By on May 16, 2009

Just got off the phone with my copyright lawyer. “Bertel, how many times do I have to tell you that ideas are not copyrightable.”  “Yes, Sidney, I know, only the expression. But it’s a shame nonetheless.” There goes my last chance to get rich. What happened?

According to the pistonheads at Pistonheads.com, history goes into high RPMs again at Volkswagen. Due to the impending merger of Volkswagen and Porsche (which more and more looks like a takeover of Porsche by Piech) the company might need a new name. After all, Volkswagen-Porsche would sound unwieldy and would bring up memories of the ill-fated Volksporsche 914. Anyway, a holding company shouldn’t carry the name of one of its brands in its name (save for Ford, or Toyota, and many others.) The names of two brands in the name of one holding would be a bit too much. So someone floated a bright idea:

How about Auto Union? Says Pistonheads: “The historic Auto Union name, made famous by the successful 1930s grand prix cars, could be revived and used by the new Porsche-VW alliance when the two automotive powerhouses merge later in the year.”  Volkswagen still owns that brand, they bought Auto Union AG  from Daimler Benz in 1964, along with Audi and NSU. Only Audi remained. Auto Union, established 1932 in Chemnitz, was an amalgamation of  Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer. The four rings survived in the Audi logo.

Piech likes the Auto Union idea, says Pistonheads. “The decision, however, may be scuppered by the Nazi associations the Auto Union name carries. Despite being established in 1932, well before the rise of Hitler, the Auto Union brand came to symbolize the engineering aspirations of Nazi Germany.”

Boy, are they ever wrong.

In 1975, after Toni Schmücker had taken the helm at VW, Volkswagen already looked for a new name. They envisaged having many brands (which, as we all know, came to pass,) and they needed a name for the holding company. Many names were floated. I was involved in the project and said: “How about Auto Union?”

What was the answer? “Bertel, are you out of your frikken mind?  We’ve already got enough unions. We don’t need one in the name of our company.”

Instead, the notorious V.A.G was born. First as the name for the combined distribution organization, and the subsidiaries, such as V.A.G Leasing, V.A.G Bank etc.  I objected loudly. Remember, us Germans have problems with pronouncing the “V,”  it sometimes comes across as an “F” or as a “W.”  In the case of V.A.G  it sounded like “FAG” –  not as the homosexual version. With the “G” pronounced as a Teutonic “K,” it sounded, well, like “FUCK”  (a.k.a. NSFW).

“You can’t give an effing name to the effing company,” I objected.

“Bertel, we all know you have a dirty mind,” they said. “It’s not FUCK. It’s Vau-Ah-Geh.” And so the effing organization received its effing name. In 1992, V.A.G was quietly euthanized. V.A.G lives on in the V.A.G Rounded typeface, which became popular on the Apple iBook and many other products.

I insist that Auto Union would have been much better as the name for the holding company in 1975, and it would do just fine today as well. Even the Metallarbeitergewerkschaft and the UAW would love it. But I doubt it will be taken. For the same reasons it was shot down in the late 70s.

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35 Comments on “VW/Porsche: Auto Union? What the NSFW?...”


  • avatar
    shaker

    E.G.G.

    Electrical Gremlin Group? :-(

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Shit, Bertel. I didn’t know you where that connected. Apparently, the typeface you helped create (VAG Rundschrift) is now printed on the iMac keyboards, on every button. That’s heavy…

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    VWCP!

    ‘Vee Wheel Crush Poland!!!”

    I hear that a Mr. Hilter will be running their North American operations. He has chosen to run VW’s operations out of a former Ford plant in Ohio.

    His unofficial position is ‘Diesel Mechanic and Fetcher of Schnapps!’

  • avatar
    kaleun

    Yeah, I remember VAG and nobody, including dealers, knew what it stood for . Volkswagen AG?
    auto-union would sound good in German, however, try to sell a premium car in the world that screams “union” (like in that labor monopoly that helped killing the big 3)

    It should be one word.

    BTW: I went to the same Engineering School as August Horch (FH Mittweida) who later lost the rights to his name and translated it into Latin for his new car company – Audi

  • avatar
    sightline

    The decision, however, may be scuppered by the Nazi associations the Auto Union name carries.

    I find it difficult to believe that Auto Union carries more Nazi associations than the name of the people’s car itself.

  • avatar

    Kaleun:

    Yeah, I remember VAG and nobody, including dealers, knew what it stood for . Volkswagen AG?

    It stood for nothing.

    We were all sworn to secrecy, but to hell with it.

    In the course of the aforementioned name change operation, someone came running down the hall and shouted: “Everybody STOP!”

    Breathlessly, he told that he just had been in the legal dept, and legal said if the name of the company is changed, then new dealer contracts would have to be written. At the time, nobody (except the dealers) thought this was a bright idea.

    So they came up with V.A.G. It could have stood for anything: Volkswagenwerk AG, Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Audi Gesellschaft, you name it. Intentional ambiguity. But it was highly verboten to say what the acronym stood for.

    Inside VW, for many years, the joke went that V.A.G stood for “Von Adolf Gegründet” (Founded By Adolf.) Those were the days when laughter still wasn’t illegal at VW. (And, Tireguy, those were the days when people didn’t faint when you made sordid jokes about yourself and your sordid history.)

    It’s one of the stories where someone says: “If you tell this at home, nobody will believe it.”

    But it’s true. And now the secret is out. Remember, you’ve read it here first. In Thetruthaboutcars.

    PS: Kaleun, the idea of the name of a holding company is that it is NOT the nameplate of a car. This was one of the few things GM had done right. For a holding company, Auto Union would be just fine.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Bertel, I hope you’re writing an autobiography. Fascinating!

  • avatar

    Funny Stuff, Schmitty!!!


    -I think laughter may still be legal outside VW, as I once heard Stefan insult the head of BBDO in front of an auditorium full of media people at AdWeek a few years ago.
    It was a cheap shot, but it had the entire place rolling.


    In stead of Auto Union, how about:

    Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

    or

    Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän

    :P

  • avatar

    Wasn’t VAG what was on the nose of Edsels and Subaru B9 Tribecas?

    Seriously though, I think Auto Union is a fine name, steeped in all manner of history, especially racing. The vast majority of the planet’s population were born post-WW2 and have no memory or issue with the name. It isn’t like it will be plastered on the grille of any car anyway. Besides, they can come out with a new brand of Econo-car: DKW!

    –chuck

  • avatar

    Ok, Jeff, here comes another short chapter of the Autobiography of BS:

    During the days of Operation Namechange, the whole CI was changed.

    Volkswagen kept its blue VW logo, lovingly called “the lollipop.” (Then) hapless Audi became a faddish brownish oval logo, which soon was called “the football.” (It didn’t last long, and the four rings came back a few years later.) The big question was the color of the (yet unnamed) dealer network which later became V.A.G – their color was also meant as the backdrop on which the logos of all the other brands would rest. Way before it became fashionable, we favored a light green, simply because there were no green logos at the time. (Skoda was across the iron curtain.) Our codeword for the new name therefore was “Organisation Grün.” However, green wasn’t fashionable yet, and the decision took, and took, and took.

    One day, I sat in the office of a high VW exec and frantically typed on a speech, of which he had forgotten that it had to be given the next morning. It was late in the evening. The then head of Marketing popped his head in the door, grinned, and said to his colleague: “Open the safe.”

    At the time, the status symbol of a high executive at VW was a Subzero-sized safe in the office. “Open the safe” was code for “let’s celebrate with a few drinks,” because the safes inevitably held large amounts of liquor bottles, which otherwise were verboten.

    My guy trotted to the safe, spun the dials and asked: “What’s the occasion?”

    “The Board finally decided on the dealer color.”

    “Oh yeah, congratulations. What is it?”

    “Blue.”

    I looked up from my typing, and said:

    “The VW logo is blue. It’ll vanish on a blue background.”

    “Oh “§$%!” said the head of Marketing. “But I won’t go back another time. No! I’ve had it. Pick another blue. Anything. Would a lighter blue work? A very light blue?”

    We thought the idea was splendid, I promised my guys in the art department would surely be up to the challenge, and the safe had two bottles less the next day. My guy always gave great speeches with a hangover. His voice had a certain hoarse timbre, and he made longer pauses.

    And that’s the reason why the V.A.G logo, and the background of all signage at the V.A.G dealerships was in a light baby blue.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    Does the name Auto Union really carry more historical baggage than Mercedes-Benz; a company which I gather has been rather successful since the end of WWII.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Actually, I thought that “Audi” stood for Auto Union anyway. (My knowledge of the German language comes from watching WWII movies and Hogan’s Heroes, though.) {:-)

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    That’s a really good story…. Incredible

    We want more! We want more!

  • avatar

    Scary: No, Kaleun is right. “Audi” is the Latin translation of “Horch” (which meant “listen!”)

    Just like “Volvo” is Latin for “I roll.”

  • avatar

    If I tell more, they’ll shoot me.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    It’s funny, because I always wondered what V.A.G. stood for. The ambiguity of it puzzled me. The thought never occured to me that it never stood for anything anyway. Man’s quest for meaning, and all that. Though I wonder how many people actually tried to figure it out. I don’t know if they are geniuses or just plain idiots getting away with it.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Hey Bertel, was ‘Shoot me’ just German slang for dealing with American customers?

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Thanks, Bertel. Really, I hope you consider that book. One day you must tell us about MTV Europe, 2001, and VW’s interactive video installation.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Porschwagen

  • avatar

    Steven: In what context?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Why not call it VAP. That’s not worse than GAZ, is it?

  • avatar

    Jeff: Ah, the interactive video installation. That’s a good one also. Maybe I write that on Sunday. Instead of Sunday Follies, a chapter of the Autobiography of BS.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    As we’re looking in the rearview mirror for suggestions, I’m tempted to suggest Fahrvergnügen Aktiengesellschaft. This, however, would run up against the “FAG” problem, not to mention conflicting with the German bearing manufacturer who hold the ignominious domain http://www.fag.com. H’m. How about Gutefahrt AG? Oops, no; we dodge in this case “fag” only to step in a perfectly ordinary, respectable German word that strikes a smelly note in English.

    Well, I’m out of specific ideas, but whatever gets picked ought to have lots of umlauts — at least one per vowel — and at least one eszett. Screw syntax; foreign brands are cool and excellent. Just ask Häagen-Dazs.

  • avatar
    fgbrault

    An interesting history- thanks. Hmmm, can’t use “Union”; how about “Auto Conglomerate”. :)

  • avatar
    willbodine

    And Fiat is Latin for “so be it” although it is in fact an accronym Fabrica Automobili Italiano Torino or something like that.

  • avatar

    Bertel:
    a) Great history. In general, Americans think that anything older than 5 years is archeology but me I’m fascinated by the genesis of machinery and the men and companies that have made them (Louis Chevrolet, are you listening?)
    b) It would be wonderful if America ever came to the place where it had some sense of its history, good and bad (Our current adventure in the Middle East is so much like our not-so-long-ago adventure in the Far East and about as successful) and stopped thinking of itself as the Gift to the World….as it seems Germany has.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Bertel, you know “Hank” Ulmer? (if you want to answer in private, get my email from RF.)

  • avatar
    Joey8360

    Um, since he seems to be calling the shots, how about “Piech” for the name of the holding company?

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    FT.com: VW suspends talks with Porsche amid feuding

  • avatar
    blowfish

    NSFW

    that doesnt look like something we can repeat in public.
    Or can we do it here not-with-standingly?

  • avatar

    blowfish: In a historical context, yes.

    Otherwise, the whole V.A.G – FUCK broohaha would get rost in tlansration (as my Japanese wife likes to say)

  • avatar
    DearS

    I’m reminded again about how many issues humans have. I need to let go. Everything happens for a reason, and stupid things like toxic prestige.

    If one day I own a VW I might but Porsche badges on it. Wish my parents still had that square Plymouth minivan. I’d put Boxster Badges on it, except they are probably more expensive than a sport suspension, summer tires, or a big brake kit. Or if I owned a Porsche, I’d but Dodge badges on it, yea, that sounds humbling.

    I really need to let go, this is scary, infuriating, sad, and hurtful to me.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    The Volkswagen-Porsche conglomerate may soon be able to get a good deal on the name “General Motors”; even if it does not purchase the rights to that name I predict that the Volkswagen-Porsche conglomerate will soon live up to it.

  • avatar
    njdave

    How about “Clusterf*ck” for the new name?


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