Obituary: Carl Hahn transformed VW into global powerhouse

Karl Hahn, the visionary German executive who championed the Beetle and microbuses in the United States and then led the Volkswagen Group’s international expansion into China in the 1980s, died January 14. He was his 96th.

Hahn died in his sleep at his home in Wolfsburg, according to a spokesperson for his charity. According to Bloomberg, the ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, January 24.

A native of Chemnitz, Germany, Hahn joined VW in 1954, when his father was CEO, and in 1982 he became the head of the German automaker.

He was in charge of Volkswagen North America when the Beetle became a cult favorite in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In a 2006 interview car newsHahn recalled building VW’s following in the United States to what became the pinnacle of market share for the German automaker.

“We had the dramatic advantage of bringing the Army’s GIs back to America with our product, which created a certain image and mystique,” ​​says Hahn. “Our fundamental design philosophies and styling differences allowed us to get out of the rather anonymous car scene of the 1950s, which was very superficial and didn’t care about its customers. The brand’s dealers were making money, but not a lot of engineering thinking.

He said consumers were “tired of Detroit and woke up to our cars. We were able to get parts supplies that would be model cases.”

Hahn then left VW for ten years from 1972 to become CEO of supplier Continental.

In his 11 years as Volkswagen chairman, Hahn transformed Volkswagen AG from a parochial German manufacturer living primarily off golf into a diversified international auto giant. Hahn brought his VW to China, presided over the carmaker’s acquisition of Spanish Seat and Czech manufacturer Skoda, and established joint his ventures around the world.

Hahn bought Volkswagen at a troubling time for the German automaker, which mimicked its previous experience with the Beetle to become a “golf empire” focusing on major models and sales in Europe. This concentration limited VW’s future options, which Hahn sought to expand.

Hahn was instrumental in leading VW to China through a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., which began production in 1985.

These efforts continue to bring significant benefits to VW, which has long dominated the internal combustion engine vehicle market in China.

During his tenure at Volkswagen, Hahn entered into several joint ventures, including a contract with Toyota Motor Corporation in 1987 and a contract with Ford Motor Company in 1990 to co-manufacture minivans in Setubal, Portugal.

He was also at the forefront of German reunification. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Volkswagen invested heavily in the former East Germany and transformed the East German automotive industry.

Hahn retired in 1993 and was succeeded by Ferdinand Piëch.Hahn chronicled his career in his 2005 autobiography Days spent with Volkswagen.

Long after leaving VW, Hahn remained a keen observer and a capable prognosticator of the global automotive industry.

For example, at an event held in South Korea in 2010, Hahn, as a speaker, predicted that China would come to dominate the global auto industry, saying that China’s development of electric I predicted it would serve as a “jump over” method. in the traditional automotive industry. ”

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