Founded more than 70 years ago in Germany, Volkswagen has gone from producing one version of "the people's car" in its home country to being the third-largest automaker in the world.
Originally part of a Nazi prestige project, the Volkswagen design was commissioned by Adolf Hitler and the Reich Association of the German Automobile Industry in 1934.
However, the companies making up the association were unsure about the 990 Reichsmark price tag Hitler had requested, according to the Volkswagen Chronicle, a publication by the company's corporate history department.
Guenther Scherelis, general manager of communications for VW in Chattanooga, said the idea for Volkswagen was spurred after Germans saw the success of the Ford Model T in the United States and wanted to create "a car for the population."
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Financing of the project was a problem until the German Labour Front, a Nazi trade union, took it over in 1937. Construction of the manufacturing facility near Fallersleben, Germany, began in early 1938 and just a handful of cars were produced before World War II, according to the Volkswagen Chronicle.
VW THROUGH HISTORY
1938: Volkswagen plant is built in Germany.
1945: The modern company takes shape, and the first Beetle is made after years of producing vehicles for the German armed forces during World War II.
1953: VW's first foreign production company is formed in Brazil.
1955: Volkswagen United States Inc. is founded, the company buys a plant in New Brunswick, N.J., from the Studebaker-Packard Corp.; VW reaches 1 million cars produced.
1959: A professional advertising campaign is launched in the United States to combat market shares lost to European firm Renault and American manufacturers.
1972: The Beetle breaks Ford's Model T production record with more than 15 million units produced, making it the new world champion.
1978: VW becomes the first foreign automaker in almost 60 years to open an assembly plant in the United States. The New Stanton, Pa., facility begins producing the Golf and Rabbit.
1988: The U.S. facility closes because of underemployment and currency fluctuations.
2008: Chattanooga is chosen as the site of a plant that will produce a new VW midsize sedan designed for Americans.
2011: Production of the new vehicle begins at the $1 billion facility, with an annual capacity of 150,000 units.
During that time, the VW facility was transformed into a plant to produce vehicles such as fuel tanks and equipment for military aircraft for the country's armed forces, Scherelis said.
What most people think of as VW didn't start until 1945, he said.
"The first 55 Beetles were built from parts of cars from production parts that were still in the plant [from before the war]," Scherelis said, adding that the first Beetle was exported to the U.S. four years later.
In 1978, VW became the first foreign automaker in almost 60 years to open an assembly plant in the United States, landing in New Stanton, Pa. The facility, which produced the Golf and Rabbit, closed a decade later "because of underemployment and currency fluctuations," Scherelis said.
Since announcing in 2008 that it would build a production plant in Chattanooga, the company has declared a goal of becoming a top U.S. seller, reaching 1 million car sales by 2018.
Loyal customers are one step to achieving that goal.
"I've always been favorably disposed to Volkswagen for whatever reason," said former BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee CEO Tom Kinser, who has owned three Beetles. "They're really a very nice car."
Over the years, VW has produced much-loved vehicles such as the Beetle, Transporter, Karmann Ghia and the Thing.
Kinser said the addition of VW to Chattanooga has both short- and long-term benefits, adding to a local economy that is increasingly becoming globalized.
"I think them coming here is remarkable," he said. "If you think globalization isn't real, just look around."
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