How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire Ever wondered how Volkswagen became such a well recognised name worldwide? Today, 21.5 million Volkswagen Beetles are sold all over the whole world, but the story began with their very first exports: just 6 iconic Volkswagen Beetles to the Netherlands in 1947. Dutchman Ben Pon noticed that after World War II, people needed simple, reliable and affordable transportation. He knew that the Volkswagen Beetle could provide just that, so he contacted the factory and set out for Wolfsburg. And in doing so, not only did he kick off the Volkswagen export market, but he inspired a brand new generation of vehicle… 

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire

It was the 16th of October, 1947, when the first 6 Volkswagen Beetles crossed the Dutch border. The famous automobile trade company Pon (still the Dutch importer of the Volkswagen group today) imported the first Beetles with chassis numbers 337 through 342. These first 6 Beetles were driven by Ben Pon and his employees personally across the border. Almost all following imported Volkswagens were transported by train just as they still are today.

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire
Image Source: Pon
The First Beetles

The first generation of the Beetle can be recognised by the split rear window. Because of this feature, they were nicknamed the ‘splitty’ or ‘pretzel’. The first Beetles were available in the colours black, grey or dark blue and the new price of a Beetle was around €1,300 at the time. For that money you bought a car with a 25 HP, air-cooled, 4-cylinder boxer engine in the back, a steering wheel and a roof for at least 5 people above your head. Nothing more, nothing less.

The first Dutch registered Volkswagen Beetle, with chassis number 337, does still exist and is in very good shape. It is well documented and the original photo on the day of the handover from the factory to Pons Automobile trade company proves its provenance. You can see the first Dutch Beetle in the picture above, furthest right. It was originally black but has since been sprayed grey. It now resides in Pons’ rich, private collection and is so special that it has been retired from driving.

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire
Image Source: Pon
Growing an Automotive Empire

The Beetle, internally called ‘Type 1’, was designed by Ferdinand Porsche under the order of Hitler, who wanted a car for his people. But it was Ben Pon senior who sketched the first lines of the Volkswagen ‘Type 2’ in his agenda on April the 23rd in 1947. When Pon visited the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in 1946, he saw an improvised parts-mover. He realised that it had to be possible to built something smarter using the base of the Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually, a van based on the technique of the Volkswagen Beetle led to the success of Volkswagen company vehicles worldwide. In 1950 the first Volkswagens Transporter rolled off the production line.

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire

During the 50s and 60s Volkswagen introduced a few other models like the Karmann Ghia coupe/convertible, the Volkswagen 1500 variant, the 1600TL fastback and the 411. In the early 70s Volkswagen switched to a completely new concept with front wheel drive cars with a water-cooled engine in the front instead of an air-cooled engine in the back. In 1973 the Volkswagen Passat was one of the first cars with this new technique and the Beetle is followed up by the very successful Volkswagen Golf in 1974. Volkswagen is still the biggest market player in Europe with a sales rate of 10.3 million vehicles in 2016.

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire

Success of Volkswagen

The Netherlands was the first export country for Volkswagen, but they expanded their export in 1949 to America and in 1952 to Canada. From that moment, production rates exploded to a million produced Beetles up to 1955. The export of those first 6 cult cars was the beginning of a stunning sales rate of almost half a million Beetles in the Netherlands. Nowadays, Volkswagen has assembly or manufacturing facilities in 19 countries worldwide and exports their cars all across the globe.

How Volkswagen Grew Their Automotive Export Empire

The fact that Volkswagen sold so many cars around the world in the past 70 years contributes to the fact that they are very popular classic cars today. Especially the Beetle and the Volkswagen T1 which  are highly sought after and maintain their value, or often even increase in value. If you are looking for a Beetle or a Volkswagen T1, than have a look at our Classic Car auctions where you can find many models every week. Or if you have a well-preserved classic Volkswagen and you want to sell it, you can sign up to become a seller for free and drive the bidders crazy! Our experts look forward to seeing what you have to offer.