The 1920s saw great growth for Audi. They were the first German car maker to offer a car with left hand drive in 1921. All cars prior to this had been right hand drive a set up that went all the way back to the days of the horse and carriage. During this decade, many innovations were being made. Horch’s old company Horch-Werke had been working on an 8 cylinder luxury car which hit the market in 1926. In 1927 another German company, DKW, brought a 2 cylinder automobile to consumers. At the same time, the German company Wanderer became well known for its small car. In 1932, these four influential German auto manufacturers merged to become Auto Union AG. This is also when the four ring emblem Audi uses today came into being.
Auto Union was involved in all areas of the transportation market. They made motorcycles courtesy of the expertise DKW brought to the group. They made luxury cars. But most spectacularly, they made race cars. True to the Audi motto of advantage through technology, Auto Union was successful with their high performance racing engines. These engines were both aerodynamically designed and lightweight – two very important features for a race car. Auto Union, like other German automobile manufacturers of the era, were also involved in producing vehicles for the military. They were so involved in the war effort, in fact, that with the start of World War II in 1940, all civilian car manufacturing was halted to focus on their military contracts.
Auto Union’s factory had been significantly damaged by bombing during WWII. Like other German automobile manufacturers of the time, Auto Union’s involvement in military vehicle production resulted in the dismantlement of their factory for war reparations in 1945. It wasn’t until 1949, when special loans were made available to reinvigorate the German automobile manufacturers that the new Auto Union was born. They first focused their manufacturing on motorcycles and later delivery vans.
In 1958, Auto Union was purchased by Daimler-Benz and production continued on Audi’s bread and butter vehicles– their 125cc motorcycle and the DKW F89L delivery van. It wasn’t until Volkswagen acquired Auto Union in 1964 that true post war strides forward began to be made once again. Volkswagen dumped the DKW brand vehicles as they were associated with out dated technology. In the late 60s Auto Union merged with NSU, a company known for producing highly evolved, very advanced race cars such as the TT, a name that the modern day Audi has brought back into use. Volkswagen took the cars developed by Auto Union and named them according to their horsepower. These cars hit the market as the Audi 60, 75, 80 and Super 90. The new Volkswagen owned Audi-NSU company was known as Audi NSU Auto Union AG. It was under this brand that Audi as a separate brand would emerge for the first time since before WWII.
Volkswagen introduced the Audi brand to the United States for the 1970 model year. The Audi 80 was introduced in 1972. This car sold over one million units in six years. In 1980, Audi turned many heads at the Geneva Motor Show when they introduced the Audi Quattro with its high tech full time four wheel drive. During the 1980s, Audi developed Quattro versions of their entire model lineup. In 1989 Audi brought an all alloy V8 engine to the marketplace as well as a new version of the Audi 100 (first launched in 1968) with a five cylinder diesel engine.
In the 1990s Audi rebranded their cars once more. Starting in 1994 the new models of the Audi 80 were called the A4, the Audi 100 became the A6, and the A8 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show that year. The A8 had an all aluminum body with a V8 engine and was positioned to compete with the high end luxury cars on the market.
In the early part of the 2000s Audi turned its focus to racing once again and claimed several World Records such as Top Speed Endurance.