Volkswagen (which literally translates to People's Car, in English) traces its roots to the desire of Adolf Hitler, ruler of Nazi Germany, to have a cheap car for the working people of the Reich. Ferdinand Porsche, an ambitious designer and engineer well-known in Germany in the 1930s, received the contract to build the Volkswagen. A whole new factory and a town for the workers were built for this project.
The city is present day Wolfsburg. A large scheme for financing purchases of the new car was launched before the onset of the Second World War, but only a handful of units were actually produced and none were delivered to their buyers. During the war, production was switched to vehicles for the military: the Type 82 Kübelwagen ("Bucket car") utility vehicle (VW's most common wartime model), and the amphibious Schwimmwagen.
After the war, the bombed-out factory was saved by a British civilian member of the military government installed by the occupying forces. His name is Ivan Hirst, a retired British Army officer at the time he took over supervising the rebirth of the motor plant. The town changed its name to Wolfsburg, while the company took the name Volkswagen.
The man responsible for the birth of the People's Car before the war, Ferdinand Porsche, had been imprisoned for war crimes but was never put on trial. While he was in prison, his children started their own project, a small sports car, the 356. After his release, Ferdinand Porsche took over the development of the 356 and founded a new company. However, during their history, Porsche and Volkswagen groups kept a close relationship, sharing parts, platforms, and engines.
During the 70s, 80s and 90s VW expanded worldwide to become one of the biggest car manufacturing groups in the world. In 2008, the much smaller but more profitable Porsche group announced that it wanted to take over VW. In 2009, the two companies decided to merge into a single entity. This move was completed in 2011 and in 2016, Volkswagen group became the largest producer of cars in the world for the first time, surpassing Toyota.