Although Audi has its roots in the turn of the 20th century, it was years before Audi took shape as the company we recognise today.
August Horch, a pioneering German engineer, formed his first company in 1899. Disagreements soon led to a second car manufacturing company being set up. Horsch found that he could not name this company after himself due to a trademark dispute. During a meeting to establish their new name, a son of a business associate was studying Latin quietly in the corner. The story goes that after getting nowhere for hours, the son hesitantly blurted out the word “Audi!”
As Horch means “hark!” or “hear” in German, and “Audi” means “to hear” in Latin, the name seemed perfect.
And so a brand was born. Yet Audi had a bumpy ride ahead: here are some of the highlights.
Audi produced the Audi Type A and Type B in quick succession. They were in production for four years, but only around 500 were sold altogether.
Audi released the Audi Type K. This car was revolutionary as it was the first German car with a left-hand drive. This set a standard that spread like wildfire throughout the industry. Left-hand drive gave the driver a better view of oncoming traffic and made cars easier to manoeuvre.
Despite some early success, Audi knew it had to adapt if it was going to survive. Audi joined with Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form Auto Union AG. The four rings on Audi's badge represent the coalition of the four motoring companies whose production covered the entire motoring industry, from vans and motorcycles to luxury cars.
The first Auto Union car, the Horch 830 convertible, caused a stir at the 1933 Berlin Motor Show. This cutting-edge, high-performance racing car was based on Ferdinand Porsche's designs and could hit speeds of over 100kph. While the lightweight, aerodynamic chassis was impressive, the avant-garde engineering failed to catch on commercially.
Audi released the Audi 920, an ultra-modern, high-powered sports car that could hit 140kph. The bodywork was much smaller than other cars of that power, making it perfect for the track. The car was a huge success and Audi sold more than a year's production almost immediately
Due to economic pressures in the lead up to WWII, the Audi name faded out of existence for the next two decades.
As Audi's factory was in East Germany after the war, the Soviet Union dismantled it entirely and took all the company's assets without any compensation.
August Horch died at the age of 83 after spending his final years peacefully in Münchberg.
Auto Union was bought out by Volkswagen. The buyout included their factory and their new four-stroke engine. This put the new owners in the perfect position to resurrect the Audi name after it had been shelved for over 25 years.
Volkswagen chief Heinz Nordhoff had forbidden the Audi engineers from undertaking any new product development and was using Audi's factory to build Volkswagen parts. However, chief engineer Dr Ludwig Kraus, fearing that 70 years of the company name would disappear, produced the Audi 100 in secret. He presented it to Nordhoff who was so impressed he commissioned the car for production straight away, and the Audi 100 went on to save the Audi brand.
Determined to leave their legacy as technical innovators, Audi merged with NSU who had developed the first rotary piston engine – the Wankel. Audi also broke into the US market the same year.
Audi had flying start to the 70s with the Audi 80 that sold over a million in its six-year production life. In response to the energy crisis of the early 70s, Audi developed their smallest car yet, the Audi 50 hatchback. This eventually evolved into the Volkswagen Polo.
In 1980, Audi fired up the Quattro. This was the first high-performance vehicle with 4WD, something only seen before on trucks and off-roaders. Being ahead of the game, it was easy for the Quattro to become one of the most important rally cars of all time. The Quattro won four titles at the World Rally Championship during the 1980s and smashed the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in record breaking time three years running.
After almost 50 years of the Auto Union, the company shortened its name to Audi AG.
In 1986 and 1987 Audi released the Audi 89 and the Audi 90. These slick, elegant new cars were meant to help shake the Audi 80 series image of being “grandfather's cars”. Despite being successful for a while, construction problems led to the end of the Audi 80s.
In 1989, Audi engineers introduced their new TDI engine after 13 years of research. The refined diesel direct injection combined with a turbocharger made possible a superbly efficient combustion process that gave incredible fuel economy.
1990s and beyond
The 1994 Geneva Motor Show saw the Audi A8 with its fancy all-aluminium body. Meanwhile the A4 was a roaring success, particularly in the US.
The Audi A2, a futuristic super mini, performed relatively poorly due to its high price, but it was a huge technological success. With an aluminium frame, a super-efficient TDI three-cylinder engine and a wind-tunnel tested aerodynamic body, it helped regain Audi's past legacy of being technical innovators.
The Audi 410 TDI took an unshakable seven wins at the 2006 American Le Mans Series. Audi went on to win the Driver's Championship with a few races still left in the season, as well as both the Team and Manufacturer's Championships. This was the seventh consecutive time that Audi had won every title in the LM P1 Class.
Audi released the R8, their first mid-engine sports car – and immediately got a seat at the table with the big boys.
Throughout the last few decades, Audi has become incredibly popular in China. Their business-like modelling and efficiency has made them the brand of choice for Chinese government officials, who are responsible for 20% of all Audi's sales in China.
With huge influence on some of the biggest car markets in the world, Audi are going to be pushing technological boundaries for years to come.
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