As a leading brand in domestic luxury car market, FAW-Volkswagen Audi has a brilliant history. Adoption of the four-ring logo by Audi in 1932 was the starting point of the long legendary road of brand gene inheritance. Audi, now a synonym for elegance, luxury, and leading technologies, has traditional automotive and engine manufacturing processes dating from the nineteenth century. For nearly a century, the constantly evolving Audi brand has created numerous legends, and some of its inventions have become absolute classic models in the history of automotive industry.
Audi is one of the oldest car manufacturers across Germany. In 1932, Audi began to use the four-ring logo, a symbol of an automotive union formed by merger of Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer. For long, Audi has been recognized as one of the most successful automotive brands around the world due to it technical strengths, quality standards, innovation capabilities, and classic models. Now let’s explore into the legendary history of Audi and learn more about this famous company.
August Horch delivered the first car to bear the new Audi brand name in May 1910. The new model gained immediate respect by scoring an unrivalled series of successes in the International Austrian Alpine Rally, at that time the toughest long-distance competition of its kind. Audi won this event in three successive years: 1912, 1913 and 1914. After the First World War the Zwickau-based company attracted attention in 1921 by being the first German car manufacturer to adopt left-hand drive and opt for a central, floor-mounted gear lever. This gave the driver better control over the car in traffic, so that all other German automobile manufacturers followed suit in subsequent years.
The first Audi with a six-cylinder engine was introduced in 1923. It was equipped with an oil filter and air cleaner, not a widespread device at that time. An air cleaner did not become a standard feature until some years later. The Audi six-cylinder model was also among the first cars in Germany to have hydraulic brakes at all four wheels; the design was developed in-house at the Audi development department in Zwickau. In 1927, Chief Designer Heinrich Schuh introduced Audi’s first eight-cylinder car, the “Imperator”: an imposing vehicle, but one that reached the market too late, since sales of large luxury cars were falling. The company found itself in financial difficulties and was purchased in 1928 by Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen, the owner of the DKW business enterprise.
In 1885, the two mechanics Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke opened a repair business for bicycles in Chemnitz. Shortly afterwards they began to make bicycles of their own, since demand at that time was very high. These were sold under the brand name Wanderer, and in 1896 the company itself began to trade as Wanderer Fahrradwerke AG. Wanderer built its first motorcycle in 1902. The idea of branching out into motor car production was finally put into practice in 1913. A small two-seater that people nicknamed "Puppchen" (loosely translated as “Baby Doll”) heralded in Wanderer's tradition of motor car production that was to last several decades.
Established originally in 1902 as Rasmussen & Ernst in Chemnitz, the company moved to Zschopau, in Germany’s Erzgebirge mountains, in 1907. It first manufactured and sold waste steam oil traps and other components for steam raising plant, and later added centrifuges of all kinds and painting equipment to its product range. It also supplied car parts such as mudwings and vehicle lighting. The company's founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen began to experiment with a steam-driven motor vehicle in 1916, registering "DKW" as a trademark. By 1919 the company’s name had been changed to Zschopauer Motorenwerke and it was manufacturing small two-stroke engines. The first small DKW motor car appeared on the market in 1928.
The NSU company was founded in 1873 by two mechanics from the Swabian region of Germany in the town of Riedlingen an der Donau. Seven years later it moved to Neckarsulm. In the first 20 years of its existence, it manufactured knitting machines. In 1886 the proprietors of the knitting machine factory opened a department devoted to building bicycles. From then on, two-wheeled road vehicles were to govern the company’s fortunes. Motorcycle production started in 1901, and the company’s first cars appeared five years later. Car production ceased in 1929, however, when the company decided to concentrate fully on its bicycles and motorcycles. It was almost three decades later, in 1958, when car production recommenced in Neckarsulm. On March 10, 1969 Auto Union GmbH, Ingolstadt joined forces with NSU Motorenwerke AG, Neckarsulm. The new company, known as Audi NSU Auto Union AG, was established retrospectively from January 1 onwards and had its head offices in Neckarsulm.
Audi positions itself as the sportiest supplier in the premium sector, and for this it has the perfect basis: Motorsport. Sportiness, pioneering technology and an evocative design lay the foundations for Audi brand’s success. The genes for this stem from racing. Audi Sport has stood behind the successful motor racing involvement of AUDI AG for 40 years. Nowadays, the Ingolstadt manufacturer markets its most sporty Audi models and accessories under the label Audi Sport. The first motor racing activities of the Audi brand began in the late 1970s under the tagline Audi Motorsport. With its entry into the World Rally Championship in 1980, the brand changed the name of its motorsport department to Audi Sport. Even then, works-run motorsport at Audi was part of the Technical Development (TE) department. This close connection guarantees the technology transfer between motorsport and series production. Traditionally, this is a decisive reason for Audi taking on top-level motorsport.
The motorsport origins of all the companies symbolized by the “Four Rings”, as well as NSU, go back to before the First World War. The one figure who stands out above the rest is August Horch. The engineer and founder of the Horch and Audi companies initially concentrated on long-distance rallies too promote his company. For prospective customers, these grueling events boosted the image of the brand enormously.
Motor racing appealed to the masses between the wars, particularly the wide range of club competitions and top-class events. It was obvious to everyone that sporting success had a major impact on sales. Following the 1932 merger of Saxony's four automotive companies, Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, it was important to promote the new Auto Union name. In this regard, motor racing offered the ideal platform to endorse the message. Ambition allowed no other choice than to compete at the very highest level: Grand Prix racing.
NSU was already making a name for itself in motorsport in the early twentieth century. By 1967, the brand had scored notable race victories at motorcycle and automobile races.
DKW, founded by Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen in Zschopau, contested races successfully with two-stroke motorcycles from 1921. Victory in the ADAC Reich long-distance run in October 1921 was the start of a magnificent series of motorsport successes. DKW touring cars began their motorsport career in 1929 with modest 600cc twin-cylinder engines developing no more than 15 hp.
The rebirth of the Audi brand in 1965 and the merger of Auto Union and NSU in 1969 added new significance to the topic of motorsport. Excluding the era prior to the Second World War, including the legendary Grand Prix cars of Auto Union in the 1930s, Audi’s motor racing heritage began with the quattro.
With the entry of Le Mans prototypes in 1999 and into the DTM in 2004, Audi began an exceptionally successful era with the most superior racing cars of their time. The regulations for open sports cars resulted in a technological boom, which also flowed into the brand’s series production. The DTM had evolved from a category for production-based race cars in the 1980s and 1990s to prototypes that only resemble road vehicles in their silhouettes. Pure racing technology combined with first-rate safety has guaranteed top-class touring car sport ever since. Moreover, in 2009, Audi entered a whole new domain with customer racing.
With the R8 LMS, Audi developed its first racing car specifically for customer sport. The GT3 sports car, more than 50 percent of which is standard parts, proved itself immediately. Audi has delivered more than 200 racing cars to customers. In March 2015, Audi presented the second generation of the successful GT3 sports car, which won the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring only two months later. 2015 also heralded the Audi Sport TT Cup that saw youngsters proving themselves in action-packed races over three seasons. Jan Kisiel, Joonas Lappalainen and Philip Ellis were crowned champions from 2015 till 2017 respectively. Two years, two new models: In September 2016, the launch of the Audi RS 3 LMS marked the brand’s venture into the world of TCR competition in touring car racing. Whilst the RS 3 LMS was enjoying a successful first season in the hands of customers during 2017, the Audi R8 LMS GT4, for the ever-growing GT4 category, was unveiled in April of the same year.
This completed Audi Sport customer racing’s current portfolio of the three internationally popular categories GT3, GT4 and TCR.
In 2017, Audi Sport repositioned itself. The company not only demonstrated ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ in the DTM, but also in two other disciplines, which joined the brand’s portfolio for the first time. Since the 2016/17 season, Audi became more involved in Formula E, the world’s first racing series for pure-electric-powered racing cars. With success: Audi Fahrer Lucas di Grassi won the drivers’ title at the season finale in Montreal. “Electro-mobility is one of the key issues in our industry,” says Peter Mertens, Member of the Board of AUDI AG, Technical Development. “We aim to become a leading premium provider in this field. In 2025, every fourth Audi will be an electric car.” The commitment of Audi in the 2017/18 season was extended to a factory motorsport programme, with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler participating in the twelve Formula E races with the Audi e-tron FE04, driven by Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt, who won the teams’ championship for Audi.
But the future has already begun
The new Audi e-tron FE05 will take part in the fifth Formula E season from the end of 2018