Why does this funny little car create such strong emotions?
The Volkswagen Beetle. A small, fun, exciting, and interesting car for some. And an embodiment of boredom, and everything wrong with the car industry to some. But why is this car loved and hated? It has an interesting history, and a unique design, making it loved all throughout the world. And as a wise man once told me, you either love the Beetle, or you hate it. And truer words could not have been said about the car. The Beetle has, one of the most interesting car stories, and arguably the most interesting car success stories in the world.
When Adolph Hitler took over Germany it 1933, it was in a weakened state due to the reparations it had to pay to the Allies after World War One. Hitler wanted to change this, and as he was a fan of American mass car production, tasked Ferdinand Porsche with building a small, affordable car, able to fit a family of four. What came out of this was the Volkswagen Type 1, aka the Beetle. In 1938, only 600 of the cars were produced, and it was difficult for the average German to attain such a car in the first place, due to its low production, and high cost. Not to mention the Second World War was about to begin and Hitler had prioritized all the resources to be used for production of war materials and military equipment. Putting the production of the Beetle on hold until after the war.
After the war was over, however, the Beetle began production once again. And since so little of them were made before the war the Beetle was pretty much a brand-new car. The Volkswagen factories were under the control of the British government, and 100,00 cars were produced in the 1946, and within a decade 1 million cars would be sold. The Beetle of the post-war Germany became instantly popular among the German people, but not among the Allies. It still had the stigma of being “Hitler’s car” in the U.K. and Ford Motor Company wanted nothing to do with the Beetle believing that the car was a poor investment. Believing it to be too loud and too ugly to be taken seriously as a car.
The “Think Small” campaign from 1959 (credit: ecommerceguru.it)
They couldn’t have been more wrong. In 1949, the Beetle debuted in the U.S. and was the opposite of what the American auto market was offering. It was a small, compact car, and it quickly became popular among a very small, niche group in the States. And in 1959, Volkswagen hired a New York based advertising group to make ads for the Beetle. What they came up with was the “Think Small” campaign, based on the idea that how we got to be so big was because we thought small. And it encouraged people to buy smaller cars.
The ad campaign became an instant hit for Volkswagen, and it made Volkswagen a household name. People soon forgot that Hitler had ordered the car to exist in the first place. Volkswagen had also been honest with their ad campaigns, making fun of themselves in the process. With slogans like, “ugly is only skin deep,” and “it makes your house look bigger,” Volkswagen was not kidding anyone with their cars. They were in the market of making reliable and affordable people’s cars.
By 1968, the Beetle had become the best-selling car in the world. In the States it became synonymous with hippies, and the counterculture movement. While in Germany it became a symbol of normalcy and post-war pride. And in 1970s and 80s, the Beetle began to wane in popularity among the U.S. consumer. But in the 1980s and 90s it was a hit in Mexico, Volkswagen even built factories to accommodate the Mexican consumer.
2013 Volkswagen Beetle (credit: newcars.com)
The New Beetle was developed in 1997 to accommodate the newer generation of consumer interested in the car. And today the Beetle still remains, although no longer produced, as Volkswagen cut production the New Beetle in 2019. The Beetle remains the hearts of people who love the 70s hippie culture, and is seen as an icon of peace among many. A stark difference to that of the horrible 1930s Germany ruled by Hitler.
As found in its history, the Beetle is loved by enthusiast and the common man alike. And it is still loved by many today. And the car’s intention is still present in the Beetles today, small, reliable, and affordable transportation. And because of this people love it. Not just because of the unique design like many think.
Sources: The history of the Volkswagen Beetle as it turns 80 years old – Hagerty Media and Luxury Lineage: A Brief History of the Volkswagen Beetle (forbes.com) and How did Porsche get to where it is today? (drivetribe.com) and Why do European cars sell poorly in the United States? (drivetribe.com)