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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

How the Beetle conquered USA

The idea of wanting to export VWs to the USA in the 1950s, was actually absurd. After the middle of the decade, the horse-power upgrading in the production of American cars, slowly started to take off. In 1957, Chrysler 300-C had 276 kW (375 SAE-HP). Of course, the VW with its 22 kW (30 HP) couldn't compete, even if it was DIN-HP (DIN=German Institute for Standardisation).

The first Beetle reached the USA in 1949, but wasn't successful.

Also the fact that it used only half as much fuel, is not really an argument when a gallon (approx. 3,8 litres) of petrol costs 22 cents. Nonetheless, the Beetle managed to represent one half of the total 200.000 imports in that year. Certainly, this was not epochal if you consider that the share of American cars was almost 7 million.

Only after 1955 was there a VW-agent in the USA.

One of the obstacles that prevented the increase of VW-sales, was that the buyers of small imported cars were simply considered to be crackpots. Who would buy something like this, when for the same price one could have a six-cylinder engine and much more space?

Perhaps it was the strategy, that if the dealers wanted one of the very desirable Porsches, they would have to take a Beetle as well. Although, it might also have been the GIs stationed in Germany, who had become accustomed to the Beetle or in Great Britain e.g., to the even smaller MG.

It may also have been the intellectuals who kicked off the avalanche of imported cars, by consciously choosing the Beetle over the fuel- and resources guzzling six- and later, eight cylinder cars, regardless of the petrol-price. Perhaps there was even more behind it, namely, the rejection of the American attitude towards buying, although not at almost any price.

This advertisement from 1963 is considered to have been the deciding factor which contributed to VWs success in the USA:

What we have here, are the same pictures, titled with the years from 1949 to 1963. It was meant to show, that the Beetle, unlike the American products, doesn't change its outside appearance, but it's internal qualities, like the synchronised 1st. gear, the improved heating, a stabilizer up front and more engine power

The beetle as a Buggy

Even today, one gets the feeling, that one is born- or that one immigrates to the USA, mainly for the purpose of buying things. As a rule, every year a new model comes out, if possible, every year also a whole new car. Petty rivalries among colleagues or neighbours, contribute to this situation.

Indeed, although the Americans, with their numerous developing stages, are far superior to the Europeans, they are opting for, in the beginning fewer, but later on, more and more VWs and Fiats. General Motors had to react. Apparently, because a production figure of under 500.000 is not considered worthwhile, they are importing from their own factories in Europe.

Indeed, that would prove not to be enough and the VW-Beetle would in fact, conquer America. Teams of two in a Micro-bus, would canvas the sometimes widely scattered service stations, to explain the rather difficult repairs. The VW would become the brand name for longevity, e.g., the rust resistance, particularly in California.

In addition, those who didn't change the model every year, were saving money, even though the imported cars offered less for the same price. Eventually, the American automobile industry built smaller cars, in the meantime however, the Saturn, e.g., has disappeared from the market. I can only say, rightly so, because I must admit, that I have never driven another car which was so blandly assembled. 02/15               Top of page               Index
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Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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