Volkswagen celebrates 75 years in North America

It was exactly 75 years ago today, January 17th, 1949. When Dutch businessman, Ben Pon arrived in New York aboard The Westerdam. Deep in the cargo hold was something that Pon believed was perfect for America. Two 1949 Volkswagen Beetles and a stash of spare parts. Ben Pon was already a VW distributor, the first outside of Germany to be specific. He was hoping to establish a dealer network in the United States. Upon meeting with dealerships all along the east coast, Pon and the Beetle were rejected. Pon would later sell one of the Beetles and the parts to pay for his hotel room at the Rosevelt Hotel in New York City. 

All was not lost however. The next year, New York dealer Max Hoffman would establish a distribution network for VW the following year, 1950. Hoff was already hugely successful in the U.S. auto industry. He had helped to establish many foreign marques in the U.S. such as Mercedes, BMW, & Porsche throughout his career. Max Hoffman's story is worthy of it's own posting. Hoffman's dealer network for VW, initially launched through dealers of his other brands. If you wanted seven Jaguar's for your inventory, you had to take two Volksagens. While it may seem unorthodox today. This was how it worked in 1950. And work it did. By 1955, Volkswagen had produced 1 million beetles, and established their own distributorship. As a side note, I worked for one of the dealers that was originally part of the Hoffman network that sold VWs. Billco Motors was the, until their selling in 2013, 2nd oldest Volkswagen dealership in continual operation. The oldest being New Milford Motors, which has now also closed. Whenever Billco Motors would earn a sales award or celebrate a milestone anniversry, VW of America would only recognize from 1955 on. We would take whatever the award was, and have it remade adding an additional 5 years to it, to recognize the VW brand launch in 1950. 

Beyond that, the VW story is relatively well known. The Type 2 transporter (designed by Ben Pon), the Karmann Ghia and the Type 3 all became regular sights on U.S. roadways. VW would become synonymous with quality, economy, & reliability. It became part of the counter culture movement of the 1960s with hippies and Woodstock, and even made it's star debut in Hollywood in the lead role in Walt Disney's The Love Bug. By the time VW stopped selling the Beetle in the U.S in 1979, more than 5 million had made their way to our shores. The saying goes, "It was built in Germany, but it was made in America". 

However with safety, fuel economy, and competition from Japanese imports in the mid 1970s. Volkswagen developed what they thought would replace the Beetle, the Golf. This would lead to VW establishing VW's first U.S. factory in Westmoreland, PA outside of Pittsburgh, which would go on to produce over 1 million Rabbits, Golfs, and the hugely successful GTI before closing in 1988. Speaking of the GTI, that launched the hot hatch movement. VW also gave us the Giugiaro designed Scirocco, the Jetta, Dasher, Quantum, & Vanagon. through the 1980s. This time also established diesel powered engines as mainstream for cars. But we know what happened there. 

In the 1990s, We saw the third  generation of the Golf and Jettas, the followup to the Scirocco; the Corrado, and in 1994 the Concept 1 which four years later would come out as the 1998 New Beetle. In the 2000's we saw additional performance models like the Golf R32 and Golf R. SUV's like the Touareg, Tiguan, & the Atlas. VW also made a brief attempt in the U.S. at going upscale with the Phaeton. This short lived ultra luxury sedan last two model years in the U.S. This also saw VW establish another dedicated manufacturing facility in Chatanooga, Tennessee. This plant would build the Passat, the (designed for the U.S.) Atlas, and the all electric I.D. 4. 

What does the future hold for VW in America? Later this year we will see the all electric I.D. Buzz as well as the I.D.7 sedan. The future's so bright that you'll need shades in your VW. 


*Photos courtesy of Volksagen Media*