Volkswagen Celebrates 75 Years in America

vw beetle and id buzz in a dark warehouse
75 Years Ago, Volkswagens First Landed in AmericaVolkswagen
  • After celebrating 50 years of Golf, Volkswagen is celebrating its 75th anniversary in the US market, originally starting with the Beetle.

  • Returning to Super Bowl LVIII, Volkswagen says it wants to honor its American heritage with a number of soon-to-be-announced events.

  • With historic facilities in Pennsylvania and current production in Tennessee, Volkswagen is planning to make the US one of its electric vehicle production headquarters.

Volkswagen, the Wolfsburg-born and originally German Labour Front-operated car brand, has become an integral part of American popular culture. Seriously. From Scooby-Doo and Footloose to Little Miss Sunshine and The Big Lebowski, the VW Beetle and Type 2 van have been prolific in television and movies since their landing on US shores some 75 years ago.


Domestic Volkswagen fans have New York to thank for that, as the first shipment of two Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles arrived at New York Harbor 75 years ago to the day. Of course, the history of the VW Type 1 goes much further back than 1949, originally developed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1938 as the people's car of Nazi Germany.

a group of cars
Advertising material from 1961 for the Volkswagen Station Wagon builds on the original Think Small VW Beetle theme.Volkswagen

But Volkswagen understands that even as a deeply German company, its popularity in the United States is worth celebrating. It plans to do so with a year-long holistic campaign to honor its American customers. A love letter, if you will.

"Over the past 75 years, Volkswagen has grown from a tale of two Beetles into a part of America's cultural fabric," said Rachael Zaluzec, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience & Brand Marketing at Volkswagen of America. "As we look forward to the next 75, we will celebrate the real people and real-life moments that have made the Volkswagen brand the people's love story it is today."

For starters, Volkswagen will return with a splash during the Super Bowl this year in Paradise, Nevada. The company didn't specify what exactly is planned, but it's hard to get more stereotypically American than advertising during Sunday night football.

Popularity didn't come immediately for Volkswagen, however. When Dutch businessman Ben Pon arrived in New York with two Beetles in tow, it took some time for American buyers to warm up to the unique shape. In fact, the classic 1959 “Think Small” ad campaign from Manhattan agency Doyle Dane Bernbach really pushed the car to the masses.

a car with a steering wheel
It’s hard to beat mid-20th century interior simplicity, as demonstrated by the Beetle. Volkswagen

Once it did hit the masses, however, around 23 million Beetles were sold worldwide, signaling global acceptance for the bulbous two-door. While Volkswagen of America was established in 1955, the real height of the Beetle craze was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with over a million sold each year between 1968 and 1973, according to Bloomberg.

This 20th-century bump in sales (particularly in America) can be partially attributed to Disney's 1968 hit film The Love Bug. Following the misadventures of a Beetle named Herbie, a race car driver played by Dean Jones, and his lover played by Michele Lee, the movie grossed over $51 million at the box office.

an old van parked in a field
From SoCal surfer bros to Subaru-swapped off-roaders, the Volkswagen Type 2 is widely popular and capable.Volkswagen

The prominence of the Beetle was only challenged by the Volkswagen Type 2 here in the States. Colloquially referred to as the Volkswagen Bus, the family-friendly van was a quintessential symbol of the counter-culture movement around the country, especially at Woodstock and in Hollywood.

Plus, Volkswagen brought us models like the bizarre but adored Karmann Ghia, Giorgio Giugiaro-designed first-generation Scirocco, and the ever-popular Golf. Originally, the Golf was known as the Rabbit in the US and was actually the first Volkswagen to be produced domestically.

"Volkswagen built its first US plant in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, in 1978, and eventually assembled more than 1.1 million Rabbits there," the release reads. The Pennsylvania plant would close only 10 years later, after launching the Rabbit GTI as well, jump-starting our national love of the hot hatch.

With current manufacturing facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen says it has invested $4.3 billion in its Tennessee operations since 2008 and created more than 125,000 direct and indirect American jobs.

And VW plans to expand US operations as it moves into an electric future, with the midsize electric ID.7 sedan and the three-row electric ID. Buzz throwback both set to arrive later this year.

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