chapter  4
18 Pages

Driving the West German consumer society

The introduction of US style production and marketing at Volkswagen, 1945–70
ByChristian Kleinschmidt

In recent years the question of the influence of the USA on German society and the Germany economy in the twentieth century has often been raised.1 Aspects range from the spread of consumer society2 to the adaptation of technology or culture,3 or indeed the adoption of American methods of management and production within German firms.4 These phenomena are commonly subsumed under the term ‘Americanization’. However, this chapter will argue that ‘focus on America’ or ‘the American model’ are preferable descriptions to the term ‘Americanization’.5 They focus more strongly on the perspective and the actions of the otherwise commonly neglected protagonists on the German side. Models represent ideal forms and are examples to be followed while never being achieved. Models have a formative influence. Within companies, they provide orientation and a way of projecting a vision as a comprehensive solution to technical and organizational difficulties. They do not define the reorganization in detail but point in the right direction. The targeted ideals do not have to correspond entirely with reality. Models can channel information about which aims are desirable, and which are feasible. Language and metaphors play an important role. Metaphors and the images they create can provoke emotions and associations.6 ‘America’ can be understood as one such metaphor. It represents technical progress, rationalization and modernization: a successful economic model.