Alyssa Milano said she swapped her Tesla for a VW, renewing discussion of Volkswagen's dark history.
The German automaker was founded in 1937 as a state-owned enterprise during the third reich.
Here's how Volkswagen went from Hitler's pet project to one of the world's top electric vehicle makers.
In 1937, Volkswagen was founded in Germany as a state-owned enterprise under Adolf Hitler's rule.
Developing an affordable "people's car" was a pet project of the fascist dictator, who championed Volkswagen as "a symbol of the National Socialist people's community."
But when World War II began, Volkswagen had to give up its goal of creating a car for the masses and switched to military production.
The Volkswagen plant in Fallersleben used forced labor including Soviet prisoners of war and Jewish concentration camp prisoners — at one point accounting for an estimated 60% of its workforce.
In 1944, a VW engineer enlisted 950 Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp and killing center, to work at the Fallersleben complex.
Four concentration camps and eight forced-labor camps were located on Volkswagen company grounds, in addition to a "nursing facility" that separated pregnant workers from their newborns. The program is believed to have killed over 300 children of Volkswagen laborers.
At the end of the war, Allied forces freed the plant workers and renamed the factory town "Wolfsburg." The city remains home to Volkswagen's headquarters today.
The British military temporarily took over Volkswagen in 1945, instructing the company to produce 20,000 "saloon" models.
Source: Volkswagen AG
Soon, the first VW Beetles were exported to foreign markets like France, Switzerland, and Sweden. The first models reached American soil in 1950.
Volkswagen's Nazi links initially made the cars a harder sell in America. But by the 1960s, VW had become the most popular foreign automobile company in the US.
The cult classic VW Westfalia campers, also called the "microbus," were first exported to the US in 1956.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
Originally designed to transport workers and materials, the large van became wildly popular among alternative groups — from California surfers and Woodstock hippies to civil rights activists.
The iconic bus still maintains its reputation as a counterculture symbol today.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
In 1998, Volkswagen announced it was setting up a $12 million reparations fund for people forced to work at Fallersleben under Nazi rule.
Source: New York Times
Over the years, VW has rolled out dozens of new car models, including the "New Beetle" (aka the punch buggy), the Volkswagen Jetta, and the Volkswagen Golf.
VW discontinued the characteristic Beetle line in 2018.
The Volkswagen group currently owns ten brands including Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche, and Audi.
Source: Volkswagen AG
But in 2017, VW's reputation was tested once again after the automaker plead guilty to rigging its diesel cars to cheat on federal emissions tests, a scandal that became known as "Dieselgate."
The German automaker has since turned its attention to producing electric vehicles as it begins phasing out all its gas-powered models in Europe by 2035.
Source: Kelley Blue Book
Volkswagen was an early pioneer of EV technology, which it began developing back in 1970 in response to the then-held belief that the world would eventually run out of oil.
The result was the 1972 "Elektro-bus," a battery-powered transporter van with a range of 25 miles and top speed of 43 miles per hour.
Today, the company sells 9 electric vehicle models across its brands, many sharing a common footprint thanks to the company's MEB technology.
The car maker's long-awaited modern electric minivan, the "ID.Buzz," is set to come to the US in 2024.
Former CEO Herbert Diess was known for having a competitive streak with Elon Musk. Under his leadership, VW rolled out the all-electric ID.3 hatchback — rivaling the similar Tesla Model 3.
Volkswagen now aims to overtake American automaker Tesla for the title of the world's largest electric vehicle company by 2025.
During the first half of 2022, the Volkswagen group increased its deliveries of all-electric vehicles by 27%, making it the market leader in Europe. But in the US, Tesla still dominates two-thirds of the EV market.
A study by Bloomberg Intelligence estimated that Volkswagen would overtake Tesla as the world's largest EV brand by 2024 — with one Bank of America analyst predicting that Tesla's EV market share in the US will drop to 11% by 2025.
Following Tesla CEO Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, actress Alyssa Milano said she traded in her Tesla for an all-electric Volkswagen due to the rise in hate speech on the social media platform, renewing discussion on VW's third reich past.
Since Musk's takeover of Twitter, Tesla's brand favorability has dropped around 20 points among Democrats and increased around 4 points among Republicans, according to data analyzed by Morning Consult in November.
Source: Morning Consult
As of now, Tesla is still king — and its CEO Elon Musk has joked that the legacy car maker's infatuation with beating the American newcomer is "free advertising."
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