To find out when this automotive giant first came on the scene, you have to go all the way back to 1889 when August Horch — a former production manager for Karl Benz — decided he wanted to make cars with is own name.
In 1899 he joined up with 15 others and started a company in Germany that produced its first vehicle in 1901. But it wasn’t a smooth ride at all. In 1909, the Board of Directors forced Horch out of the company that he had been first and foremost in creating.
Not deterred, he set up another business. Given that the name Horch was already in use, he chose Audi – Latin for ‘Hear’ or ‘Listen.’
Audi as we now know it launched their first car in 1910 — the Audi Type A Sport-Phaeton, with only 140 ever produced. It was a success, particularly in sporting events, and the Type B was also launched that year. Horch began entering his vehicles in races and won the prestigious International Austrian Alpine Run three years in a row.
The company quickly became a favorite of German drivers, but the First World War required the company to manufacture vehicles used in many military campaigns. When the war was over, the company incurred heavy losses and struggled to remain profitable, much less at the level they were performing before the war.
In 1920, August Horch left the company for a position in the Ministry of Transport, but remained a member of the board of trustees for Audi. The next year they became the first car manufacturer to present a production car with left-hand drive, which was desirable, as it was considered to provide a better view of oncoming traffic.
To further develop – and consolidate – Audi merged with DKW, Horch and Wanderer in 1932 and in so doing launched the iconic four-ring badge emblem. The business, named Auto Union, would set the foundations of modern motoring as we know it.
The same year, Audi introduced the world’s first volume-built car with front-wheel-drive. By the end of the ‘30s, you could find Audis in Grand Prix races, all while introducing its first 16-cylinder racing car, and beginning to conduct systematic rollover and crash tests.
World War II and Beyond
With the new merger and company in place, technology became the focal point for Audi, which has remained central to the company’s corporate identity. In the early days of the Auto Union era, Audi became the first European car company to offer a six-cylinder-engine, front wheel drive model — the Audi Front.
But like many German manufacturing companies, the onset of World War II saw Auto Union plants retooled for military production. They began producing armoured cars for the military, which made them targets for Allied bombing. This took a toll on production, and in 1945, the US Army raid caused great damage to Audi’s plant.
In fact, it was only a couple of years later that factories were dismantled as part of war reparations and Auto Union AG was removed from the commercial register. But that wouldn’t be the end. Audi began assembling pre-war models in 1949, renaming itself to Auto Union GmbH.
A few years later, Daimler-Benz took over the Auto Union. Then in 1964, Volkswagen AG once again acquired majority shares of Auto Union, and two years later that company became a fully-owned subsidiary of VW.
Audi Automobiles Today
The company would go on to develop four-wheel drive technology in the 1980’s. Named ‘Audi Quattro,’ this was the world’s first four-wheel drive sports coupe. The company’s official name was shortened to Audi AG, which also started their shift towards the luxury market. In 1987 the Audi put forward the Audi 90, which was considered much more elegant and superior to the Audi 80, which some saw as an “old person’s car.”
In 2006, the introduced the first 12-cylinder engine in the Audi Q7, and 2007 saw Audi become the first manufacturer to premiere the first headlight unit in the world that deployed LEDs for all of the front lighting functions — including daytime running lights, turn signals, and the dipped-beam and main-beam headlights.
They have continued to develop innovations such as diesel technology, aluminium bodies, the “multitronic” Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and SUVs that are both unique and extremely functional.
The company continues to look towards the future, not content to settle on past success. They continue to work on promoting the interests of the Audi customers, and the more than 90,000 employees around the globe.