This international company is known worldwide for its production of the Beetle, sustained by a series of films featuring the car as the central ‘character’ that commenced with The Love Bug (1973) and revived in a new Beetle design in 1998 by J. Meys. Volkswagen's origins lay in Ferdinand Porsche's designs for small cars in the early 1930s, the most significant of which was his design for a ‘people's car’—the KdF‐Wagen—for the Reichsverband des Automobilindustrie (State Union of the Automobile Industry). Its engineering qualities included a rear‐mounted air‐cooled engine. The distinctive ‘streamlined’ shape of the car owed something to precedent, particularly in the USA, and was designed by Austrian car bodywork designer Erwin Komenda. Although the first models came off the production line at Wolfsburg in 1938 the car was not put into mass production on a large scale until after the Second World War, during which Volkswagen manufactured over 100,000 military vehicles. Volkswagen automobile production began in earnest under the British in Germany in 1945, with exports commencing in 1949, the year in which the company returned to German control. Economic and durable, the car sold well in both Europe and the United States, in the latter providing a striking alternative to the large, petrol‐hungry cars produced by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
Other significant designs in this early period included the two‐seater Karmann Ghia Coupé (1955; see Karmann, Wilhelm) and the Transporter and Microbus (1956). The latter was to become associated with the ‘hippy’ movement and others opposed to commercial values associated with the fashionable style values of the annual model change. Despite being Germany's largest automobile producer the company underwent a difficult period until the 1974 launch of the hatchbacked VW Golf, designed by Giorgetto Giugaro in tune with practical needs of the urban consumer, and which underwent many model updates and changes. Other models by Giugiaro included the Passat estate car (1973) and Scirocco sports car (1974). The VW Polo (1975) was styled by the Italian car body company Bertone. In 1998 the VW Lupo, another neatly styled, economical car, was launched. Now a leading manufacturing force with subsidiaries in North and South America, Volkswagen has taken over many other companies over the past 50 years including Audi (1965) and NSU (1969) in Germany, SEAT (1982) in Spain, Skoda (1990) in the Czech Republic, and Rolls‐Royce (1998) in Britain. High‐quality design has been an important ingredient of the company's international success.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.