A survey was just published indicating the “Made in Germany” label is the most coveted by consumers worldwide amongst all possible “Made in …” labels.
What made it this way? The Volkswagen.
While Germany was already known for many high quality products including cameras, optics, machine tools, cutlery, beer, wines and sausages, it was the German automobile in the form of the Volkswagen that cemented the connection in the minds of the general public between high quality and Made in Germany.
The VW’s quality was legendary by the late 1950s; superb paintwork, not only on the outside, but everywhere you looked; under the instrument panel, in the engine compartment, even the underside where every component, subassembly and fastener was beautifully finished.
The Beetle’s chrome plating, panel and trim alignment and assembly quality were likewise exemplary. In contrast, American cars by this time were generally built with the goal of saving every possible penny, with telltale miser-alerts like unpainted rear axles and driveshafts arriving in new car showrooms covered in rust. French cars had panel gaps you could stick a finger in. British cars left puddles of oil and had iffy Lucas electrical systems; while many Italian cars had to repeatedly be repaired by a mythical wizard named Tony. Japanese cars were a decade away.
What about BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche?
Well, they were also built to a very high standard, but were a bit slow getting out of the gate. Porsche was a marque largely known only to the cognoscenti, BMW was barely afloat until the introduction of the 1500 Neue Klasse in 1962, and Mercedes-Benz took a while to ramp up production after being bombed to near-oblivion during World War II.
Mercedes was further hobbled in the U.S. by their ill-advised agreement granting American distribution rights to Studebaker, who were already in their death throes. Mercedes-Benz would not become a major force in what was then the world’s largest car market until the 1970s.
Thus it was left to VW, who by 1955 had already sold over one million Beetles worldwide to play global ambassador in burnishing the reputation of Made in Germany.