February 17

This Day in History

Automotive

Feb 17, 1972:

Beetle overtakes Model T as world's best-selling car

On this day in 1972, the 15,007,034th Volkswagen Beetle comes off the assembly line, breaking a world car production record held for more than four decades by the Ford Motor Company's iconic Model T, which was in production from 1908 and 1927.

The history of the VW Beetle dates back to 1930s Germany. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and announced he wanted to build new roads and affordable cars for the German people. At that time, Austrian-born engineer Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) was already working on creating a small car for the masses. Hitler and Porsche later met and the engineer was charged with designing the inexpensive, mass-produced Volkswagen, or "people's car." Hitler's plan was that people could buy the cars by making regular payments into a savings stamp program. In 1938, work began on the Volkswagen factory, located in present-day Wolfsburg, Germany; however, full-scale vehicle production didn't begin until after World War II.

In the 1950s, the Volkswagen arrived in the U.S., where the initial reception was tepid, due in part to the car's historic Nazi connection as well as its small size and unusual rounded shape (which later led to it being dubbed the "Beetle"). In 1959, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a groundbreaking campaign that promoted the car's diminutive size as a distinct advantage to consumers, and over the next several years, VW became the top-selling auto import in the U.S. In 1998, Volkswagen began selling the highly touted "New Beetle" while still continuing production of its predecessor. After more than 60 years and over 21 million vehicles produced, the last original Beetle rolled off the line in Puebla, Mexico, on July 30, 2003.

The world's original best-selling car, Henry Ford's Model T, first went into production at a Detroit, Michigan, plant in 1908. Referred to as the car that "put the world on wheels," the Model T revolutionized the automotive industry--and American society in general--by providing affordable, reliable transportation for the average person. In 1913, Ford Motor Company began employing the moving assembly line at its plant in Highland Park, Michigan, which reduced the assembly speed of a chassis from 12 hours and eight minutes to one hour and 33 minutes. The following year, Ford produced 308,162 vehicles, more than the output of all other carmakers combined. By 1924, the 10 millionth Model T came off the assembly line. When production finally ended, after 19 years, in May 1927, over 15 million Model Ts had been built.

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