Posts Tagged ‘multi-market marketing’

Mr. Volkswagen: Heinrich Nordhoff

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Heinrich Nordhoff was born in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1899. As a young man in 1930, he left BMW (Bayerische Motorenwerke) to accept an executive position at the competition, the Opel AG. General Motors (GM) had become the majority stakeholder in Opel the year before. During World War II, most of Opel’s factories were shut down. The exception was their truck manufacturing division in Brandenburg, managed for GM by Nordhoff. At the end of the war, the truck division fell into the Russian zone of divided post-war Germany. The plant was dismantled and shipped to Russia. Nordhoff fled to the West. Having been trained by GM, he hoped for a leading position at the newly rebuilt Opel plant in Ruesselheim in the West. But the Americans told him that he would never again build cars. He should consider himself lucky to get a job sweeping the street.

Nordhoff turns to Volkwagen

Until GM had given Nordhoff the cold shoulder he had been completely disinterested in associating himself with the Volkswagen, that “Nazi car.”, when British occupation forces offered him the management of the badly damaged Volkswagen plant in Wolfburg, he accepted. On January 1, 1948, a day before his 50th birthday, he became managing director of Volkswagen.  Nordhoff never looked back. During his first year, Volkswagen doubled the production of the Beetle to 20,000 cars. By 1950 they produced 100,000, and by 1955 1 million had been built. Despite his GM training, which subscribed to multi-market marketing, Nordhoff took the opposite approach. He believed in continuous improvement of the car’s underpinnings while retaining the humpback styling.

Nordhoff and the American Market

1969 Volkswagen Beetle, Photo © J. Elke Ertle

1969 Volkswagen Beetle Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Within five years after World War II, Nordhoff exported the Beetle to the USA. When he first traveled to New York to promote the car, custom agents just laughed when they took a look at his promotional drawings. They told him that no one in the world would buy a car like that and charged him $30 in fees. The fees were levied because customs rejected Nordhoff’s claim that the drawings were promotional materials. The agents declared them to be art graphics. But Nordhoff did not give up. He had come to believe in the Beetle despite the British Officers’ warning that the Beetle “has more flaws than a dog has fleas.” As we know, the Volkswagen Beetle went on to become the symbol of West Germany’s post-World War II Wirtschaftswunder – economic wonder.

The End of the Beetle

By the late sixties, however, the Beetle was getting serious competition from Japanese, American, and other European models. With 15 million sold in 1972, production of the Volkswagen Beetle had exceeded even that of Ford’s Model T. The last Beetle was sold in Mexico in 2003. Visit also

Now, Volkswagen is hoping to make a comeback with the production of an all-electric, fully integrated e-generation bus. The vehicle should hit the market by 2022 and is intended to make Volkswagen a worldwide bestseller once again.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.