Volkswagen Group, also called Volkswagen AG, major German automobile manufacturer, founded by the German government in 1937 to mass-produce a low-priced “people’s car.” Headquarters are in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The company was originally operated by the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), a Nazi organization. The Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was responsible for the original design of the car, was hired by the German Labour Front in 1934, and ground was broken for a new factory in the state of Lower Saxony in 1938. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 occurred before mass production could begin, and the factory was repurposed to produce military equipment and vehicles. Volkwagen’s military involvement made its factory a target for Allied bombers, and by the end of the war the factory was in ruins. It was rebuilt under British supervision, and mass production of the Volkswagen began in 1946. Control of the company was transferred in 1949 to the West German government and the state of Lower Saxony. By that time, more than half of the passenger cars produced in the country were Volkswagens.
Volkswagen production expanded rapidly in the 1950s. The company introduced the Transporter van in 1950 and the Karmann Ghia coupe in 1955. Sales abroad were generally strong in most countries of export, but, because of the car’s small size, unusual rounded appearance, and historical connection to Nazi Germany, sales in the United States were initially sluggish. The car began to gain acceptance there as the 1950s progressed, however, and Volkswagen of America was established in 1955. The American advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach was hired to represent the brand in 1959, and the result was a landmark advertising campaign that helped to popularize the car as the “Beetle” and promoted its size and unconventional design as an advantage to the consumer. The campaign was very successful, and the Beetle was for many years the most-popular imported automobile in the United States. Although Volkswagen made many detail changes to the Beetle, the basic rear-engine design and rounded shape remained the same. The company developed other rear-engine models with more-modern styling and improved engineering, but none were as successful as the Beetle.