Senior Chief Who Popularised Volkswagen Beetle in Kenya

Image of parked Volkswagen Beetles in September 2015.
Citizen Digital

Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars in the history of personal cars, and its success in the Kenyan market took a different course by using a Senior chief as a brand ambassador.

Senior Chief Njiiri wa Karanja became the face of Volkswagen after being featured in an advertisement in 1966, a move to woo many Kenyans to purchase the vehicle in the early years after independence. 

He hailed from Kinyona in Murang’a County, who at his time was a wealthy man in Central region and enjoyed the benefits that came from the British colonial government.

Chief Njiiri wa Karanja
Un-dated Image of Chief Njiiri wa Karanja.
The Standard

At one point, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, made a courtesy call to his residence in 1955 after his role in brawling Mau Mau warriors reached Buckingham Palace.

In the advertisement, Volkswagen labelled him, ‘With 34 wives, even a King has to cut a few corners’  before giving a  brief story about Chief Njiiri.

“Big, fast, expensive cars have always been a passion with royalty, but a family man like King Njiiri of Kenya probably doesn’t have very much passion to spare or very much money.Which makes him the kind of a king  that a Volkswagen is really fit for,” part of the advertisement read.

According to the Volkswagen advertisement, the beetle was retailing in the ’60s was at  Ksh181,765( 1,639 USD), and was cheaper to maintain.

Volkswagen then described Chief Njiiri’s ride experience with the car to lure individuals on how lucrative the vehicle was, especially the old ones deemed to cost a good deal.

“So even though the old ones cost a good deal, they’re still a good deal. Especially, if you happen to get one that was owned by an elderly king who only used it once to go to court,” the company.

Chief Njiiri lived to 100 years of age when he rested in 1974, before witnessing the company’s exit the market that once used him to popularise the Volkswagen beetle model.

He immensely enjoyed the love from the British government as he was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE). 

However, the company dominated the market with continued manufacturing of the beetle from 1960s to1977, when it exited before making a comeback in December 2016.

A 1970 Volkswagen Beetle on display at a vintage cars show in Nairobi, Kenya.
A 1970 Volkswagen Beetle on display at a vintage cars show in Nairobi, Kenya.
The EastAfrican