A father’s blood and sweat, A mother’s second love in life, A son’s dream car, and a daughter’s most true friend-this is how Volkswagen as a brand took place in our family. Back in 2010 when Volkswagen India launched the Vento, it was the most head-turning vehicle for several months. People were in awe of this vehicle, just like they are in awe of any other Volkswagen product. Now as my Vento approaches its sunset months/years, Here is a look back on how Volkswagen became a true people’s car brand.

Illustration ID.3 charging with green power

It is tough to defend the brand after the diesel gate scam, Volkswagen has faced several court cases and compensated for the damages, however, nothing has stopped it from looking in the future. And part of it is down to the turbulent historical period when Volkswagen was founded. Various conspiracies to date claim that Volkswagen served the best interest of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and that the Volkswagen Beetle came from his design book but is it all true?

Volkswagen, What does it mean?

The simple idea of Volkswagen that later went on to become the brand’s name -Volkswagen- was far before the Nazism existed. The idea of mass-produced, budget cars was conceived during the initial days of the Ford Model T in  1908. The idea was to provide affordable commute and leverage the best technology available in Europe at the time when much of the region was experiencing a technological renaissance.

In Germany, the home of Volkswagen, this idea of a people’s car originated around 1925 with the Hanomag 2/10. Later in 1934, another Beetle ancestor, Standard Superior broke cover which was advertised with the word “Volkswagen”-the basic design of this car would later become the design of Volkswagen’s Beetle.

Here comes Adolf Hitler’s vision to provide cheap mobility to the German population. Now understand this please-Hitler as a sly politician as he was, he wanted the best for his country so he commissioned the best of designers and engineers to realize his vision of cheap mobility.

Hitler announced a “people’s motorization” at the auto show in February 1933, just weeks after he was named Reich Chancellor. In summer 1934, the Reich Association of the German Automobile Industry gave Ferdinand Porsche the task of coming up with a car under the motto “strength through pleasure,” after the same name as the Nazi’s Organization for Leisure Activities.

Hitler, who did not have a driver’s license, personally approved the prototype of “his Volkswagen” on December 29, 1935. Not much more than two years later, on May 26, 1938, the cornerstone was laid for the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, with the Führer in attendance.

However, the car built for “strength through pleasure” was foremost intended for the German army, not the “people’s motorization.” It was put to military and all-terrain use on the front. This surprised few. A Porsche brochure in 1934 said a “car must be suitable not only for personal use but also for transport and particular military purposes.”

The car that Hitler got built was for the military purpose, the Volkswagen we know of today came into the picture after the end of World War II.

It was rebranded as the “Beetle” to distance it from the Nazi period. The first one rolled off the assembly line in December 1945. The one-millionth Beetle came to be 10 years later.

The hunchbacked car with a boxer engine became a symbol of the German economic miracle and global success. In all, nearly 22 million Beetles were produced and sold.

The ideas of a backbone chassis, rear-engine, air cooling, and a scarab-like, streamlined body were being explored by many people at that time. Josef Ganz, an automotive journalist, and car designer had started building prototypes of very Beetle-like cars for companies like Adler and later a production car, the Standard Superior. Ganz was a Jew, so the Nazis made sure that his input to the development of any German cars stayed unknown for years.

Mercedes-Benz had their 130H and 170H rear-engine cars, Zündapp commissioned Porsche before his involvement with the Nazi government for a rear-engined, Beetle-like car, and the Czech company Tatra was designing large, powerful V8 rear-engined, air-cooled, streamlined cars — and a smaller, very Beetle-like car — that were greatly admired by Hitler and provided Porsche with a lot of, um, inspiration. The inspiration that resulted in VW paying Tatra a 1 million Deutsche Mark settlement in 1965.

So, while Porsche definitely produced the final design that would become the Volkswagen, it’s fairer to say that he created a design that was heavily based on work by many other companies and designers.

Along with the German economic miracle, it was also the beautiful design and marvelous engineering of Porsche and other German engineers that have made the brand second-biggest manufacturers just behind the Japanese brand Toyota.

So now, you see that Beetle was designed by much of Europe, tried to be manufactured by much of Europe but only Germans could do it for all the valid reasons. Also just to summarise this- Volkswagen the cars that were built for military use under Hitler were solely used for military purposes. The Volkswagen brand that has produced the Bettle and much of the great car cars later came to picture after the culmination of World War II and I would not dig dip into what happened during the end of the World War II which included gruesome murder of some six million Jews, the Holocaust and if you don’t know this, I recommend you watching The Schindler’s List.

Volkswagen’s Diesel Gate and what’s in store for the future?

Yes! Yes! Till now you’d be asking how can you love a brand that was associated with a party that killed six million Jews, forced starvation, broke war treaties, and in modern times has cheated emission standards by trick devices in the cars. I ask you why are you separating art from the artist.

“Dieselgate” started out as a scandal exclusively affecting Germany’s largest car company Volkswagen. But since it broke in September 2015, it has morphed into a global issue involving many industry giants.

 In Germany, the automobile’s birthplace, the emission manipulation’s ripple effects continue to be felt –  not only at the country’s famed carmakers, but also in ongoing discussions about transport policies, air pollution, and diesel driving bans.

The last president of Germany, the previous chancellor, and the current deputy chancellor have all held the precious seat: a place on Volkswagen’s board.

For the auto industry, Germany sometimes operates like a company town, with a free flow of leaders between top posts in government and car manufacturers, and a level of national pride that was — at least until now — unrivaled in the United States.

But environmentalists and others say those close ties included doing the bidding of the auto industry, even on issues that run counter to Germany’s national goal of reducing carbon emissions, which has served as a model for other industrialized nations.

 But, What is Volkswagen up to?

Volkswagen is launching into what could be a huge electric decade that reinvents and rejuvenates the large global automotive group. Yes, the Volkswagen ID.3 — which is sort of supposed to be the VW Beetle or Golf of this century.

What’s more important, in my opinion, is that Volkswagen Group is aiming to become the #1 producer of electric vehicles within the next handful of years. That may be a little more hyperbole than is warranted, but I think the intention is clear and solid. Volkswagen Group aims to produce 3 million electric vehicles a year by 2025 (many Tesla bulls expect Tesla to be producing more than that), and the Volkswagen brand alone is aiming for 1.5 million by 2025, and 1 million by 2023. Going from close to zero today, that’s a steep ramp.

I get excited about Volkswagen’s plans. It is rolling out dozens of fully electric models, and they look attractive and compelling. They aren’t quite as compelling as Tesla vehicles in my book, but they are close enough and many normal consumers will prefer to buy their first electric vehicles from what some people claim is the largest automotive company in the world.

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