Happy anniversary, Audi!
Modern German luxury cars are spectacles of technology and performance, and Audi is at the front of that segment. Their vehicles showcase head-turning features and design everywhere they roll. Audis are in demand all over the world today, a testament to their style, speed, and status.
But for a long time, Audi couldn’t contend against upper-echelon German manufacturers. Over the years they took risks to stand out, developed distinguishing features, and created unforgettable cars to elevate themselves to their current leading position. Along the way they’ve battled — and succeeded — in motorsport. Understanding Audi’s history is to further appreciate their vehicles today.
In 1899, August Horch, an engineer who’d worked for Karl Benz, founded his own eponymous car manufacturing business. Over the next decade Horch became successful, but in 1909 Horch left the company he’d founded over management disagreements. He quickly set up a new shop to stay in the game, but trademark issues prevented him from using his own name for this venture.
The Audi name came from an unlikely source. Horch visited the home of a colleague to discuss a title for the new business. The colleague’s son, a Latin language student, sat nearby listening. Suddenly he had an idea, and asked: “”Father… Audiatur et altera pars — wouldn’t it be a good idea to call it audi instead of horch?” In German, horch means “hark” or “listen,” which translates to audi in Latin. Horch the man loved the idea, and registered Audi Automobilwerke GmbH in April 1910.
In 1932 the Horch and Audi brands combined with automakers DKW and Wanderer, forming the Auto Union to survive the Great Depression. Under Auto Union Audi built high-end cars, which sold poorly during the economic downturn. As such the name was suspended, and no Audi-badged cars would be produced for the next 25 years.
World War II hit German manufacturing hard, and Auto Union was not spared. After the war, company management regrouped in Ingolstadt, the site of Audi’s modern headquarters. Auto Union and its brands were acquired by Daimler-Benz in 1959, then by Volkswagen in 1964. Volkswagen promptly resurfaced the Audi name, badging a new sedan simply as the “Audi.”
Meanwhile, a group of passionate engineers within Volkswagen secretly developed an impressive new Audi prototype. When presented to Volkswagen brass, it was approved for production. This car, the 100, launched in 1968 and proved to be a sales success, starting Audi’s road to revival.
Audi cars shared parts and platforms with Volkswagens through the ‘70s, and as other German brands expanded, Audi struggled to find their niche. That all changed in 1980 with the introduction of Quattro, the four-wheel drive system that still distinguishes Audi today. So important was Quattro to Audi that they produced an all-new car just to showcase it. That car, named the Audi Quattro (and now referred to as the Ur-Quattro), dominated rally racing with unbeatable traction. It was powered by an unusual inline five cylinder engine, a layout that Audi still uses for special edition cars. These features and its racing success made the Quattro a legend, and solidified Audi as a leader in automotive sport.
In the 1990s and 2000s Audi expanded its range with cars like the A4, A6, A8, and TT. They developed engines with a focus on turbocharging and leveraged four-wheel drive to develop a reputation for traction in all weather conditions. But traction benefits speed too, and Audi’s sporty models like the S4 were known for rocketing off the line. Also to enthusiasts’ delight was Audi’s commitment to building wagon variants of almost all their sedans. During this time, Audi began a reign of dominance in top-level endurance racing like the 24 Hours of LeMans.
Then, in 2006, Audi launched the R8, and things were never the same. The supercar combined unbelievable looks and incredible performance to become an instant classic. Features like its mid-mounted engine, unique “sideblade” body panel, and — of course — Quattro all-wheel drive set it apart from anything on the road. It further elevated Audi’s position in the premium realm, and is still among the coolest cars on earth.
Audi has been on the cutting edge ever since, creating new models and entirely new categories. The A7 stands alone with an elegant, sleek form combining ample space in its liftback trunk. Every variant of A5 sets a new benchmark for automotive design. Their Allroad series provides wagon practicality with extra ground clearance for off-road potential. And their SUV range continues to expand, with the Q3, Q5, Q7, and now the ultra-lux Q8.
Audi is forging into the future with a diverse lineup and leading features. On the horizon, their upcoming range of electric vehicles figures to usher in a new era of efficiency and performance. The brand hasn’t always been at the level it is now, but looking back on their history proves that they’ve stayed true to their motto: Vorsprung durch Technik — “Advancement through Technology.”