Volkswagen came to the US 75 years ago

Volkswagen has been selling cars in the U.S. for the past 75 years, becoming one of the largest automakers in this market. And it all started with just two Beetles.

As recounted by the automaker, Dutch businessman Ben Pon landed in New York with the two cars in 1949. The Type 2, also known as the Microbus, followed, reaching U.S. shores in 1950. Volkswagen of America was then established in 1955 to set up a formal dealer network and parts and service apparatus.

VW gained traction in the U.S. in part thanks to clever “Think Small” ads, the first of which appeared in 1959, touting the Beetle’s simplicity and thriftiness as a counterpoint to the bigger, flashier cars from American brands that dominated the U.S. market at the time.

As in other markets, VW’s U.S. lineup grew to encompass other rear-engined, air-cooled models like the Karmann Ghia and Squareback before moving to more conventional vehicle designs in the form of the Dasher (as the first-generation Passat was called in the U.S.), Scirocco, and Golf—initially sold in the U.S. as the Rabbit.

One of the first Volkswagen Beetles being exported to the U.S.

One of the first Volkswagen Beetles being exported to the U.S.

VW’s history in the U.S. hasn’t been exclusively a tale of success. In 1978 the automaker opened its first U.S. factory in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, to build the Rabbit. While the factory did ultimately build 1.1 million of the hatchbacks, as well as other models, it only lasted until 1987. VW wouldn’t open another U.S. assembly plant until 2011, when its current Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory began building Passat sedans.

Just a few years after the Chattanooga plant opened, the EPA announced in Sept. 2015 that VW had cheated on diesel-emissions tests—one of biggest scandals in the history of the U.S. automotive industry. A settlement with the federal government and the state of California included fines and a commitment to fund the Electrify America charging network.

The scandal also kicked off a shift toward EVs that started with the ID.4 crossover, which is currently being built in Chattanooga alongside the gasoline Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport.

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