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Audi's history is one of the most many-faceted stories ever told in the history of the automobile in general. The Audi emblem with its four rings identifies one of Germany's oldest-established automobile manufacturers. It symbolises the amalgamation in 1932 of four previously independent motor-vehicle manufacturers: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. These companies form the roots of what is today AUDI AG.
The Audi badge – the 'Four Rings' – is the emblem of one of the oldest car manufacturers in Germany.
On 14 November 1899, August Horch (1868 - 1951) established the company A. Horch & Cie. in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne. Here he developed his first car, which was completed at the beginning of 1901. The company moved to Reichenbach in Saxony in March 1902 and converted to a share-issuing company two years later, which involved a further change in location. On 10 May 1904, A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen-Werke AG was established in Zwickau.
The first Horch car took to the road in 1901: it had a horizontal engine which developed about 4-5 hp. An additional small piston in the engine was designed to absorb the vibrations of the crankshaft. August Horch referred to this as his 'impact-free' engine. Another new feature was the alloy crankcase, a pioneering achievement in car manufacturing.
Following the establishment of the company in Cologne in 1899 and its relocation to Reichenbach in Saxony in 1902, the success of Horch cars made it clear that the factory had to be expanded. On the advice of his business associates, August Horch decided to establish a share-issuing company. New premises were found in Zwickau. Production started in 1904, the beginning of a long tradition of car manufacture in Zwickau.
1906 saw the launch of the 'Sulmobil', a three-wheeled vehicle with a 3.5 hp motorcycle engine. However, the 'Sulmobil' was not a success. As a result, the first 'Original Neckarsulm Motor Car', with a 1308 cc four-cylinder engine and 10 hp, went into production the same year.
In 1904 Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen set up on his own as a manufacturer of boiler fittings. In 1906 he purchased a textile mill in Zschopau, Saxony. Production started there in 1907. During the First World War Rasmussen worked on a steam-driven vehicle ('Dampfkraftwagen'), from which the three letters DKW were derived.
In 1909 August Horch got into a dispute with the supervisory board of A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen-Werke AG. Horch left the company he had set up. Shortly after, on 16 July 1909, he established a second company, Horch Automobil-Werke GmbH, in the same city. Horch lost the legal dispute over the company name. However, a solution to the problem was found: the Latin translation of his name (the German word for 'hark!'). The new company name, Audiwerke GmbH, became effective on 25 April 1910.
The first Wanderer car with a 5/12 hp four-cylinder engine was test driven in 1912. It went into series production in 1913. This small Wanderer car had not been on the market very long when it became a stage star in the operetta 'Puppchen' (which can be translated loosely as 'darling') by Jean Gilbert. The title song was rather catchy: 'Darling, you are the apple of my eye, darling, I think the world of you.' From then on the little Wanderer was known simply by the name 'Puppchen'.
The International Austrian Alpine Run was one of the most famous races of its time. August Horch took part in an Audi for the first time in 1911 and won first prize. This encouraged him to enter an Audi team in the challenge trophy in the years 1912 to 1914. Audi won the team prize in each of these three years. The Alpine Challenge Trophy was presented to the Audi drivers on 27 June 1914.
1921 Audi introduces left-hand drive
Right-hand drive originated from the age of the horse and carriage, when the coachman sat on the right-hand side. In September 1921 Audi became the first German car manufacturer to present a production car with left-hand drive, the Audi Type K. By giving the driver a better view of oncoming traffic, consequently making overtaking manoeuvres in particular safer, left-hand drive became established by the end of the 1920s.
1922 The Start of DKW motorcycle manufacture
In 1922 the company Zschopauer Motorenwerke started manufacturing its own motorcycles. The sporting successes of the lightweight motorcycles with 2.25 hp two-stroke engine were remarkable. Victories in the Berlin Avus race in 1922 and the triple victory by the DKW team in the ADAC Reichsfahrt the same year made people sit up and take notice. The first DKW motorcycle was consequently called the 'Reichsfahrt'. Over the next six years Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW established itself as the world's biggest motorcycle manufacturer.
1926 Horch - the first German eight-cylinder
In 1926 Horchwerke AG of Zwickau presented the Horch 303 Berlin. This was the first German eight-cylinder car to go into volume production. The engine designed by Paul Daimler had double overhead camshafts driven by a vertical shaft. With a displacement of 3132 cc, the engine initially developed an output of 60 horsepower.
1928 Start of DKW car production
Rasmussen finally had access to a powerful engine for the DKW car (600 cc, 15 hp) in the form of the two-cylinder motorcycle unit (1927). The vehicle, which had a load-bearing body covered in imitation leather, had rear-wheel drive. It was produced in the Spandau district of Berlin from 1928.
1931 The first volume-built car with front-wheel drive
In August 1928 J. S. Rasmussen acquired the majority of shares in Audiwerke AG. He had the DKW small car with front-wheel drive produced in large numbers at this company in Zwickau from 1931. This car also had a wooden body covered in imitation leather and the typical DKW two-stroke engine. This design formed the basis for one of the most successful German small cars of the 1930s, over 250,000 of which left the Zwickau plant up to 1942.
1932 Auto Union AG is established
On 29th June 1932, the four Saxon motor-vehicle brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer joined forces to create Auto Union AG, which had its head office in Chemnitz. The new company group was consequently able to serve all market segments, from light motorcycles to luxury saloon cars.
The first Audi with front-wheel drive
At the 1933 Berlin Motor Show, Auto Union AG presented the new Audi, its first standard-size passenger car with front-wheel drive. The company used a kind of modular design principle for the first time and the Wanderer six-cylinder engine.
1934 The Auto Union grand prix racing cars
The new Auto Union received its greatest popularity boost with the success of a racing car design that was based on plans by Ferdinand Porsche. The sixteen-cylinder engine was installed behind the driver which had a very beneficial effect on the vehicle's aerodynamics.
1936 A new head office in Chemnitz
In 1936 the group management of Auto Union, which had previously directed the company from Zschopau, moved into its new main office building in Chemnitz. In the same year, central facilities for design, development and testing were set up in Chemnitz.
1937 Speed records in the Streamliner racing
The Auto Union racing cars were high-tech products in their time. They stood for supreme achievements in motor-vehicle construction that concentrated above all on high-performance engines, aerodynamic design and the systematic use of lightweight construction. The Auto Union car with streamlined fairing and an output of 545 horsepower was the first to exceed a speed of 400 km/h on a normal road.
The First crash and rollover tests
From 1938 Auto Union AG carried out systematic rollover and crash tests, one of the first manufacturers in the motor-vehicle industry to do so. Various DKW models with sheet-metal, wooden and plastic bodyshells were tested in order to examine the various ways in which these bodies behave in a rollover.
1941 Armaments production
With the development and production of special vehicles for military purposes, Auto Union became an important supplier of vehicles to the armed forces in the mid-1930s. Following the outbreak of war, civilian production was interrupted in May 1940. After this, the company produced exclusively for military purposes.
1948 Dismantlement and expropriation
On the orders of the Soviet military administration in Germany, the Saxon plants of Auto Union were dismantled in 1945 as reparations. Following this, the company's entire assets were expropriated without compensation. On 17 August 1948 Auto Union AG of Chemnitz was deleted from the Commercial Register.
1949 A new start in Ingolstadt Auto Union GmbH
Loans from the Bavarian state government and Marshall Plan aid helped a new car manufacturing plant to be set up in Ingolstadt. Auto Union GmbH was established in Ingolstadt on 3 September 1949. Based on established DKW principles – front-wheel drive and two-stroke engine - production of a small but sturdy 125 cc motorcycle and a DKW delivery van started the same year.
1950 The first DKW passenger car after the war
In August 1950 Auto Union produced its first post-war passenger car. This was the DKW Meisterklasse F 89 P, and was available as a saloon and a four-seater Karmann convertible. Since the facilities in Ingolstadt were not adequate for the production of this model, Auto Union used the premises of the company Rhein-metall-Borsig AG in Düsseldorf. DKW vehicles were built there until the end of 1961.
1951 NSU motorcycle sets world record
As early as 1945, a modest number of motorcycles were built again at NSU in Neckarsulm. Within just a few years the plant developed to become one of the most important manufacturers in this sector. NSU motorcycles were state of the art. On 12 April 1951 the motorcycle racer Wilhelm Herz succeeded in setting a new world record on a section of the Munich-Ingolstadt autobahn by reaching a speed of 290 km/h on a supercharged 500 cc NSU racing motorcycle.
1953 DKW 'Sonderklasse' with three-cylinder
Auto Union launched a new three-cylinder model in time for the 1953 German Motor Show. This went by the name of '3=6 Sonderklasse'. It was developed before the war in Chemnitz and was supposed to go into volume production in 1940. The name 3=6 referred to the fact that a three-cylinder two-stroke engine had the power characteristic of a six-cylinder four-stroke engine thanks to twice the number of combustion cycles.
1955 NSU is the world's biggest cycle manufacturer
In 1955, NSU Werke AG in Neckarsulm proudly announced a total production volume of 342,583 two-wheeled vehicles (including 45,747 bicycles). This made NSU the world's leading manufacturer of two-wheelers. At the same time, motorcycle euphoria had reached its climax. As their wealth increased, customers became more and more demanding about their personal mode of transport. The car became the new people's dream in the economic miracle years.
1957 NSU returns to car manufacturing
Following an absence of almost thirty years, NSU returned to car manufacturing in 1957. The company deliberately opted for a small car, designed for average earners and motorcycle owners. The NSU Prinz was unveiled at the 1957 German Motor Show and, from this date on, started to offset the losses on the collapsing motorcycle market.
1958 Daimler-Benz takes over Auto Union GmbH
At the instigation of leading entrepreneur Friedrich Karl Flick, Daimler-Benz AG acquired the majority of and, subsequently, the remaining shares in Auto Union GmbH on 24 April 1958. From this date until the end of 1965, Auto Union was a fully owned subsidiary of the Stuttgart-based Daimler Group.
1959 The start of the new plant in Ingolstadt
With Auto Union having stopped all motorcycle production activities in autumn 1958, its new car plant in Ingolstadt went into operation in the summer of 1959. This was one of the most modern production facilities in Europe. In 1962 the Auto Union plant in Düsseldorf was sold to Daimler-Benz.
1963 The NSU Prinz is the sensation at the IAA
The open-top two-seater on the NSU stand at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show was a sensation. Known as the Wankel Spider, this small two-seater had a single-rotor rotary piston engine at the rear. NSU had been working together with Felix Wankel on a new engine concept since the beginning of the 1950s: instead of a reciprocating piston, a rotor compressed the fuel/air mixture (rotary piston engine).
1964 VW takes over Auto Union GmbH
Once again at the instigation of leading industrialist Friedrich Karl Flick, Volkswagenwerk AG acquired the majority of shares in Auto Union GmbH in December 1964. The Ingolstadt-based company became a fully owned VW subsidiary from the end of 1966.
1965 The name Auid is reborn
All work on the two-stroke engine came to an end when Auto Union became part of the Volkswagen Group. A four-cylinder four-stroke engine developed previously under Daimler-Benz - known as the 'medium-pressure' engine - was installed in the last DKW model F 102 and presented as an Audi in the summer of 1965.
1967 NSU presents the Ro 80
In September 1967, NSU presented a completely new model in the upper mid-size category, the NSU Ro 80. Its outstanding feature was a 115 bhp twin-rotor rotary piston engine. Its modern body was ahead of its time and featured styling elements that only became the norm in body design several years later. The NSU caused a major sensation, but was unable to help the Wankel principle make the breakthrough hoped for.
1968 The Audi 100 is launched
On 26 November 1968, Auto Union invited dealers and the press to attend the presentation of the newly designed Audi 100 at the Ingolstadt City Theatre. This model, developed by technical director Dr. Ludwig Kraus, took Audi into the competitive market segment of the upper mid-size class for the first time. The Audi 100 quickly became a bestseller and formed the basis for a new Audi model series that ensured the future independence of the Audi brand.
1969 Audi NSU Auto Union AG
In March 1969, NSU Motorenwerke AG, which had just been taken over by VW, and the Ingolstadt-based Auto Union GmbH merged to form Audi NSU Auto Union AG, which had its head office in Neckarsulm.
The Audi 80 is launched
In the summer of 1972, the chairman of technical engineering Dr. Ludwig Kraus presented the Audi 80, the continuation of the model policy started with the Audi 100. This car used a four-cylinder OHC engine which was later also adopted by the Volkswagen Group, ultimately becoming the engine with the highest production volume at VW. The Audi 80 was a smash hit. Over a million of this model were built and sold within six years.
1974 Audi 50 - the answer to the oil crisis
September 1974 saw the launch of the Audi 50, the smallest car in the Audi model range and Audi's answer to the energy crisis of the early 1970s. Since this was planned as a high-volume model from the outset, the small Audi was built at VW in Wolfsburg. Six months after the appearance of the Audi 50, this model was also launched on the market as the VW Polo.
1980 Audi quattro - a revolutionary drive concept
In March 1980, a four-wheel-drive sports coupé caused a genuine sensation on the Audi stand at the Geneva Motor Show. The Audi quattro was the first high-performance vehicle with four-wheel drive. This drive concept had previously only been used on trucks and off-road vehicles. The permanent four-wheel-drive system in the Audi quattro enjoyed worldwide success in motor sport and gradually found its way into the entire Audi model range.
1982 Audi 100 - the aerodynamics world champion
In autumn 1982, Audi NSU Auto Union AG presented the third-generation Audi 100 (known internally as C3). Thanks to lightweight construction throughout and, above all, the car's low drag coefficient of cD = 0.30, the new Audi 100 was synonymous with progressive design. In the words of the German publication Auto-Zeitung, 'in terms of aerodynamics, the new Audi 100 outclasses the rest of the automotive world.'
1985 Audi NSU Auto Union AG becomes AUDI AG
When production of the Ro 80 was discontinued in 1977, the use of the name NSU as a product designation also came to an end. With effect from 1 January 1985, Audi NSU Auto Union AG was renamed AUDI AG. At the same time the company moved its head office from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt. From this time on, products and the company had the same name.
1986 Fully galvanised: the third-generation Audi 80
In autumn 1986, AUDI AG presented the third generation of the Audi 80, known internally as the B3. As with the Audi 100/200 model range the year before, the Audi 80 was now also given a fully galvanised body with a ten year warranty against rust penetration. With a drag coefficient of 0.29, the Audi 80 displayed excellent aerodynamics.
1988 Audi V8: the move into the premium class
In 1988 AUDI AG ventured into the premium class for the first time with the launch of the Audi V8. This new model was fitted with a 184 kW (250 bhp) 3.6-litre eight-cylinder alloy engine. Technical details included permanent four-wheel drive, four valves per cylinder and a four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission.
1989 Audi turbodiesel with direct injection
After over 13 years in development, Audi engineers succeeded in cultivating diesel direct injection, which had previously only been used on trucks, for car diesel engines as well. In conjunction with a turbocharger, it was also possible to achieve an extremely low-loss combustion process which resulted in very economical fuel consumption. In the autumn of 1989, the Audi 100 was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show with a 2.5-litre five-cylinder TDI engine.
1991 Audi quattro Spyder and Audi Avus quattro
Audi presented two sensational sports car studies in the autumn of 1991: the Audi quattro Spyder at the Frankfurt Motor Show and the Audi Avus quattro at the Tokyo Motor Show. The consistent use of aluminium for the bodyshells of these two model studies made reference to the future use of lightweight construction in volume production at Audi.
1993 Cars shed weight: the AUDI Space Frame
For some years AUDI AG had been working together with the Aluminum Company of America on the development of a lightweight aluminium production car. The result was presented at the 1993 Frankfurt Motor Show: the aluminium study known as the Audi Space Frame. The body used new design principles: extruded aluminium sections connected together by diecast nodes form a frame structure into which aluminium panels are integrated, where they have a load-bearing function.
1994 New name, new material: the Audi A8
In March 1994, AUDI AG presented its new model in the premium segment, the Audi A8, at the Geneva Motor Show. This was the first production model with all-aluminium body. At the same time a new naming process was introduced for the Audi models. From then on the Audi 80 was known as the A4, the Audi 100 was called the A6. They were followed in 1996 by the Audi A3, the first representative of the compact class. Production of the Audi A2, the first volume-built aluminium car, commenced in June 2000.