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::: Volkswagen's Development in the United States :::

In the United States, a market which would soon become a key element in the future successes of Volkswagen's cars, the situation was less pleasing. An irregular and disorganised network of dealers selling Volkswagens alongside various other makes of cars had appeared.

In Europe consumers bought Volkswagens not solely because they were good cars, but because they were assured ample service and parts facilities. Volkswagen had a policy of moving into territories by establishing 'service first, sales second'. It became clear that Volkswagen needed American headquarters from where it could oversee progress. Two factory representatives were sent over to the USA, given equal authority, and told to set up head quarters in New York and San Francisco respectively. Will Van de Kamp oversaw the larger of the two designated areas and did much to put Volkswagen on the map, in what would soon become their second biggest market. He believed passionately in Volkswagen and their policies, and 'never doubted for a second that Volkswagen would be a success in the United States' (Nelson 1967 p207).

He had a rare combination of vision and 'short-sightedness' that enabled him to achieve success through determination. Fuelled by his boundless enthusiasm he went around America appointing dealers and distributors, motivating and enthusing them to work the Volkswagen way. He shared Nordhoff's beliefs that sales would come from service, and over the next few months he flew in twenty-six trained service representatives. They went on to tour the country in a team of specially built 'panel trucks' full of tools, from where they could train mechanics in the appointed dealerships. For four years, Van de Kamp poured energy into the United States, building up a network whose sales quickly topped 100,000 units per year. The size of the network soon became his downfall however and Volkswagen could no longer afford to have a 'freewheeling operator' inadvertently smothering their operation. His relationship with Volkswagen of America ended amicably and he went into partnership with Import Motors of Chicago, a Porsche and Volkswagen dealership.

For decades, it had remained unsure whether European Cars could be a success in the States. After the war, the British showed it could be done, and Heinz Nordhoff felt Volkswagen could do the same. The dealer network was in place and the demand for Beetles was sufficiently high that customers were having to wait for delivery. Strong demand like this eliminates the need for dealerships to offer discounts and cut prices and is one of the recurring themes in the success of Volkswagen's cars, not least the GTI's.

The results of dealers receiving 100% of the manufacturer's list price were higher profits and accordingly high morale. Linked to the car's unchanging design came lower tool costs, no retraining costs, and no obsolete parts. Before long, Volkswagen were in the 'big league' (Ibid. p222), mentioned alongside Ford and General Motors. Volkswagen soon became a pacesetter in the United States, forcing Detroit to introduce 'compact' cars to force Volkswagen out. Their actions were largely unsuccessful and by 1961, Volkswagen had sold a million cars in the United States.

Van de Kamp had not believed in advertising, preferring instead to use available funds to improve service. The proliferation of Volkswagens on the streets encouraged various media executives to approach Volkswagen and in no time they were swamped with offers of both adverts and space for the adverts. The salesmen had a hard time at the hands of Volkswagen who were already swamped with a backlog of existing orders for cars. The atmosphere was soon to change however when Carl Hahn took over, for he believed that Volkswagen would soon need to advertise, not to expand existing sales, but to prevent against the imminent onslaught of Detroit 'compacts'. In making the decision to begin advertising in the States, Carl Hahn gave to go ahead for a campaign that was to become famous the world over, a campaign that would prove indefinably yet immeasurably important to Volkswagen and subsequent models yet to come…

Initially Volkswagen of America began a brief two-agency experiment but this was soon dropped, and all Volkswagen advertising was left to the highly creative Doyle Dane Bernbach partnership. Upon landing the account, the first thing the agency did was to visit the factory in Wolfsburg. They immersed themselves in the manufacture of the cars, following the production of a car from raw materials to completion, and talking to everyone involved, from engineers to executives. Within a few days, they knew what distinguished Volkswagen from other cars. They knew what to tell the public. They had seen the quality of the materials used and the precautions taken to avoid mistakes. They had seen cars turned back with faults so slight the customer would never have spotted them, and they had seen an unrivalled pride of craftsmanship in the workers. This was an honest car, and they had found their selling proposition.

In America, the Volkswagen was selling primarily because it was a genuine car, it didn't pretend to be something it wasn't. Being a straightforward machine it was something the owner could be proud of. The unusually long run of manufacture had allowed Volkswagen to eliminate rattles, tune the painting process and perfect the engine. There were no places where the trim didn't fit, or panels were loose. Doyle Dane Bernbach's copywriters found Volkswagen's executives were serious about 'honest advertising'. This depth of this honesty was the factor that reflected most on Volkswagen and was the factor that would be longest remembered. Whilst other manufacturers were printing information that was to a lesser or greater degree complete, Volkswagen had embarked on a policy of going much further and addressing what people regarded as their shortcomings.

When broken down, the factors within the advertising that have come to symbolise Volkswagen's authenticity are perhaps easier to distinguish…

The adverts:

never lie or exaggerate. 
are always humorous. 
are involving and encourage debate. 
concentrate on one aspect at a time.
 only use genuine photographs. 
never criticise the competition.

When this advertising campaign was launched, it became a reflection of company ethics. The adverts were commissioned to boost sales, rather than create them. Volkswagen were thinking of the future and the calm confidence of these adverts reflected a company whose future was assured, a company who, like their products, were set to last. In an era of dubious quality cars, with worryingly short lifespans, the advertising worked because it reflected the integrity of both car and company.

In hindsight it can be argued that one of the most significant long-term effects of these adverts, (archetypal examples including 'Think Small', 'Lemon' and 'Ugly Is Only Skin-Deep') was their ability to provide owners with further information about their cars. These facts substantiated the purchase as a wise choice, and evoked a narcissistic enjoyment of the praise of their ability to 'choose well'. If put in a position to defend the car, the owner had a wealth of information to hand and could be its fiercest advocate. By realising the power of 'word-of-mouth', Volkswagen made a marketing 'leap of faith', whose profits it continues to reap to this day.

Trading on their increasingly loyal customer base, Volkswagen's achievements in the States became one of the most notable examples of their success in the face of adversity. In the thirty years that elapsed between its introduction and demise, Volkswagen sold more than five million 'Beetles' in the United States (World-wide beetle production currently stands at over twenty-one million!). The legacy of Volkswagens particular success in the United States was an enormous respect for their build quality and reliability, a large network of ultra efficient dealers, a well-established promotional strategy, and above all a huge market for their cars. This situation was more or less the same all over the world, and when Beetle sales dropped for the first time at the end of the sixties, the company knew they would soon have to diversify and rely on another car!.

Chapter Three: The new Golf ‘GTI’


 1 » Introduction: Can lessons be learnt from the Golf GTI?
2 » Chapter One: Giorgio Giugiaro and the ‘Sport Golf’
3 » Chapter Two: Volkswagen’s uncertain beginnings
4 » Volkswagen’s development in the United States
5 » Chapter Three: The new Golf ‘GTI’
6 » Chapter Four: Cult Credentials
7 » Chapter Five: Steps to success
8 » Volkswagen’s constitution
9 » The Eighties environment
10 » The high volume Golf
11 » Bibliography
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