Audi Brand History: Hear the Story of the German ‘Four Rings’ Brand

Audi Brand History

Vorsprung durch Technik

Being Ahead through Technology

– Audi

Audi AG lives by these words by manufacturing some of the world’s finest and most elegant cars in history. To understand how the company came to be, we need to rewind more than a hundred years to reach when it began.

August Horch, a German pioneer in Automobile engineering, was the seed for the Audi Brand that we have today. Audi’s beginning goes back more than a hundred years to 1899 when Horch started his business in Cologne. Ever since then, Audi has had an exciting ride through the years evolving along the way into one of the most desired brands in the automobile industry.

Horch graduated from the Technical Academy in Mittweida and had a successful career heading the Motor Vehicle Production Department of the Carl Benz Company in Manheim. He began A.Horch & Cie. in Cologne in 1899 which he moved to Saxony later in 1902. August Horch & Cie. Motorwagenwerke AG was founded in 1904 by Horch which he later left and started a second company.

Birth of the name – Audi

Since the name Horch was already trademarked by his previous company, Horch found himself, unable to use it for naming his second company. During a meeting with Paul and Franz Fikentscher, Franz’s little son who was also present in the corner of the room reading Latin suggested the name “Audi.”

Audi” in the singular imperative form of “audire” – “to listen” – in Latin while “Horch” in German means “hear.” Thus they selected the name of a company that would come to occupy a historically significant position in the automobile industry of the world. Audi Automobilwerke GmbH Zwickau was registered in 1910, later renamed as Audiwerke AG Zwickau in 1915.

Audi’s Rise to Fame

In 1910, Audi launched its first 2 models, the Audi Type A 10/22 hp (16 kW) Sport-Phaeton and the Type B 10/28PS. In 1924, the first six-cylinder model Type M, 4,655 cc was introduced. Between this, Horch had left Audiwerke in 1920 and assumed a position with the ministry of transport and remained only as a trust board member.

Type K model entered production during the year 1921 and Audi became the first-ever German manufacturer to produce a left-handed drive car. With this Audi gained its place as a prominent competitor in the industry.

The Logo of Four Rings

DKW bought the majority of shares from Audiwerke along with Rickenbacker, an US automaker in 1928. Rickenbacker’s 8-cylinder engines were used in the Zwickau and Dresden models that were launched the next year. Following this in 1932, Horch, DKW and Wanderer joined hands with Audiwerke to form Auto Union AG in Chemnitz. This merger made Audi the second-largest manufacturer of motor vehicles in Germany.

The famous four rings seen in the logo of the brand represents each partner company. Each of the four brands was assigned a specific market segment within the group: 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.

Brief History about the Four Partner Companies

  • Zschopauer Motorenwerke J. S. Rasmussen (brand DKW) was founded by Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen in 1916. They built motorcycles and then front-drive two-stroke cars built at Audi works in Zwickau from 1931.
  • Horch – founded in 1904 by August Horch. It built cars with straight-twin engines to luxury models with V8 and V12 engines.
  • Audi – Horch founded Audi after leaving his previous company to build cars with inline-4, 6 and 8-cylinder engines. In 1928 Audi became a subsidiary of Zschopauer Motorenwerke.
  • Wanderer (only car division) – It was founded in 1911 and built small 4-cylinder cars to luxurious straight-6 cylinder cars.

World War II

Following the merger, Audi launched the first European car that combines a six-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive christened as the Audi Front. The economic difficulties due to World War II, Auto Union decided to produce smaller and affordable cars during the 1930s. Since Audi was focused only on the deluxe and luxury vehicles, the brand disappeared from the market after 1939 for almost 2 decades.

The Auto Union manufacturing plants were also converted into plants for military arms production. They were also targeted and destroyed during the bombings. After the ended, Soviet Union Government seized the company’s assets without any compensation and Auto Union AG of Chemnitz was removed from the commercial register. Hence, the Auto Union executives moved to West Germany in 1945 and started a spare parts operation. The former Audi factory in Zwickau renamed the pre-war models to IFA F8 and IFA F9 and produced them. It also produced the Trabant model until 1991.

Revival of the Brand

A new Auto Union headquarters in West Germany was launched in 1949. It took another 10 years for the company to attract an investor, and a major car plant at the Ingolstadt head office site was constructed when funds became available. In 1958, Daimler-Benz took an 87% holding in the Auto Union Company, and this became a 100% holding in 1959. But Daimler-Benz was not particularly interested in producing 2-stroke cars. By the time the business changed hands again, it had a brand new and large factory and an almost production-ready modern 4-stroke engine. After this, the models were produced under the “Audi” name, revived after 25 years in 1965.

In 1964, Volkswagen bought 50% shares of the company and by 1966 owned the Ingolstadt factory outright and there they assembled around 60,000 Volkswagen Beetles per year. Volkswagen completely discontinued the DKW brand since it was associated only with the 2-stroke technology and used the Audi name for the models from then.

Ludwig Kraus and his team of engineers from Auto Union developed the Audi 100 in complete secret since they were forbidden from producing any new product. The then VW chief was impressed and allowed for the production of the car which launched in 1968 marking the official comeback of Audi.

1969 – Auto Union merged with NSU and was called Audi NSU Auto Union AG, based in Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart. The Neckarsulm plant is producing the larger Audi models A6 and A8 to date.

In 1972, the first generation of Audi 80 was launched.

1974Audi 50 was launched which was later rebadged as VW Polo.

1980Audi Quattro, a turbocharged coupé, the first German large-scale production vehicle to feature a permanent all-wheel drive through a centre differential was launched.

In 1985, the Auto Union and NSU brands were almost done for and the company’s official name was shortened to Audi AG. The company’s headquarters were moved back to Ingolstadt and two new wholly-owned subsidiaries, the Auto Union GmbH and NSU GmbH.

The late 80s saw Audi 80, Type 89 and Audi 90 launches. The early 90s sales of the Audi 80 series went down and Audi shifted its target market to compete against bigger German automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In 1990, Audi V8 was launched with this target in mind.

1992 – Launch of Audi 100 and a facelifted Audi 80 with a new 2.8L V6 engine.

Audi’s Modern Era

The 2000s saw sales of Audi grow a lot more and it continued into the next decade as well. May 2011 had record-breaking sales in the history of Audi.

Some Successful Models from Audi


Audi 60, Audi 100


Audi 80, Audi 50, Audi 100, Audi 100 Coupé S, Audi 80, Audi 200


Audi 100, Audi 80 Quattro, Audi 5+5, Audi 90, Audi Coupé, Audi Sport Quattro, Audi 80, Audi90, Audi V8, Audi Coupé


Audi 100/A6, Audi 80, Audi Cabriolet, Audi A8, A4, A3, A6, Audi Duo, Audi TT Coupé, Audi TT Roadster, Audi A2, Audi 90


  • Audi A4 (2001–present)
  • Audi A8 (2003–present)
  • Audi A3 (2003–present)
  • Audi A6 (2004–present)
  • Audi A3 Sportback (2005–present)
  • Audi Q7 (2005–present)
  • Audi A6 Allroad Quattro (2006–present)
  • Audi A4 Cabriolet (2002–2006)
  • Audi TT (2006–present)
  • Audi A4 (2007–present)
  • Audi A5 (2007–present)
  • Audi Q5 (2008–present)
  • Audi TT 2.0 TDI quattro (2008–present)
  • Audi A4 Allroad Quattro (2009–present)
  • Audi R8 (2006–present)
  • Audi R8 V10


  • Audi A1 (2010–present)
  • Audi A3 (2003–present)
  • Audi A5 (2003–present)
  • Audi A6 (2011–present)
  • Audi A6 allroad quattro (2012–present)
  • Audi A7 (2010–present)
  • Audi A8 (2010–present)
  • Audi Q2 (2017–present)
  • Audi Q3 (2011–present)
  • Audi Q5 (2008–present)
  • Audi Q7 (2005–present)
  • Audi Q8 (2008–present)
  • Audi R8 (2015–present)
  • Audi TT (2017–present)
  • Audi e-tron

Electric models:

Hybrid electric vehicles:

  • Audi A1 Sportback Concept
  • Audi A4 TDI Concept E
  • Fully electric vehicles
  • Audi e-tron SUV
  • Audi e-tron GT
  • Audi e-tron Concept Supercar
  • Audi Q2L e-tron SUV

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