One of the more interesting advances in automotive technology is the advancement of the LED?? or light emitting diode. LEDs provide the same brightness as traditional incandescent or halogen lights, yet they use only a fraction of the vehicle’s electrical power. Plus, LED lights are so durable that they will outlast the lifetime of the vehicle as well.
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Perhaps the most recognizable name in German automobiles, Volkswagen remains the largest automaker in Germany and the third largest in the world. Boasting a line that include three of the top ten best selling cars of all time, Volkswagen has more cars on this list than any other company. In addition, Volkswagen spends more money on research and development than any other automaker as well.
The term “Volkswagen” translates to “people’s car” and their current slogan is “Das Auto” which literally means “The Car”. The emphasis of Volkswagen has been to create affordable, durable and highly practical vehicles which have stood the test of time.
In the 1930s, few Germans actually owned automobiles because all of the auto manufacturers in Germany produce luxury or high priced models that were simply not affordable to the average German. The move towards tapping this market and making a car for the people gained steam under various automakers such as Ferdinand Porsche to name just one, but met with little success. However, it was Porsche who designed the basic “Beetle” model that Volkswagen later became famous.
When Adolf Hitler rose to power, he commissioned the effort to create an affordable car for all Germans and wound up using Porsche’s design as the basis for creating a people’s car. Prototypes began floating around that featured the distinctive round shape and air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. By 1937, “Volkswagen” had been formed to create the people’s car and the company took shape under Hitler’s overall plans that revolved around this singular design. The vehicle itself underwent rigorous testing including the use of a wind tunnel and putting one million miles on a prototype before it was deemed ready for the public.
The result was the Volkswagen Beetle which would eventually become world famous for its performance and reliability. However, the company only produced a few models before the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 and manufacturing shifted towards the war effort.
For Volkswagen, the war years were marked by an emphasis to create military vehicles such as the Type 82 or “Bucket Car” which became a utility vehicle and the amphibious “Schwimmerwagen” which was also used by German forces. Volkswagen produced tens of thousands of vehicles during the war, but in the end when Germany surrendered the fate of the company was up in the air.
Fortunately for Volkswagen, the division of post-war Germany meant that the company fell into British hands. It seemed at first that Volkswagen would only be used for maintenance of military vehicles. However, a single British Major, Ivan Hirst took one of the Volkswagen Beetles and demonstrated its capabilities to British Army Headquarters. The result was that the British Army placed an order for 20,000 of these vehicles for use in light transportation.
When some of these Beetles made their way back to Great Britain, their popularity rose considerably as the practicality, durability and affordability was demonstrated. By 1946, the Volkswagen factory was producing 1,000 cars per month with more production soon to follow. Despite its success, no outside automaker wanted any part of Volkswagen, even when it was offered to the Ford Motor Company for free. The result was that Volkswagen remained a German company and enjoyed tremendous success.
Under the leadership of Heinrich Nordhoff, Volkswagen stuck to the same Beetle model with only two additional types of vehicles, the Volkswagen 2 which was a van, pickup and camper model and the VW Karmann Ghia sports car. However, the focus remained mostly on the Beetle and the success of that model help expand Volkswagen’s popularity.
Upon their initial release in the US in 1949, the Volkswagen Beetle sold a very underwhelming two units. However, when Volkswagen of America was formed in 1955, the reception was dramatically greater as the vehicle was an instant hit and sold over one million units by the end of that year. Sales in Canada were also spectacular as well. The combination of durability and especially affordability made it a surprisingly potent automobile for the world market.
All of this was helped by a remarkable marketing campaign that helped lure younger, more sophisticated customers to purchasing the Beetle or “Bug” as it was often called. The advertising campaign and the growing reputation of the vehicle helped push it past the 15 million mark by the early 1970s, making it the most produced single vehicle in world history, surpassing the famed Model T which also had similar strengths.
Despite this remarkable success, the Beetle was losing favor with the world market and Volkswagen found itself searching for newer models. The result was the Passat, a fastback version of the well regarded Audi 80 which became incredibly popular in its own right. The addition of the Golf and Scirocco series helped boost the sales of Volkswagen and saved the company from bankruptcy.
Despite these successes, the sales for Volkswagen continued to vary through the rest of the 20th century as only the Golf and Passat enjoyed sustained success. The introduction of the Jetta helped boost sales along with a renewed version of the Beetle, called the Concept One car. These successes help bolster Volkswagen’s fortunes and by the turn of the 21st century, the car company was on solid footing generating even greater overall sales.
Perhaps the most telling indication of the quality of Volkswagen design was the recent Motor Trend Car of the Year Award for 2012 going to the fifth generation of the Passat series. This was certainly an indication of just how far Volkswagen has become over the preceding decades as one of the most popular auto manufacturers in the world.