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Das Auto

Thursday, 25 October, 2007

The most conspicuous symbol of “The German Miracle” following the war was Volkswagen. In 1946, Hillman, Rootes and Ford toured the facilities in their post-bombing state, then drove and assessed the only vehicle in production.

“Your Volkswagen is quite unattractive to the average motorcar buyer, is too ugly and too noisy … If you think you’re going to build cars in this place, you’re a bloody fool, young man.”

Baron Wm. Rootes, GBE, in a personal letter to Maj. Ivan Hirst

“The Volkswagen is not worth a damn.”

opening statement to the report on post-war European acquisitions for Ford Motor Company, 1946

In 1971, the Volkswagen Type I surpassed Ford’s Model T as the most produced vehicle. Production would continue for another 33 years.

In the interests of the government of Lower Saxony, remember VW AG is a socialist enterprise, the workers of VW AG and by extension the regional economy, the national government of West Germany enacted the so-called Volkswagen Law:

The law was adopted in 1960 to secure the interests of the state of Lower Saxony, which owns 20 percent of Volkswagen and views itself as a guardian of workers’ rights. It caps the voting rights of any other investor in Volkswagen at 20 percent, regardless of how many shares it owns.

This law insured this aspect of the miracle remained in German hands.

Following the serial collapse of Communist governments, Volkswagen set upon a buying spree of facilities and what is now commonly known as “intellectual property”. This included facilities in the East and beyond, and the surviving marque Škoda.

These were not the first acquisitions for VW AG having purchased SEAT, builder of Fiat vehicles under license in Spain, in 1987, NSU in 1969 and Auto Union in 1964, rebranding those vehicles Audi.

Volkswagen AG finds itself in something of a predicament today. The company is a morass of overlapping marques, redundant models and a compulsion to be upmarket in every segment, save commercial vehicles. (trucks to North America)

All of this doesn’t address the role VW has played as a contract manufacturer for other companies. Of these relationships, the most widely known is that with Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG manufacturer of sports cars. This relationship evolved over time with Porsche and Volkswagen developing models together, among them the Touareg/Q7/Cayenne triplets and VW Type-3-based 914 series, sold either as a VW or a Porsche depending upon market.

Today, Porsche leads the world in profitability per unit, and shares board members with VW.

October 23 the European Court of Justice overturned the Volkswagen Law. The exclusive presumption is that Porsche will, at long last, merge with VW.

Among Porsche’s public plans for the merged company is greater differentiation among the marques, less focus upon regional vehicles and returning VW, as a brand, to its entry-level roots. Among the vehicles currently under preparation for mass production is presently known as the Up!. The Up! is intended to be built on several continents and should be a €6000 car, or US$10000. The production name is not circulating, if it has been determined. A variant on this chassis, not unlike the original VW line up, is currently called the Space Up!, and premiered yesterday in Tokyo. [sic]

I want to call the Space Up! the Nanobus, but don’t know who to talk to about this.

These vehicles are widely perceived as spiritual successors to the original Volkswagen, due to their rear-engine, rear-drive layout and exceptionally functional nature.

The merged company’s marques, excepting regional variation:

  • Škoda, entry-level remaining exclusive to Europe
  • Volkswagen, entry-level to mainstream and commercial vehicles. Some production crossover with Škoda.
  • Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, or SEAT, entry-level sports and performance
  • Audi, luxury
  • Lamborghini, premium sports cars
  • Bentley, exclusive luxury cars
  • Bugatti, exclusive sports cars. Their only model at this time is a $1.6 million, 400 kph hand built super car. They sell every one they can build, although production is in the dozens.
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