It’s one of the most recognisable vehicles of all time
To celebrate its 60th birthday, it’s now the subject of a major exhibition.
Production on the Bullis, as the VW Transporter was known, began in Hanover, Germany, on March 8, 1956. Now, the Historical Museum of Hanover has opened a retrospective on the beginning of its production, which runs until June 26.
The exhibition features vehicles from the factory’s own Bulli collection, alongside video reports from people there at the time, photos and other exhibits that depict the history of the plant. And, on three work days a week, Volkswagen apprentices will show visitors the latest production processes at interactive presentation stations.
Professor Thomas Schwark, director of the Art History Museums of Hanover, said: “The exhibit shows living industrial history, which began when the Bulli came online and also shows the effects the plant had on the development of the state capital in the post-war time period.
“The Bulli is indispensable, especially in our historic museum, because it is an expression of the role and importance of the VW Transporter plant for Hanover and the entire state of Lower Saxony.”
Hanover’s mayor Stefan Schostok added: “60 years of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles – that stands for 60 years of secure jobs for Hanover and the region. “It stands for 60 years of exciting automotive history, for an ever-growing group of fans for the VW Bulli and for employees who contributed with their dedication and continual readiness to come up with innovations for the models and production systems.
“The VW Transporter has not only safeguarded the jobs of many thousands of people at the plant and in the region. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has also been an important partner of the city in coming up with transportation strategies for the future, which we wanted to develop together with them.”
Dr. Eckhard Scholz, chairman of the management board, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: “The VW bus is as much a part of Hanover as Leibniz cookies, the Pelikan fountain pen and Continental tyres.”
To date, around 9.5 million vehicles of the T-Series have been produced in the state capital. This is not only down to a highly capable factory, but above all a workforce of very special people – the Bulli builders. Dr Scholz added: “Our employees handle this challenging job with pride and passion, with a love for this special vehicle.
“Bulli-building DNA has definitely been inherited in these families (who have worked in the factory) – and there are several at the plant. “In one case, a great grandfather helped to build the factory, and his great grandson is currently training to be a mechatronics specialist.” Production of the vehicle that would become the “workhorse of the economic wonder” began in 1950 in Wolfsburg.
When the 100,000th Bulli came off the assembly line in 1954, it was clear that the Transporter needed its own dedicated plant. Production capacity at the main Wolfsburg plant was no longer sufficient to cover demand. Alongside Beetle production, it was possible to manufacture 80 Bullis per day, but 330 were needed.
Prof. Heinrich Nordhoff, general director of Volkswagenwerk GmbH, chose Hanover for the production site. Initial construction work began in mid-February 1955. After just one year of construction time, the first Bullis came off the assembly line of the just built Transporter plant on March 8, 1956.
Bertina Murkovic, vice-chairwoman of the Works Council of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: “The production launch of the T1 in Hanover-Stöcken was the start of a decades-long success story that has lasted right up to today. “In an extremely short period of time, a pioneering production site was created from scratch and it would develop into one of the main pillars of the corporate group with the great commitment of many thousands of employees.
“What distinguishes this site are the experience and passion of its employees who believe in their plant, because they have secure jobs here and can shape their own future.”
At first, 4,000 employees worked at the Hanover plant in March 1956 – including 25 women – and they produced 230 Transporters per day. By the end of 1956 there were already 270 women employees on the team and in 1959 1,044 women. The Bulli developed into a successful model far beyond the domestic market.
In 1962, the workforce celebrated production of the millionth VW Transporter. After the T1, production of the successor model, the T2, began in 1967. In turn, it was followed in 1979 by the T3, by the T4 in 1990 and by the T5 in 2003.
The sixth generation has been coming off the production line since 2015.
Today, the production site is the largest industrial employer with 14,500 jobs and it is the largest training operation in the Hanover region with 750 apprentices.