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|Born||Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff
6 January 1899
|Died||12 April 1968
Life and career
Nordhoff was born in Hildesheim. He attended technical college in Berlin, where he became a member of the Roman Catholic fraternity Askania-Burgundia, and in 1927, began work for BMW working on aircraft engines.
In 1929 he went to work for Opel where he gained experience of the automotive industry and rapid promotion. In 1936 he was the Commercial-Technical director who presented the company's innovative new small car, the Kadett to the public. In 1942, with passenger car production much diminished on account of the war, he took over from Gerd Stieler von Heydekampf as Production Director at the company's flagship truck plant at Brandenburg.
Following the war he obtained a job as a service manager at a Hamburg garage. Hamburg was a central location for the Control Commission for Germany - British Element (CCG/BE) who recruited him for the position of Managing Director of the badly damaged Volkswagen plant at Wolfsburg. He assumed the position on 2 January 1948 from British Army Major Ivan Hirst (REME). During his first year in post Nordhoff doubled production to 19,244 cars. By the end of 1961 annual production exceeded a million vehicles.
Nordhoff became legendary from turning the Volkswagen Beetle into a worldwide automotive phenomenon. He pioneered the idea of constant improvement - improving the car's underpinnings while keeping the styling the same. He gave liberal benefits to Volkswagen workers and increased pay scales. Within six years after taking over Volkswagen, Nordhoff reduced the number of man-hours to produce a single car from 400 to 100, a 75 percent reduction. His commitment to improving the workmanship at Volkswagen made the Beetle famous for its bulletproof reliability.
While not questioning his ability to sell cars, though, some observers, including automotive analyst Maryann Keller, questioned whether it was wise for Nordhoff to build more of the same car rather than develop new models. Nordhoff instigated a takeover of Auto Union in 1964 to provide yet more production capacity for building Beetles, but by the late sixties, the Beetle was getting serious competition from Japanese, American, and other European models in different markets. Nonetheless, it remained a favourite car for many motorists throughout the world. Meanwhile, Nordhoff's takeover of Auto Union ended up proving to be a highly fateful decision for VW, as not only did it provide the group with what would be nurtured into its performance-luxury brand - Audi - the Ingolstadt firm possessed the technological expertise that allowed VW to finally replace the Beetle and its associated air cooled stablemates in the 1970s.
Nordhoff announced in 1967 that he would retire by the end of the following year, and that Dr. Kurt Lotz would succeed him as managing director. Nordhoff suffered heart failure that summer, and returned to work in October. He died six months later.
"Offering people an honest value appealed to me more than being driven around by a bunch of hysterical stylists trying to sell people something they really don't want to have." — Heinrich Nordhoff on his automotive philosophy, from the book Volkswagen: Beetles, Buses and Beyond by James Flammang.
Thinking Small: The Long Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle, Penguin Random House, 2012. Author: Andrea Hiott. ISBN 978-0345521422
- "News and views: Volkswagen chief dies". Autocar. 128 (nbr 3767): 57. 25 April 1968.
- Hans-Jürgen Schneider: 125 Jahre Opel, Autos und Technik, Verlag Schneider+Repschläger 1987 (no known ISBN)