9 Facts You Should Know About Volkswagen

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Including the real origin of the Golf name.

Revenue-wise, Volkswagen is the biggest automotive company on the planet right now. Leading up to now, Volkswagen has had a long and tumultuous history that originated with Adolph Hitler's direction to build a "People's Car" in 1934 and most recently dominated automotive news with its emissions cheating scandal that kicked off in 2015. However, all of that has been written about ad-nauseam and concentrating on that, while important for context, doesn't do Volkswagen justice as a wide-ranging global automaker.

Wolfsburg And Football

Have you ever noticed that the license plate on a lot of official press photos of Volkswagen vehicles starts with "WOB?" That's because it's the license plate code of Wolfsburg in Germany, where Volkswagen is headquartered. The automaker has an immense presence in the city, and most publicly with its football (America is one of on a few countries that calls football "soccer") teams. The professional football concern is run by VfL Wolfsburg-Fußball GmbH, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen, and its home ground is the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg. Both the VfL Wolfsburg men's and women's teams play in their respective top-tier German league, the Bundesliga, and grew from a more humb sports club for Volkswagen workers.

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Changed The Face Of Advertising

Leading up towards the end of the 1950s, advertising was not a sophisticated industry. Volkswagen and the creative agency DDB changed that at the higher levels by introducing self-deprecating humor and minimalist art to highlight its products and create genuinely engaging advertisements. At the time, advertising agencies pitched based on research and think tanks to target perceived demographics. Carl Hahn came to America to head up the US division and hunted to find an agency that could be creative about pitching a car born in Nazi Germany to the US market, which was dominated by home-grown products. The result was spectacular with flowery language and colorful images swapped for things like a picture of a Volkswagen Beetle looking small in the corner of a white background and the line "It makes your house look bigger" underneath. The advertising approach also worked in TV ads, as shown below.

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Volkswagen Bus Inspired A Popular Dog's Toy

If you're a dog person, then chances are you've bought or been given a Kong toy at some point. For those who haven't, it's an incredibly popular toy that's snowman-shaped - if you made a snowman out of three thick rings of rubber. It also looks like a rubber axle stop from a classic Volkswagen Bus, because it was a dog chewing on one that inspired Kong's company founder, Joe Markham, to mess with different compounds to create the perfect dog toy. The Kong toy also looks like "an earplug for King Kong," a comment a friend of Markham made that inspired the name.

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Crazy Engines

The most famous Volkswagen engine is the air-cooled flat-four that powered the Beetle, but it's also a mild configuration of cylinders compared with some engines that Volkswagen has come up with. The craziest piece of engineering goes into the W16 engine that powers the Bugatti Chiron with its four banks of four cylinders. VW also built a W12 engine that it put in a Golf, of all things, as a concept, and a diesel V12 it put in a production Toureg crossover. And yes, it is pulling a Boing 747 jet plane below.

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Volkswagen Owns Many Other Brands

Including Volkswagen itself, the Volkswagen Group owns numerous automotive brands. The list comprises the globally well-known brands Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Ducati, as well as the Euro-centric brands Skoda, Seat, and Cupra. Also in its portfolio, Volkswagen has an automotive software group, a components group, financial services, an on-demand mobility company, and one called Navistar, which it describes as "a purpose-driven company, reimagining how to deliver what matters to create more cohesive relationships." More straightforward than that, it also has Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and two commercial truck brands, Man and Scania.

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2020-2021 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster Front Angle View
2020-2022 Porsche 911 Carrera Front View
2020-2022 Audi R8 Coupe Front Angle View

Volkswagen Didn't Invent The Hot Hatch

It's a common belief that Volkswagen invented the hot hatch segment with the Golf GTI, but that honor goes to the 1973/74 Simca 1100 Ti. The Golf GTI wasn't even the second hot hatch, but what Volkswagen's performance version of its family hatchback did was make the genre of car popular and, to a large extent, define it. In the early 1970s, Volkswagen tried a sporty Beetle, but it wasn't popular, so the brand didn't see a reason to pursue another sporty version of a car. However, a small skunkworks project worked off the books and under the radar worked on creating a "Gran Turismo Iniezione" model. In 1975, the project was presented to management and approved with the expectation of selling around 5,000 units. However, it was a runaway success and is still popular today.

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Henry Ford II Declined Being Given Volkswagen For Free

At the end of World War II, Germany was split into zones, and the UK became responsible for containing the Wolfsburg plant where the Beetle had started to be produced. No manufacturer from the UK was interested in the factory. However, British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst saved the factory from unexploded bombs and persuaded the British military to order 20,000 cars to provide jobs to Germans and cheap transport for the military. Soon, the factory was building 1,000 units per month and started selling to civilians outside of Germany, but the British military wasn't interested in becoming an automotive manufacturer. In 1948, the British army contacted Ford and offered the factory and small sales network for free. Reportedly, Ernest Breech, Chairman of Ford's Board, advised Henry Ford II that "I don't think what we're being offered here is worth a damn." Ford was also likely advised that the factory was also close to the Soviet-occupied zone, and it might not be the wisest place to invest the company's resources.

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Volkswagen's Names Aren't All Winds

A common statement made is that Volkswagen names its cars after winds, but that mainly goes back to the 1970s. For example, Scirocco is named after Sirocco, a Mediterranean wind; Jetta is said to be German for "jet stream;" Passat means "trade wind;" Polo comes from Polar winds, and Golf comes from the Gulf Stream. However, we're sure there are no winds called Rabbit. Then there are names like Tiguan, which is a portmanteau of the German words "tiger" (tiger) and "leguan" (iguana); and Touareg, which is named after the Saharan Tuareg people. Recently, Volkswagen has gone for Greek-sounding names like Eos, Atlas, Phaeton, and Arteon. Our favorite Volkswagen name is for a small car sold in Brazil called the SpaceFox.

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The Golf Is Not Named After A Wind

We lied, but you've been lied to for years over the origin of Volkswagen's Golf name. It's regularly reported that Golf is the German word for the Gulf Stream, but that doesn't track as the Gulf Stream is not a wind; it's an ocean current. Beyond that glaringly obvious clue, the real story goes back to then-Head Purchaser Hans-Joachim Zimmermann's horse, which was named Golf. The Chairman Of The Board, Horst Münzer, rode and loved the horse and praised it to Zimmerman. Not long after, Münzer showed Zimmermann a new compact prototype with the word GOLF printed on it. If it wasn't for that horse, the Golf would most likely have been called the Blizzard.

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