Audi, a German automobile manufacturing company, is one of the most popular luxury car brands in the world. Although it started its journey more than 110 years ago, the modern Audi as we know it today actually started in the 1960s. The German manufacturer makes sedans, coupes, convertibles, SUVs, electric cars, sports cars, and supercars. But Audi’s popularity is primarily due to its German efficiency and luxury. Also known for its futuristic concept cars, the company’s cars have been featured in various Hollywood movies, starting from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audi, a subsidiary of the automobile industry giant Volkswagen Group, was able to generate total revenue of over €62 billion in 2022 with sales of around 1.7 million units worldwide.
August Horch, a German automobile engineer who founded Audi, was born on October 12, 1868, in Winningen, Rhenish Prussia, Germany. After graduating from Saxony’s Mittweida Technical College, he began working in the engine construction section of the Karl Benz Company in 1896. In 1899, he established A. Horch & Cie’s car manufacturing company in Ehrenfeld, Cologne, with the intention of building a car manufacturing company under his own name. However, due to disagreements with the management and supervisory board, he left the company in 1909. Despite this setback, Horch’s passion for car manufacturing drove him to establish another company in Zwickau the same year.
The only issue was that he couldn’t reuse his own name, Horch, as it was patented by his previous company. To solve this problem, Horch proposed the name Audi to his two business partners, Paul and Franz Fikentscher. Audi, which is a Latin word that means “Hear” or “Listen,” is a synonym of the German word “Horch.” Horch liked the name, and on April 25, 1910, he registered the new company as Audi Automobilwerke GmbH. In August of the same year, the company launched two cars, the Audi Type A Sport-Phaeton and the Audi Type B Sport-Phaeton. Later in December, the company launched the Audi Type B Sport-Phaeton. Under Horch’s leadership, the Audi team won the Austrian Alpine Run event three times in a row with the Audi Type B, C, and D cars.
In 1920, August Horch relinquished all his responsibilities at Audi as he was appointed the executive officer of the Federation of the German Motor Vehicle Industry. However, before departing from the company, he introduced the left-hand driving wheel system in all the cars in Audi’s production lineup. In 1928, Jørgen Rasmussen, who was the owner of another car manufacturing company called DKW (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen), acquired the majority share of Audiwerke AG, and the U.S.-based automobile manufacturer “Rickenbacker”.
When the Great Depression began in 1929, the demand for luxury cars in the US and Europe decreased. Consequently, German-based automobile companies shifted their focus to producing smaller-sized cars. To evade the crisis of the Great Depression, on June 29, 1932, Audi Werke, DKW, and Horch merged to establish Auto Union AG, and they acquired the motor vehicle division of Wander Werke AG.
The four interlocking rings that are visible in the Audi logo symbolize the amalgamation of these four companies. The headquarters of the newly formed Auto Union AG was established in Chemnitz, Saxony. Since then, these four companies have continued to manufacture automobiles for different market segments. DKW primarily produced motorcycles and compact cars, Wanderer produced midsize cars, Audi’s market segment was deluxe midsize cars, and Horch made top-end luxury cars. Auto Union started participating in the international Grand Prix in 1934 with cars designed by German engineer Ferdinand Porsche. The iconic design of the Porsche cars earned them the nickname ‘Silver Arrow’. From 1934 until the beginning of the Second World War, i.e. until 1939, Auto Union’s racing cars dominated the International Grand Prix. Additionally, in 1938, Auto Union commenced crash impact testing on their manufactured cars.
Like other German manufacturers during World War II, the Auto Union companies’ car manufacturing facilities were also employed for military production. However, due to the Allied bombing, the factories in Saxony suffered heavy damage. After the war, the Soviet Army ordered the dismantling of Audi’s manufacturing facility in Zwickau when it moved under the Soviet Union’s territory. In 1945, Auto Union resumed operations in Ingolstadt, Germany, and began selling spare parts. In September 1949, Auto Union AG was renamed Auto Union GmbH.
That same year, Audi’s manufacturing facility in Zwickau was reopened, where only pre-war models were assembled. Auto Union GmbH struggled at that time due to a lack of funds to continue full production. In 1954, German industrialist Friedrich Flick acquired a majority stake in Auto Union GmbH and sought a partner to manage the company. As a result, Daimler-Benz acquired the entire union in 1958 and 1959 and began manufacturing cars under the Audi brand name. However, Daimler-Benz showed little interest in producing cars with 2-stroke engines.
Modern Day Audi
In the early 1960s, Mercedes introduced new models and made significant investments in Auto Union factories. Despite these efforts, the company failed to become profitable in comparison to its competitors such as Volkswagen and Opel. In 1964, Volkswagen acquired 50% of Auto Union and renamed the company Audi. At this time, car manufacturers began shifting from 2-stroke to 4-stroke engines for smoother operation. However, due to DKW’s preference for 2-stroke engines, they resisted the change. As a result, Volkswagen expelled DKW from the union and purchased the remaining 50% of Audi in 1965. DKW later modified the F103 model to create four new models, Audi 60, Audi 75, Audi 80, and Audi Super 90, according to their horsepower rating.
On the other hand, despite Heinz Nordhoff, Volkswagen’s chief’s ban, Auto Union engineer Ludwig Krauss, and several other engineers continued secretly designing and developing a double-door sports model, the Audi 100. Ludwig Krauss was concerned that Auto Union’s heritage might be lost under Volkswagen’s ownership. So he sent the design of the Audi 100 to Nordhoff. Volkswagen executives liked the design and launched the car in 1968. In 1969, Volkswagen acquired NSU Motorenwerke AG, a motorcycle and pedal cycle company, and merged it with Auto Union in March of that year. As a result, the new company was named NSU Auto Union AG.
In 1970, Audi commenced exporting the Audi 100 LS model to the United States for the first time. The car sold over 6,500 (6,557) units in the first year and over 18,000 (18,179) units in the following year. Following the merger, in 1972, Audi introduced its new car, the Audi 80, or Audi Fox. After exports commenced in the USA in 1973, this Audi model sold about 150,000 units in 1974, making it one of Audi’s best-selling cars. Two cars were launched in 1978, the Audi 5000 and the 1979 Audi 200, of which the Audi 5000 sold about 21 thousand (20,761) units in the USA in the first year and more than 28 thousand (28,276) units in the following year.
Although the company had been manufacturing commercial vehicles, since 1980, it has focused on making sporty-looking cars. As such, in November of that year, Audi launched its first premium segment all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro in the market. Later, in 1982, the car was introduced in the USA division as a 1983 model. From its launch until 1985, the car managed to win 23 rally races, including the 1982 and 1984 World Rally Championships. Additionally, in 1980, two commercial vehicles, the Audi S4, and Audi S6 were launched with the beige design of Quattro. In 1985, Volkswagen dissolved NSU Auto Union AG and merged the entire union under AUDI AG.
In 1986, on the USA television show 60 Minutes, some people claimed that the Audi 5000 car, which was released in 1978, automatically accelerated, causing six deaths and 700 accidents in the USA and Canada from 1982 to 1987. When the USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) informed Volkswagen about this, Volkswagen replied that they had already received about 70 accident reports but the issue of auto acceleration was entirely due to driver error. Later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated and found that the Audi 5000 model’s acceleration and braking pedals were too close together, causing accidents due to driver error. Due to this incident, the company recalled over 500,000 Audi cars, and the company compensate the victims with new cars and property damage.
In the early 90s, Audi was focused on re-launching their old cars by changing their engine, chassis, design, etc. However, at the same time, Audi was also focused on creating a model that would provide better performance than other German car manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. Accordingly, in 1990, the company launched the Audi V8 with its Audi 100 as the base model. In 1991, the Audi 90 and Audi 100 models were relaunched with a 5-cylinder engine, and the Audi 80 with a 2-cylinder engine to enhance efficiency. Besides, the Audi S4 model was relaunched in 1994 with an aluminum chassis and advanced functions enabled. The same year, Audi modified the 100 models with a more powerful engine and launched the Audi A4, which sold more than 10,000 units in the US market in 1996.
Also, in the same year, the company launched the first-generation Audi A8 model as the successor to the Audi V8 model. Audi used the Volkswagen D2 Platform for the first time in the A8 model, which was a platform based entirely on aluminum rather than steel. The company introduced this platform to the market as the Audi Space Frame. The use of an aluminum platform enabled the company to manufacture a lighter vehicle than before without compromising on the structural strength of the model. In 1995, the International Olympic Committee sued Audi for copying the logo in the International Trademark Court. However, the court’s verdict ultimately came in favor of Audi. Towards the end of the decade, Audi focused on small sports cars, launching the double-door Audi TT in 1998 and the Audi A2, a 4-5 seater supermini car with a full aluminum build structure, in 1999.
Audi In New Millennium
In 2000, Audi launched several new models in the market, including the Allroad Quattro, Audi RS4, and a new design version of the Audi A4, which gave the company great success in the premium mid-range segment market. Audi sold over 643,000 models globally this year. In the first decade of the 21st century, Audi launched some other vehicles, such as the R8, the midsize luxury crossover SUV Audi Q7, and the Audi Q5. Additionally, Audi marketed the second generation of cars of some of their older models, such as the Audi A4, Audi TT, and Audi A3. Among the new models and generations of cars, the Audi R8 was launched at the 2006 Paris Motor Show. The car was originally manufactured based on the Audi LeMans Quattro Concept car showcased at the 2003 International Geneva Motor Show.
While the first model in Audi’s R8 series was a double-door coupe model, the Spyder convertible model and the high-performance GT model were also introduced later. In terms of technology, Audi also brought several changes, among which the most notable is the LED Daytime Running Lights, which are now being used in all Audi cars. Audi’s annual sales rose to 1.29 million units by the end of the decade due to improved design and better performance. Audi’s operating profit in 2010 was $3.34 billion, the highest among Volkswagen brands such as SEAT, Škoda, Bentley, Bugatti, and Rolls-Royce. Since 2010, the company has introduced Audi MMI (Multi Media Interface) technology, which allows the driver to control in-car audio, vehicle settings, and navigation interface through a single touchpad.
As a result, the number of separate switches in the car has decreased. Also, due to this technology, several functions of the car can be controlled with the help of smartphones and tablets through Bluetooth. This technology was first used in the Audi A8 in 2011. Also, in 2012, when the Audi R8 supercar version was launched, it became very popular in a short time.
By 2020, Audi aimed to reduce greenhouse emissions and operate as a carbon-neutral company by 2050. To achieve this goal, the company launched its first electric car, the Audi e-Tron, in 2018, and the Audi RS e-Tron GT in 2021. It also plans to introduce at least 20 models of all-electric battery-powered vehicles to the market by 2025. As electric cars produce no greenhouse emissions due to their battery-powered nature, their maintenance costs are also very low because of their motor efficiency.
Additionally, electric cars provide better overall performance than fuel-based cars. Furthermore, the company aims to increase the use of recycled materials in every process of car manufacturing and make all its production sites carbon-neutral by 2025. After 2026, Audi decided not to launch new models with combustion engines. The Audi Group currently has a total of 21 production sites in 13 countries worldwide, with five Audi vehicles being manufactured. In 2022, Audi delivered 1.68 million (1,680,512 – P37) units worldwide. The company also produced more than 1.18 lac units of electric vehicles in the same year, which is 81 percent more than in 2020.
Audi officially began its journey in Bangladesh in 2017. While some Audi cars were previously spotted on the streets of Dhaka, the purchasing power of Bangladeshi consumers has increased in the last decade, leading to a higher demand for luxury cars like Audi. In response to this market, Audi’s authorized dealer and importer, Progress Motors Import Limited, began importing Audi cars to Bangladesh in September 2017. Progress Motors initially sold the A4, A5, and A6 sedans, as well as the Q3, Q5, and Q7 SUVs.
Currently, they offer the Audi A6, Audi Q7, and Audi Q8, with plans to launch the Audi E-Tron, a luxury electric vehicle, in the Bangladeshi market very soon. Progress Motors has introduced ABT Sportsline in response to significant demand in the country. In October 2022, this German-based motor racing and auto-tuning company began offering sports-type suspensions, engine power upgrades, lightweight wheels, and aerodynamic components to replace Audi cars. These modifications are aimed at enhancing performance and improving the driving experience.