The automotive industry, like many industries of its ilk, is much more complex than it appears at first glance. Where many are content with the commercially popular Ford Fiestas and Vauxhall Corsas that flood today’s roads, there are mountains of research and development behind their existence; the combined efforts of thousands of engineers, across hundreds of factories and dozens of brands led to Audi’s present-day stature.
With this in mind, and when talking about cars, it is only a matter of time before the name ‘Audi’ comes into conversation. The German automotive manufacturer has come to define affordable luxury in today’s car market, after an illustrious history of trailblazing in its own right. But how did the brand get here, and what contributions did it make along the way?
The Early Years
Audi’s roots stretch back way before the formation of the company proper, touching instead the early career of founder August Horch. Horch was born in the late 1860s, and studied early automotive engineering under none other than Karl Benz of Mercedes fame before charting a path of his own in the 1890s.
That path was the ‘Horch and Cie Motorwagen Werke AG’ – a catchy brand name that did not endure for reasons beyond our understanding. After around a decade of innovation and competition with the rival Mercedes Benz, Horch set out alone once again – this time with a new company, named Audi.
Audi’s first production car was released in 1921, 11 years after its first efforts in car manufacture, and one year after Horch left for Germany’s Ministry of Transport. The Audi Type K was the first German production vehicle to hit the market, and the first of a great many to come – though not in the way one might expect.
The Volkswagen Connection
Audi was a consummate success for over a decade, but the Second World War had destructive impacts for the entire European automotive industry. With the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945, and with the Soviet control of key areas in what became East Germany, Audi was effectively dismantled.
It was only with West German government intervention, and the prompted input of Daimler-Benz, that the ‘Auto Union’ brand (which described Audi for much of the 1930s) was saved. The brand was not a profitable one, until Volkswagen deigned to acquire 50% of it in the mid-1960s. It was this initial merger that sowed the seeds for the brand’s success today.
The New Audi Era
Today, the market is known for its bountiful display of such common items as the used Audi A3 and A4 – but how did it get to this point? Volkswagen’s designs under the Audi brand were often progenitors for future members of the Volkswagen family, with early Passat and Polo designs eminently familiar to car historians. Audi’s big break, though, came in the 1970s with the Audi 80 – aka the first Audi A4.
Since the runaway popularity of the A4, the Audi brand leant into technology. Initially, this was engine technology, with superpowered Audi coupes reigning supreme in the late 1980s. After this, though, the market changed remarkably, with sleek luxury vehicles a la BMW and Mercedes winning out. Here, Audi leant into the luxury brand it has since become, innovating modern conveniences from self-parking systems to internal entertainment. Today, the Audi name is synonymous with quality, and continues to forge a path into the future – particularly when it comes to the renaissance of the electric vehicle.