United States. Production of the Type 1 Beetle increases drastically, reaching 1 million units.


Sales soar as the witty “Think Small” ad campaign by Doyle Dane Bernbach lures sophisticated (and younger) consumers.



Disney releases the first Love Bug film about Herbie, a VW Beetle with a mind of its own.


Volkswagen merges two previous purchases — Auto Union, owner of the discontinued Audi brand, and NSU Motorenwerke — to create the modern-day Audi, the company’s luxury brand.


On February 17, the 15,007,034th Type 1 Beetle is made, surpassing the Ford Model T as the most produced single model in history.



Volkswagen opens its first U.S. factory in New Stanton, Pennsylvania, for North American production of the Rabbit, a hot seller known as the Golf in Europe.


The Golf Mk3 and the Jetta arrive in North America, but fewer than 50,000 VWs are sold here, a record low.


The Volkswagen New Beetle and the fourth-generation Jetta (along with the 1996 incarnation of the Passat) boost sales significantly in North America. The Volkswagen Group acquires Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini.



Volkswagen announces the Phaeton line, a play for the luxury market, and the Touareg, the company’s first modern sport-utility vehicle.


On July 30, the final Type 1 Beetle rolls off the production line in Puebla, Mexico. Car No. 21,529,464 is immediately shipped to the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg.


In July, VW announces plans for a $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It will make cars designed for North America, including a midsize sedan to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. On October 26, Porsche, which had been buying up VW stock, reveals a plan to assume control of VW.



Volkswagen and Porsche announce a merger on May 6. In October, VW announces it will take a 49.9% stake in Porsche for $5.75 billion. And in December, VW takes a 19.9% stake in Suzuki, a deal valued at $2.5 billion.