Angst in Wolfsburg: What will happen in Volkswagen's home city?

As Volkswagen is forced to spend over $7 billion to recall 11 million cars in the US, VW's hometown of Wolfsburg, Germany, is facing trouble of its own.

(Michael Sohn/AP)
A giant logo of the German car manufacturer Volkswagen is pictured on top of a company's factory building in Wolfsburg, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.

The Wolfsburg plant in North Germany is home to the Volkswagen headquarters, as well as more than 73,000 employees who are now fearing for their jobs.

Built in 1938, on Adolf Hitler’s orders to build a "peoples’ car," Wolfsburg today is home to 124,000 residents, half of whom work for Volkswagen. “The whole region is used to being lifted by this company,” Michael Wilkens, head of the local chamber of industry and commerce told Reuters. Thanks to VW, the city 120 miles west of Berlin boasts an unemployment rate lower than the national average, and, in 2013, it was named Germany’s richest city.

But now with Wolfsburg’s fate inexplicably tied to VW’s emissions cheating scandal, the city feels vulnerable.

“The residents are angry, sad and disappointed,” Carsten Steinbach, a Wolfsburg native told The Local Germany. “There is also fear, because it’s our bread and butter.”

Not only is the automaker a major employer, but the entire city acts as an ode to VW. Autostadt, German for “Car City,” is a 16-building museum and visitor center that sprawls over 60 acres and attracts 2 million visitors a year. The AutoMuseum Volkswagen also celebrates all things VW, offering guided tours on the evolution of the iconic Beetle.

“The town owes everything to VW, they have their hands in every project here but that will surely change. Life won’t be the same again,” Frank Schellenberg, who relies on VW’s tourism industry to fund his profession as a local cab driver, told Reuters. 

VW also sponsors Germany’s popular Wolfsburg soccer team and acts as a namesake for local schools and colleges. 

With past Porsche chief Matthias Mueller taking over as CEO for Martin Winterkorn this week, international attention has largely focused on the company’s internal management hierarchy as well as the dim future for diesel cars. 

The mayor of Paris recently announced his plans to ban diesel engines in the city by 2020, and other European countries are rethinking diesel tax breaks. Europe’s response to VW’s diesel scandal could cause a chain-reaction in the auto industry because Europe is responsible for 75 percent of diesel car sales worldwide.

Some experts distrusted VW’s promotion of ‘clean diesel’ from the beginning, because diesel engines have an inherent trade-off. “You have power, you have energy, you have emissions: You get to choose two of them,” Don Hillebrand, former president of the Society of Automotive Engineers, told LiveScience. Obviously, VW did not choose clean emissions.

But regardless of the science and management debates currently surrounding VW, the city of Wolfsburg feels betrayed. “Everyone in Wolfsburg is expecting tough times and job cuts,” says Schellenberg.  

And the impact on VW’s hometown should not be ignored. “If Volkswagen leaves or does badly, Wolfsburg will become a ghost town,” a Wolfsburg resident told The Local Germany. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Angst in Wolfsburg: What will happen in Volkswagen's home city?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today