THIS YEAR marks the 20th anniversary of Volkswagen's commitment to China - or more accurately, Carl Hahn's commitment to China.
China is the hottest thing in the auto industry today. If anything, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis is boosting demand for private cars in the country rather than slowing it down.
Central Europe is taking off, too - both as a market and as an industrial base.
In each location Volkswagen group is No. 1. Dominance in the two hot spots is particularly comforting to VW at a time when Germany is in distress and the strong euro eats into its North American profits.
China is the fastest growing market in the world and VW is getting a big payoff from early perseverance. It launched production in Shanghai 18 years ago. VW also benefits from a commitment in central Europe, namely the acquisition of Skoda in 1991.
Who took these risky measures - and took heat in the process? Hahn, the forgotten man in all the enthusiasm about the sudden re-emergence of emerging markets.
As the company's chairman from 1982 to 1993 Hahn thrust Volkswagen into Spain, China, Czechoslovakia, Mexico and South America. His strategy was discredited when the 1991 recession came along and Ferdinand Piëch took over as VW boss. But look at how neatly Volkswagen is positioned around the globe today.
VW has long been the market leader in western Europe. But when central European figures are included the group's combined European market share - and its lead over second-place PSA/Peugeot-Citroen - grow even larger.
VW has nine assembly and powertrain plants in the region and almost 30 percent of the market in nine central Europe countries.
But China is where things are really happening, although VW-Audi's first-place share is going down. VW group controlled 46 percent of sales in China in 2001 and 40 percent in 2002, despite the fact that its unit sales soared last year.
The group expects another 25 percent sales increase this year and another big drop in share. That can't be helped. The China market is expanding too fast. Still, Volkswagen needs new production capacity to maintain the kind of dominance that Carl Hahn made possible when he struck his deal with First Automotive Works 20 years ago.
Hahn, now 77, must feel a great sense of satisfaction as he sits in his office on the top floor of the Wolfsburg art museum.
Wherever Hahn went during his long career he sowed seeds of success for Volkswagen. He helped launch the Beetle phenomenon in the USA. Hahn went to America in 1959 to head VW's local operations and pushed sales to almost 500,000 annually.
His reputation took a beating when China and other emerging markets collapsed in the late 1990s. But Hahn remained a true believer. He had more than a business interest in developing countries. He understood that investing in those regions was right and proper, not only for his company but for the local populations.
After retiring, Hahn served as president of the German-Czech Chamber of Commerce and was a senior advisor to the Chinese government. He also served as advisor to the prime minister of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
It is hard to be a visionary and a forward thinker in an industry that lives so much in the present. But Hahn truly is one.