After the end of the Second World War in the summer of 1945, the victorious Allied powers faced the great challenge of ensuring the nutrition of the German population in their occupation zones as well as providing housing, heating material and clothing. At the same time, they had to decide what to do with the remaining industrial plants. One of these factories was the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg.
After the liberation of the city by American troops on April 11, 1945, the plant had initially been on the decommissioning list of the victorious Allied powers. However, when the British military government entered the occupation zone in June 1945 and seized the factory, it quickly became clear what future prospects it offered. The British decided to administer the factory as a trustee and to convert it into an international automobile manufacturing location until it was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany on October 8, 1949. One of the central figures was the British Major, Ivan Hirst.
The British set the course for the future of the Volkswagen plant
Initially only used as a repair shop for military and transport vehicles, he was the first to recognize the possibilities offered by the establishment of civilian vehicle production in the almost completely destroyed factory – and had machines and stocks that had been outsourced, due to the war, returned to the factory. The success story took its course when he discovered an old Beetle in the factory and sent it to the British headquarters.
Inspired by the vehicle, on August 22 1945 the Volkswagen plant received an order from there to produce 20,000 cars for the British military administration. Only two weeks later, this program was doubled to 40,000 cars. With the start of civilian series production only a few months later on December 27 1945, the Wolfsburg plant became the first automobile factory in Germany to resume production after the war. The first goal was to produce 1,000 cars a month
Not an easy task: because of the economic situation, it was not only the procurement of material and fuel that posed a major problem for the power plant. Recruiting workers was also a potential obstacle on the way to becoming a successful automobile company. In order for them to be able to work at all, Volkswagen therefore provided the factory workers and employees with the essentials at an early stage and had grain grown on the factory premises. And following the British military administration setting up an employee representative body in the summer of 1945, the first democratic elections for a works council took place in November 1945.
The basis for an international export business is established
Over the next few months, the British implemented further planned and systematic measures to improve conditions and set up an effective trading organization with a focus on service and sales. An example of quality control: From 1946, when the 10,000th vehicle celebrated its anniversary and the production target of 1,000 cars per month was reached, the newly established customer service department trained German and English workshop employees in the maintenance and repair of vehicles. In addition, with a network of ten wholesalers and 28 dealers reporting to them throughout the British zone as well as a main distributor in Berlin, the British set the course for the development of an export business from 1947 onwards. Volkswagen vehicles were sold outside Germany for the first time – the basis for the international establishment of the company.
From summer 1947, Volkswagen offered the export saloon, a premium version of the Volkswagen Beetle (Type 1), which was also attractive to German customers. This was also illustrated by the production figures. In the space of two years they had almost doubled. A good 19,000 cars left the Wolfsburg factory in 1948, of which a quarter were sold abroad. In addition, Volkswagen now also produced spare parts for the repair of used cars. The introduction of the currency reform on June 20 1948 gave Volkswagen growth a further boost. In the following year, production rose to more than 46,000 cars a year – and in 1950 it finally reached 81,000 saloons and 8,000 Transporters, which were also manufactured at the plant.
Return of the Volkswagen plant to the Federal Republic of Germany
When, on October 8 1949, the British military government placed the trusteeship of Volkswagen Werk GmbH into the hands of the Federal Government and the Federal Government, for its part, commissioned the State of Lower Saxony with the administration, Volkswagen was already in “pole position” when it came to the beginning of the so-called economic miracle. Today, 70 years later, Volkswagen has developed into the world’s largest carmaker and is a prime example of Germany’s unparalleled rise from a war-torn country to a world-leading industrial nation.