Carl Hahn, the VW CEO behind the Beetle’s success in America, dies at 96

Former Volkswagen CEO who led the automaker’s international expansion dies
Carl Hahn who was leading the automaker's expansion 1980s died.

Volkswagen’s former CEO, Carl Hahn led the company in the 1980s, when the Group was expanding internationally. At 96, he died in his sleep at his home in Wolfsburg as stated by the spokeswoman from his charitable foundation. Further added that the ceremony is planned for January 24.

Carl Hahn, the VW CEO behind the Beetle’s success in America, dies at 96
Image credits- Fortune

Recollecting the well know former Volkswagen CEO’s work, various things were highlighted. He was born in Chemnitz in Eastern Germany in 1926, and was originally named Carl Horst Hahn Jr. He studies business administration and economics, receiving a doctorate from the University of Bern. He joined VW in 1954 and became its chief in 1982. During his decade-long tenure, VW built factories in China, acquired Seat in Spain and Skoda in the Czech Republic, and expanded into former communist East Germany.

“Until then we were too focused on Germany, we were a national company. Except for the Americans, there were no global brands,” Hahn said in a 2020 interview. “We started with Seat and were able to get Volkswagen out of a crisis when we were only losing money in our German factories,” he said. Hahn also started Audi’s transition to the luxury car segment.

VW’s success

Back in the 1960s, Hahn led VW’s business in the US and helped establish the beetle as an icon of American pop culture. Disagreements over strategy led to his departure to tire-maker Continental in 1972 before returning 10 years later. After being succeeded as Volkswagen CEO by Ferdinand Piech in 1992, Hahn served another five years on the company’s supervisory board. Hahn chronicled his career in the autobiography “My Years With Volkswagen,” published in 2005.

Most important, he brought Volkswagen to Madison Avenue, choosing Doyle Dane Bernbach, which became DDB Worldwide, part of Omnicom Group Inc, to design what Advertising Age magazine called the top campaign of the 20th century.  As conceived by art director Helmut Krone and copywriter Julian Koenig, the plan included the unconventional print ads “Think Small,” celebrating the compact size of the Beetle, and “Lemon,” focusing on quality control. Hahn’s marketing skills helped the Beetle become the best-selling single-car model in history, with more than 21.5 million produced between 1945 and 2003. At his retirement at the end of 1992, Hahn told Automotive News that his biggest regret was losing market share in the US, where he had first made his mark. “My objective was to make a global network out of a company that was a big exporter and had many foreign subsidiaries,” he said.