An initiative from the National Socialists in Germany—the Nazis—the KdF-Wagen (Kraft durch Freude after the state leisure organization) attempted to mobilize the masses under Adolf Hitler’s régime through a savings’ plan. Ferdinand Porsche, the car’s designer, already had something along the lines of Hitler’s specifications that he had been working on since the early 1930s, and Porsche himself had used the word Volkswagen, though it was not adopted officially or even colloquially at this point. The Nazis begun the savings’ scheme with a coupon book, but no cars were delivered as World War II broke out.
The British military in KdF-Stadt, renamed Wolfsburg, saw a need to get employment going after the war and Maj Ivan Hirst, the officer in the area, saw a chance to get the car into production, selling to the Allied forces. The Nazi-era names were abandoned and the car and factory became known as Volkswagen.
That car became known among English-speaking markets as the Volkswagen Beetle, or officially the Volkswagen Typ 1. It became a world-beater in the vein of the Ford Model T, built in plants as far afield as Nigeria and México, and did not finish production till 2003.
With its following models finding modest success, Volkswagen began developing a new generation of cars in the 1960s. Those designs—the Audi 50 (or Volkswagen Polo), the Golf and the Passat (and Audi 80)—came to light in the 1970s and underpinned the company’s success in the 21st century.
Volkswagen expansion into Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, México and China has helped it secure low-cost manufacturing bases. Further acquisitions in the 1980s to 2000s, of Seat, Škoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Scania, have seen it become one of the biggest multinational automakers. Its relationship with Porsche has always been close, with a structure that sees the Porsche holding company controlling Volkswagen AG, and the Porsche car-making business a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG.