The Hannover plant in 1959. Photos courtesy Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
On March 5, 1955, Volkswagen broke ground on a new factory in Hannover-Stoecken, Germany, and just over one year later, on March 8, 1956, the first Hannover-built Type 2 Transporter rolled off the assembly line. Sixty years later, on March 9, 2016, the Historical Museum of Hannover debuted a new exhibit entitled The Bulli builders, which commemorates both the Volkswagen van and its lasting impact on the regional economy.
Building the plant in 1955.
Developed from a 1947 sketch by Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who sensed demand for a Beetle-based bus among commercial buyers, the first Type 2 (known in Europe as the “Bulli”) rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg, Germany on March 8, 1950. By the end of the first year, total production reached 8,001 units, but as demand for both the Beetle and the Type 2 increased, the Wolfsburg plant, which could build just 80 buses per day, could no longer meet demand.
Building Bullis in Hannover.
Hannover was chosen as the location for Volkswagen’s newest plant largely for its access to transportation, namely the Mitteland Canal. From the beginning, plans for the Hannover factory were ambitious: The site would occupy 1.1 million square meters (roughly 272 acres), making it, at the time, the largest production facility in Europe.
By May of 1955, just two months after groundbreaking during a particularly snowy winter, roughly 2,000 construction workers were involved with the building of the plant. To ensure that the factory was productive from its first day of operation, Volkswagen began the process of training line workers in Wolfsburg teh same month, and a special train departed the Hannover station each morning at 4:10 a.m. to reach Wolfsburg in time for the morning shift. Four thousand new employees (including 25 women, a rarity in German factories at the time) are hired ahead of the Hannover plant’s opening, and in February of 1956 the rail connection to the plant, the last significant construction milestone, is completed.
The assembly line in 1956.
Bulli production in Hannover begins on March 8, six years to the day that the first Type 2 was completed in Wolfsburg. Initially, the factory produces 230 buses per day, but in 1962, just six years later, the Hannover plant celebrates the assembly of its one-millionth transporter. Six decades (and five generations of Volkswagen Transporters) later, the Hannover plant remains the area’s largest industrial employer (with 14,500 workers) and the region’s largest training operation (with 750 apprentices).
Volkswagen’s Hannover plant in 2015.
The Bulli builders will mark the occasion with displays of vintage Transporters on loan from Volkswagen’s own collection, as well as video footage from workers employed at the plant over the years. Photo displays will also explain the history of the plant and its economic impact on the region, and three days per week, Volkswagen apprentices will be on hand to demonstrate the latest production techniques to museum visitors.
The Bulli builders runs through June 26 at the Historical Museum of Hannover in Hannover, Germany. For more information, visit Hannover.de.