AUDI AG is able to look back on an exciting and varied past – its tradition of car and engine manufacturing extends back into the 19th century. It all began with August Horch, one of Germany's pioneering personalities automobile engineers. After graduating from the Technical University in Mittweida, Saxony, Horch’s first job was with Carl Benz in Mannheim, initially in the Engine Manufacturing Department and later as Head of the Motor Vehicle Construction Department. He set up business on his own in 1899, establishing Horch & Cie. Motorwagen Werke in Cologne on November 14 of that year. Horch moved to Saxony in 1902, first to Reichenbach then in 1904 to Zwickau, where the company was transformed into a joint-stock corporation. Following differences of opinion with the Board of Management and Supervisory Board, August Horch left the company in 1909 and immediately established a second car company in Zwickau. Because his surname was already in use and was protected by trademark, he chose its Latin translation for the new company. So "horch!" – or "hark" – became "audi!". The idea of using the Latin imperative form came from the son of one of August Horch's business partners; the boy, well-versed in Latin, had overheard the discussion about the search for a new company name. In subsequent correspondence, August Horch even signed his letters with the words "Kind regards – Audi-Horch". Audi Automobilwerke GmbH itself became a joint-stock company in December 1914. The Audi brand established a tradition of sporting achievement from the very outset. Thanks to his victorious involvement in the Austrian Alpine Runs between 1911 and 1914, August Horch succeeded in making Audi internationally known within just a few years. The notably successful Audi Type C 14/35 hp even acquired the nickname "Alpine Conqueror". After the First World War August Horch withdrew from the company and moved to Berlin to work as an independent automotive expert.
The Audi four-ring emblem symbolises the merger in 1932 of four previously independent motor-vehicle manufacturers: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. In 1969 Auto Union GmbH amalgamated with NSU Motorenwerke AG. Here are brief details of the roots of today’s AUDI AG:
At the end of the 19th century, there were already a number of car manufacturers in Germany. One of them was August Horch & Cie., founded on November 14, 1899 in Cologne. August Horch was one of the pioneering figures in automobile engineering. Before setting up in business on his own, his professional experience had included three years in charge of automobile production at Carl Benz in Mannheim. In 1904, August Horch moved his business to Zwickau and transformed it into a joint-stock company. However, as early as 1909, August Horch left the company he had founded. From then on, his activities were linked with the name 'Audi'.
The company established by August Horch in Zwickau on July 16, 1909 could not take its founder's name for competition reasons. A new name was found for the company by translating Horch’s name, which in German means "hark!" or "listen!", into Latin. The second company established by August Horch therefore commenced trading as Audi Automobilwerke GmbH, Zwickau on April 25, 1910.
In 1885 two mechanics, Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke, opened a bicycle repair workshop in Chemnitz. Shortly afterwards they began to make bicycles of their own, since demand at that time was very high. These were marketed 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 car production was finally put into practice in 1913. A small two-seater by the name of "Puppchen" heralded in Wanderer's tradition of car production that was to last for several decades.
Originally founded in Chemnitz in 1902 as Rasmussen & Ernst, the company moved to Zschopau in the Erzgebirge region in 1907. It initially manufactured and sold exhaust-steam oil separators for steam power plants, vehicle mudguards and lights, vulcanisation equipment and centrifuges of all kinds. The company's founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen began to experiment with a steam-driven motor vehicle in 1916, registering DKW (short for Dampfkraftwagen – steam-driven vehicle) as a trademark. In 1919 the company, by now renamed Zschopauer Motorenwerke, switched to the manufacture of small two-stroke engines, which from 1922 onwards served as a springboard for its success in building motorcycles under the brand name DKW. The first small DKW motor car appeared on the market in 1928.
On 29 June 1932, Audiwerke, Horchwerke and Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW merged on the initiative of the State Bank of Saxony to form Auto Union AG. A purchase and leasing agreement was concluded at the same time with Wanderer for the takeover of its motor vehicle division. The new company's head offices were in Chemnitz. Following the merger, Auto Union AG was the second-largest motor vehicle manufacturer in Germany. The company emblem consisted of four interlocking rings, intended to symbolise the inseparable unity of the four founder companies. The Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer brand names were retained. Each of the four brands was assigned a specific market segment within the group: DKW – motorcycles and small cars; Wanderer – midsize cars; Audi – cars in the deluxe midsize segment; and Horch – luxury cars at the top end of the market.
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, Auto Union AG found itself in the Soviet occupied zone of Germany and was expropriated by the occupying Soviet forces. A number of the company's senior managers departed for Bavaria, where a new company under the name of Auto Union GmbH was founded in 1949 in Ingolstadt, upholding the motor-vehicle tradition of the four rings. The first vehicles bearing the four-ring emblem to leave the company's production lines after its new start were well-proven DKW products with two-stroke engines – motorcycles, cars and delivery vans.
A new Auto Union model appeared on the market in 1965, the company's first post-war vehicle with a four-stroke engine. Along with this dawning of a new era, it was felt that the time was ripe for a new product designation. The traditional Audi name was therefore revived. A short time later, the last two-stroke DKWs left the production line in Ingolstadt. From then on, the new models with four-stroke engines were produced under the brand name "Audi". A new era had begun in another sense, too: the Volkswagen Group acquired the Ingolstadt-based company in 1965.
One of the keys to the success of the still-young Auto Union was the allocation of a specific market segment to each of the individual brands in order to create a coordinated model range. For the Audi brand, this prompted development of the Audi ‘Front’ Type UW, a midsize car that enabled the new group to make use of synergy benefits for the first time. The principal feature of the new Audi was its front-wheel drive. DKW’s experience in the domain of front-wheel drive was simply adopted for a midsize vehicle. Its power unit was the Wanderer 2-litre, six-cylinder engine developed by Ferdinand Porsche; the body of the saloon version came from Horch’s body shop, and the convertibles were built by the highly reputable Dresden coachbuilder Gläser. The Audi ‘Front’ Type UW – the designation meant a Type U with Wanderer engine – finally went into production in the spring of 1933. A year later, Audi’s production operations were transferred to the nearby Horch plant in order to free capacity at the Audi plant for the rising output of DKW front-wheel-drive models. Technically revised and equipped with an uprated 2.3-litre Wanderer engine, the new Audi Front 225 was unveiled at the 1935 Berlin Motor Show and remained on the market until 1938. The successor model, the Audi 920, also exhibited strong evidence of a modular construction system having been used. Both the chassis, now with conventional rear-wheel drive again, and the modern body styling were largely the same as the Wanderer W 23 six-cylinder model. This elegant car had an inline six-cylinder OHC engine developed by Horch, while the rear suspension adopted the DKW floating-axle principle. The first examples of the new car left the production line at Auto Union’s Horch factory in December 1938. The Audi 920 rapidly became a market success and a hit with customers. This success was brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of the Second World War. Production of civilian vehicles was cut back to a minimum and the group’s operations switched to the production of armaments. For this, forced labourers, concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war were also recruited. The last Audi of this era was built in April 1940. There would not be another Audi passenger car for a quarter of a century.
On 29 June 1932, when the four companies – Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer – merged to form the Auto Union, Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW was chosen to be the parent company for legal reasons. Between 1932 and 1936, the administrative headquarters of Auto Union AG were located in the DKW head office building in Zschopau, before moving to Chemnitz in 1936. If Rasmussen and his Zschopauer Motorenwerke were important for the establishment of Auto Union AG, DKW products were no less important for the economic development of the new company. DKW motorcycles and cars with their typical two-stroke engines served the lower end of the market (the price category between 345 and 3,400 Reichsmarks) and represented the high-volume Auto Union model range. DKW motorcycles were produced in such large quantities that in 1937 Auto Union with its DKW plant in Zschopau became the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, building a total of 55,470 motorcycles. The Zschopau-based manufacturer had already held this title before, in 1928. A further important production area consisted of DKW stationary engines, of which there was an incredibly wide programme suitable for use in a variety of areas (e.g. agriculture, road construction, the fire brigade, the army and public authorities). DKW products were acknowledged to be simple, practical, reliable, economical, durable and to perform well. In technological terms, the Zschopau-based company proved to be an innovative pioneer in the areas of two-stroke engines, front-wheel drives and body manufacturing (wooden and plastic bodies). This pioneering spirit also invigorated the innovative potential of Auto Union AG, which, from 1936 onwards, set up a Central Engineering Design Office (ZKB) in Chemnitz and a Central Testing Unit (ZVA) for all Auto Union brands. DKW car production as an inter-company alliance was a masterly logistical achievement: the engines were manufactured at the main factory in Zschopau and the bodies produced at the DKW body manufacturing plant in the Spandau district of Berlin; the four-cylinder models with rear-wheel drive were also built there. Assembly of the front-wheel-drive models took place at the Audi plant in Zwickau. During the late 1930s, the DKW brand provided Auto Union with the necessary potential to counter the expected competition from the ‘KdF-Wagen’ (the People’s Car or Volkswagen) by launching an equivalent model, the DKW F 9. This made Auto Union the only car manufacturer in Germany to have an early response ready to challenge this Volkswagen model. After the war, the hugely popular, proven DKW products enabled the newly founded Auto Union GmbH in West Germany to gain a foothold and also drove forward renewed automobile-industry activity in Saxony in East Germany.
The Horch Werke in Zwickau had never departed from the principle laid down by company founder August Horch, namely only to build good, powerful cars. Horch’s vehicles were among the leading products of the German automobile industry from the very start. In the 1920s, extensive rationalisation measures were introduced in order to make assembly-line production more cost-effective. The launch of Germany’s first eight-cylinder car in the autumn of 1926 led to Horch products being numbered among the leading products of the German automobile industry. Whereas the Horch company had previously built only cars with four-cylinder engines, its engineers now concentrated entirely on large, distinguished eight-cylinder models. The Horch 8 became synonymous with elegance, luxury and leading-edge technology in German automobile construction. The Horch company also began to set the standard internationally. In 1932, Horch’s market share in the engine-size class above 4.2 litres in Germany was more than 44 percent. When Auto Union AG was formed it was self-evident that the Horch brand should occupy the luxury market segment within the new group of companies. In addition, the Horch Body Design Office acted as the central design studio for all the group’s brands and laid down stylistic principles for the various models. The modern production technologies in use at the Horch factory became a benchmark for the group’s other factories. From 1933 onwards, the Horch model programme was divided into large cars with straight-eight engines and smaller ones with V8 engines. When the sheer volume of luxury equipment available for a Horch made it clear that more powerful engines would be needed, the 5-litre straight-eight was given a camshaft with steeper lobes and its compression ratio increased in order to boost its power output to 120 hp. Similar measures applied to the smaller V8 engine, the power output of which went up from the original 62 hp to 82 hp for the 1937 model, culminating in a figure of 92 hp in 1939. Extensive model development plans were mooted for Horch cars, ranging from new engines to streamlined bodies. Unfortunately the war years intervened and only a few exhibition cars and prototypes for testing were ever built. From 1927 until peace-time production ended in 1940, about 42,000 Horch eight-cylinder cars were built. If vehicles supplied to the military authorities until the final cessation of production in 1942 are included, more than 70,000 eight-cylinder vehicles left the Zwickau factory during that period – a figure well above anything achieved by Horch’s German competitors.
Wanderer Werke AG in Chemnitz had a diverse production programme at a very early stage: bicycles (from 1885), motorcycles (from 1902), office machines (from 1904), machine tools (from 1898) and cars (from 1913). When Auto Union AG was formed in 1932, Zschopauer Motorenwerke AG as the parent company acquired the share capital of Audiwerke AG and Horchwerke AG directly. The fourth ‘ring’, however, the automobile division of Wanderer Werke, was acquired by purchase and a leasing agreement. Wanderer Werke, with its divisions for bicycles and small motorcycles, and office machinery and machine tools, remained a separate, independent company. Within Auto Union AG the Wanderer car brand was allocated the mid-size segment (prices between 3,875 and 8,250 Reichsmarks). Competition in this segment was very strong and came mainly from Opel and Daimler-Benz, and also BMW. In terms of production volume and turnover, the Wanderer brand was second among the Auto Union companies, behind DKW. In 1937, 54,765 cars built by Auto Union AG were registered in Germany, a 25.3 percent share of the total (216,538). 19.5 percent of all registrations were for models built by DKW (42,143); Wanderer cars secured a 4.7 percent share (10,177); Audi and Horch were both below one percent. Within the overall Auto Union programme, Wanderer models increasingly acquired the image of rather dull mid-size cars. In 1936, however, the Wanderer W 51 and the Wanderer W 25 K sports car with supercharged engine were introduced, featuring modern Auto Union body styling for the first time. This was taken up and implemented by the other Auto Union brands in the years that followed. The aim was to systematically reposition the Wanderer brand and give it a sporty, progressive image. This development came to an abrupt end when the Second World War broke out in 1939. The last Wanderer cars left the factory in 1942, and after the war no attempts were made to revive the Wanderer brand in the automotive industry.
In 1945, after the war had ended, Auto Union AG's premises were located in the zone occupied by the Soviet forces, who expropriated its assets, dismantled the plant and had the company removed from the Commercial Register of the city of Chemnitz in 1948. Leading members of Auto Union's senior management had already moved to Bavaria at the end of the war, and in late 1945 a depot for Auto Union parts was set up in the historic garrison city of Ingolstadt. These tentative efforts to relaunch operations led to the founding of a new company named Auto Union GmbH on September 3, 1949, with the purpose of upholding the automotive tradition of the four rings. The first products with the four-ring badge built in this era were well-established DKW models with two-stroke engines. These basic but robust and reliable cars and motorcycles were ideal for the austere circumstances of the post-war years. The DKW F 89 L rapid delivery van and the DKW RT 125 W motorcycle were unveiled at the Hanover Export Fair in early 1949. These models established automotive manufacturing in Ingolstadt. In parallel, the company was working on a DKW car, which went into production at a new plant in Düsseldorf in the summer of 1950. From 1954 onwards, Friedrich Flick gradually acquired a large stake in the equity of Auto Union GmbH. His strategy was to find a strong partner for Auto Union in the medium term. In April 1958, Daimler-Benz AG acquired 88 percent of Auto Union's shares and in the following year the Ingolstadt company became a fully-owned subsidiary.
Retention of the two-stroke engine led to DKW’s sales figures for its cars dropping continuously in the early 1960s. Faced with this situation, parent company Daimler-Benz seconded the engineer Ludwig Kraus to Ingolstadt as Technical Director and instructed him to adapt a four-cylinder four-stroke engine which was part of the “dowry” for installation in the new DKW F 102 model. This new car from Auto Union was launched in 1965 and was the company’s first post-war design with a four-stroke engine. It heralded the start of a new era, which in turn called for a new product designation: this was the rebirth of Audi, a name rich in tradition. The Auto Union ”Audi”, which was initially known only by this type designation, was widely advertised and became a resounding success. This model line remained in production until 1972, undergoing a few technical and visual modifications along the way. But a new era had dawned in Ingolstadt in another sense, too, because the company had become part of the Volkswagen Group in 1965. The new bosses refused to allow Ingolstadt's engineers to develop models of their own. Their plan was to use Ingolstadt's production capacity for building the VW Beetle. But they had reckoned without Ludwig Kraus, at that time Head of Development and a member of the Board of Management, who went ahead in secret with the development of a new Audi model. The resulting car, which the group management in Wolfsburg ultimately sanctioned, was first presented to the international press in Ingolstadt in November 1968. Its name: Audi 100. The Audi 100 was the first vehicle to have shaken off all genetic links with the former DKW models. The huge success of this new Audi proved its creators right. The Audi 100 also helped Auto Union to preserve its separate identity.
In 1969 Volkswagenwerk AG engineered the merger of Auto Union GmbH and the Neckarsulm-based NSU Motorenwerke AG. The new company was known as Audi NSU Auto Union AG and had its registered offices in Neckarsulm.
NSU was founded in 1873 in Riedlingen on the Danube, by two Swabian mechanics, Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll. Seven years later a move to Neckarsulm took place. For its first twenty years, it manufactured knitting machines, but in 1886 the company, whose original name was Neckarsulmer Strickmaschinenfabrik (Neckarsulm Knitting Machine Factory), diversified into bicycles. From then on, two-wheeled vehicles were to have a decisive influence on the company's fortunes. Motorcycle production commenced at NSU in 1901, and five years later the first motor car was built. Motor car production was abandoned, however, in 1929, to allow the company to concentrate on building two-wheelers. It was almost thirty years later, in 1958, before car production recommenced in Neckarsulm. On March 10, 1969, Auto Union GmbH of Ingolstadt merged with NSU Motorenwerke AG of Neckarsulm. The new company bearing the name Audi NSU Auto Union AG, with its head offices in Neckarsulm, was established retrospectively as of January 1, 1969.
The last NSU left the production line in March 1977, and from then on the company manufactured Audi cars exclusively. Streamlining the company's rather cumbersome name of Audi NSU Auto Union AG was discussed, and with the objective of giving the company and its products the same name, Audi NSU Auto Union AG was renamed AUDI AG in 1985. At the same time the registered offices were transferred from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt.
The extensive range of Audi and NSU models covering a wide variety of engines and drive concepts prompted the coining of a new advertising slogan in 1971, and one that has effectively been the company's mission statement ever since: "Vorsprung durch Technik". In the spirit of these new guiding principles, the first-generation Audi 80 (B1 series) was launched in 1972, with a glittering array of new technical features such as a new series of OHC engines and self-stabilising steering roll radius. By the time production of this first generation ceased, more than a million cars had been built. 1974 saw the appointment of Ferdinand Piëch as Ludwig Kraus' successor, initially as Head of Technical Development. During the "Piëch era" Audi was transformed into a highly innovative car manufacturer. This period also witnessed the gradual raising of the Audi brand's positioning. The five-cylinder engine (1976), turbocharging (1979) and quattro four-wheel drive (1980) are eloquent testimonies to the success of this policy. The company underwent a change of name from Audi NSU Auto Union AG to AUDI AG in 1985, so that since then the company and the products it builds have shared the same name. The company's headquarters were moved back to Ingolstadt. Audi's subsequent progress has been marked by a sensational range of technical innovations: fully galvanised bodies, the most aerodynamic volume-built saloon of its time, the extensive use of turbocharged petrol engines, the development of economical direct-injection diesel engines, the aluminium body, the first hybrid vehicles, direct petrol injection and the manufacture of luxury-class cars with eight and twelve-cylinder engines are just some of the many mileposts that document the emergence of the Audi brand as a manufacturer of premium cars.