Volkswagen Celebrates Huge Milestone In LA
25 November 2019 - Carbuzz
70 years of classic German memories.
The LA Auto Show has traditionally been all about the new cars, and this year has been no different. We've seen everything from the Audi e-tron Sportback to the Genesis G90 debut, with a number of other new models enjoying their American debuts. But Volkswagen is using the prestigious event to showcase something a little different, and instead of launching something new - well, apart from displaying the VW ID.Space Vizzion Concept - it's showcasing a range of historical classics to celebrate a milestone. 2019 marks 70 years of Volkswagen in the United States, a feat that all began in 1949 with two Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles, cars that later became known as the Volkswagen Beetle.
It all started when Ben Pon, a Dutch businessman arrived in New York with the two Type 1s, attempting to sell small, affordable vehicles to Americans in an era where sizable vehicles were all the rage. Seven decades later, after selling more than 17 million vehicles, the German marque is celebrating the anniversary with a trip down memory lane.
On display at the 2019 LA Motor Show, VW has brought along classics representing each era in the brand's development. This includes a 1949 Beetle with only a meager 25 horsepower, nearly identical to the Beetles first brought to America by Ben Pon.
Other classics on display include a 1954 Type 2 Bus, a panel van version of one of the world's most iconic minivans that has stood the test of time. It's joined by a later 1967 Type 2 21-Window Bus, a "Samba" version owned by Volkswagen and painted in two-tone white-on-orange.
Predating this, Volkswagen is showcasing a 1963 Karmann Ghia, a rear-engined air-cooled beauty designed and built by German coachbuilder Karmann, and a model that brought some much-needed style and sportiness to the Volkswagen brand, despite being built on a platform shared with the Beetle.
A 1973 Thing - a military vehicle for European nations - and an original 1981 Scirocco, the official successor of the Ghia, join an original 1984 Mk1 Rabbit GTI on display, alongside a 1982 Mk 1 Jetta, while the most recent VW product as part of the exhibition is the 1998 New Beetle.
The US has seen more than just iconic models reach our shores, though. We've built them, too. After Volkswagen of America was officially founded in 1955, the brand grew with the Beetle as its main product, alongside the Type 2, Ghia, Dasher and Squareback. The first Volkswagen manufacturing plant in America was built in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania in 1978 and went on to produce more than 1.1 million Rabbit Golfs. It was also the plant that produced the first sporty VW for the USA, the Rabbit GTI, a car that in many ways established hot hatches in North America.
More recently, VW opened its Chattanooga plant in 2011, and since then Volkswagen has moved much of its design and production to North America. The new 2020 Passat, as well as the VW Atlas and the Atlas Cross Sport will all be produced in North America. The Chattanooga plant will also assemble future electric vehicles when in the next few years, production of MEB-based vehicles starts.
Despite Dieselgate and declining small-car sales threatening Volkswagen's way of life, the brand has weathered the storm and made it this far. With an onslaught of electric vehicles and crossover SUVs to come, perhaps they could see out another 70 years.