Years ago, Audi was just a small West German automaker that sold quirky Quattros. Now, Audi dealers are packed with people wanting the latest in Teutonic luxury. The Audi A3, Audi A4, Audi Q5, they’re all brimming with the latest technology, beautiful interiors, and Audi’s legendary Quattro 4-wheel drive. This small-volume car maker has grown up to rival luxury stalwarts like Mercedes Benz and BMW. But where did they come from, and how did they become so popular?
Back in 1899, a young engineer named August Horch had opened his own car firm in Cologne, Germany. He was formally the head of manufacturing for Karl Benz, and decided that he could make an even better car than Benz. The first Horch automobiles used cast aluminum driveline housings (revolutionary at the time), and a later 4-cyl model won the grueling Herkomer Run in 1906. By 1908, Horch was selling 100 cars per year, but a disagreement with the board of directors caused Mr. Horch to resign from the company just a year later.
Since his former company held the trademark to his name, Mr. Horch had to come up with another name for his new car company. As he and his partners were discussing the matter, one of his business partner’s sons was quietly studying Latin in the corner of the room. Though he was taught not to interrupt when the adults were talking, the young boy finally spoke up, suggesting they name the new car company ‘Audi’. He explained to his father that the name Horch, which means ‘hark!’ or ‘listen’ in German, translates to ‘Audi’ in Latin. Everyone loved the idea, and Audi Automobilwerke was born.
Audi enjoyed strong sales, and gave Horch a run for its money. However, the premium car market had collapsed by 1932, forcing the two companies to merge, along with two other struggling car firms, DKW and Wanderer. Now known as Auto Union, the 4-rings logo represents each of the four car brands. Each company continued to sell cars under their own name, until World War II brought an end to automobile manufacturing in Germany. Following reconstruction, Auto Union sold small, affordable runabouts under the DKW brand until Daimler Benz acquired the company in 1958. By 1966, Volkswagen had bought the company and subsequently resurrected the Audi name for Auto Union’s new line of FWD cars.
That new Audi front wheel drive platform was used across the VW line, and it was so successful that Volkswagen eventually retired all the other brands associated with Auto Union. The Audi brand was introduced to the United States in 1970, but it really didn’t get noticed until they launched their radical turbocharged 4WD Quattro coupe in 1980. This car put Audi on the map, and by the mid-90s, their all-wheel drive A4 compact luxury sedan was soaking up sales brought on by the ‘dot com’ boom.
Today, Audi routinely wins awards for the ergonomically designed interiors, and state-of-the-art AWD platforms. They even make a V10-powered supercar called the Audi R8, and their new Audi RS7 is one of the fastest 4-door sedans on the planet.