It may be surprising to some to learn that a brand of car we are all familiar with, Volkswagen, was the result of a collaboration between Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Hitler. The project arose out of an effort to motorize Germany. In 1935, only 1.6 percent of the population in Germany owned a motor vehicle. This put them behind other European countries in car ownership such as France (4.9%), Britain (4.5%), and Denmark (4.2%).
Hitler took many steps to put Germans behind the wheel of a vehicle. He announced the launch of a motorway building program (Autobahn), and a tax burden reduction on car ownership. The result was that the number of passenger cars on the road doubled between 1932 and 1936.
The prototype design for the Volkswagen, or the “People’s Car,” also dubbed the “Strength Through Joy Car,” was ready by the end of 1937. Sloganed as “a car for everyone,” Hitler envisaged up to a million models being produced every year. A massive advertising campaign was launched to encourage German citizens to save up for one by putting aside part of their wages.
Yet, the “motorization of Germany” turned out to be one of many Nazi visions that never came to fruition. As military production revved up in the mid to late 1930’s, resources were diverted from many places to keep up with the demands of the military, including car manufacturing. However, this did not stop the Nazi regime from continuing to advertise the Volkswagen. Despite not actually producing any of the passenger vehicles, the government continued to encourage citizens to part with a portion of their wages for the car. Turns out, this was nothing more than a scheme to get workers to put in overtime so that they could contribute to the financing of rearmament. 270,000 people lent 110 million Reichsmarks to the state in this way by 1939 and not one of them ever got a Volkswagen in return.
Despite no models ever coming off the assembly-line during the Third Reich, the Volkswagen became one of the world’s most popular passenger vehicles in the second half of the twentieth century. The car was, without a doubt, made famous for its rounded “bettle” shape that Hitler gave it in his original design.
Source: Richard J. Evans. The Third Reich in Power. New York. Penguin Books. 2005.