A Short History of Audi

Written by Chloe Harwood

The history of Audi is as dynamic as any story in the business world. Founded on the vision of one man, the company has overcome many challenges to emerge as one of the most iconic brands in the world today. Mixing its flair for design and cutting edge technology, the brand is well poised to conquer the challenges of the 21st century motor industry.

Founding Father August Horch, a former manager for Karl Benz, always dreamed of making cars in his own name. In 1899 he realised this ambition and along with 15 others, started an automobile company. Had the story finished there we may never have heard of Audi. Yet events changed when in 1909 the Board of Directors forced Horch out of the company. Still determined to build a car in his name, he established another car business. As the name Horch was already in use, he chose Audi – Latin for ‘Hear’.

In 1910, Audi released its first car. Known as the Type A, just 140 were produced. In the following 2 years, Audi released it’s Type B and Type C cars. Horch began entering his vehicles in various car races and for three years running won the prestigious Austrian Alpine Run.

The First World War interrupted the building of civilian cars and Audi became a military vehicle manufacturer. When the war was over, the company struggled financially and Horch left the business in 1920 to take up a position at the German Ministry of Transport, but, according to Audi Wilmington (Wilminton, DE) he was still involved with Audi as a member of the board of trustees.

In order to develop the business further, in 1932 Audi merged with DKW, Horch and Wanderer and in so doing, launched the iconic four-ring badge emblem. Each of the four brands was assigned a specific market segment: 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. Following this successful merger, the company was the second largest motor vehicle manufacturer in Germany.

By 1938 the company’s DKW brand accounted for 17.9% of the German car market, while Audi held only 0.1%. After the final few Audis were delivered in 1939, the “Audi” name disappeared completely from the new car market for more than two decades.

Like most German manufacturing, Auto Union plants were retooled for military production at the onset of World War II, and were a target for allied bombing during the war which left them heavily damaged. At the end of the war, the same factories were dismantled as part of war reparations and all of the company’s assets were expropriated without compensation.

In 1949, the former Audi factory in Zwickau restarted assembly of the pre-war-models. It wasn’t until 1965 that a brand new, post-war vehicle with a four-stroke engine was released. 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.  From then on, the new models with four-stroke engines were produced under the brand name “Audi”.

About the author

Chloe Harwood