The origins of Audi
The company traces its origins back to 1899 and August Horch. The first Horch automobile was produced in 1901 in Zwickau, in former East Germany. In 1910, Horch was forced out of the company he had founded. He then started a new company in Zwickau and continued using the Horch brand. His former partners sued him for trademark infringement and a German court determined that the Horch brand belonged to his former company. August Horch was forced to refrain from using his own family name in his new car business. As the word "horch!" translates to "listen!" in Old German, August Horch settled on the Latin equivalent of his name - "audi!". It is also popularly believed that Audi is an acronym which stands for "Auto Union Deutschland Ingolstadt". Audi produces over 2 million vehicles annually at its main production site in Ingolstadt. Audi has another production plant in Neckarsulm.
Audi started with a 2612 cc model followed by four cylinder 3564 cc, 4680 cc and 5720 cc models. These cars were successful even in sporting events. August Horch left the Audi company in 1920. The first six cylinder model (4655 cc) appeared in 1924. In 1928, the company was acquired by J S Rasmussen, owner of DKW, who bought the same year the remains of the US automobile manufacturer, Rickenbacker including the manufacturing equipment for eight cylinder engines. These engines were used in Audi Zwickau and Audi Dresden models that were launched in 1929. At the same time, six cylinder and a small four cylinder (licensed from Peugeot) models were manufactured. Audi cars of that era were luxurious cars equipped with special bodywork.
The Auto Union era
In 1932 Audi merged with Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form the Auto Union. Before World War II, Auto Union used the four interlinked rings that make up the Audi badge today, representing these four brands. This badge was used, however, only on Auto Union racing cars in that period while the member companies used their own names and emblems. The technological development became more and more concentrated and some Audi models were propelled by Horch or Wanderer built engines.
Pause and a new start
Auto Union plants were heavily bombed and partly destroyed during World War II. After the war, Zwickau soon became part of the German Democratic Republic and Audi headquarters were moved to Ingolstadt. In that period, the four interlinked rings were used together with the DKW badge. The company focused efforts on the DKW brand, but their two-stroke engines became unpopular. In 1958, Daimler-Benz company acquired 88 per cent of Auto Union and the next year became its sole owner. Daimler-Benz developed a 72 hp (54 kW) four-door sedan, with a modern four stroke engine driving the front wheels. This model appeared in September 1965, "relaunching" the Audi brand. Daimler-Benz sold the company to Volkswagen in 1964.
In 1969, Audi merged with NSU, based in Neckarsulm near Stuttgart. In the 1950s NSU had been the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles but had moved on to produce small cars like the NSU Prinz (the TT and TTS versions are still popular as vintage race cars). NSU then focused on new rotary engines according to the ideas of Felix Wankel. In 1967, the new NSU Ro 80 was a space-age car well ahead of its time in technical details such as aerodynamics, light weight, safety, et cetera, but teething problems with the rotary engines put an end to the independence of NSU. Presently several lines of Audi cars are produced in Neckarsulm.
The mid-sized car that NSU had been working on, the K70, was intended to slot between the rear-engined Prinz models and the futuristic Ro 80. However, Volkswagen took the K70 for its own range, spelling the end of NSU as a separate brand.
The modern era of Audi
The first Audi of the modern era was the Audi 100 of 1968. This was soon joined by a derivative of the Volkswagen Passat, the Audi 80 in 1972. The image of Audi cars was perceived as conservative, so a proposal was accepted from their chassis engineer Jorg Bensinger to develop the four-wheel drive technology in Volkswagen's Iltis military vehicle for an Audi performance car and for a rally car.
The performance car was known as the "Quattro" of the 1980s, a four wheel drive turbocharged sports-car based on the Audi Coupe. It was a great success in rallying and so Audi became associated with being a leader in technology, despite not selling too many of the original "Ur-Quattro". (The Ur-Quattro was the first Audi Quattro produced, and it has been designated as such to be distinguished from later Audi models that incorporate Audi's AWD system (which is also named "quattro" with a lower case q). The "Ur-" prefix is derived from the German word for "original", and is also used to refer to the first generation of Audi's S4 and S6 sport sedans ("UrS4" and "UrS6").
In 1986, as the Passat-based Audi 80 was beginning to develop a kind of "grandfather's car" image, the type 89 was introduced. This completely new development sold extremely well. However, its modern and dynamic exterior belied the low performance of its base engine, and its base package was quite spartan (even the passenger-side mirror was an option.) In 1987, Audi put forward a new and very elegant Audi 90, which had a much superior set of standard features. In the early nineties, sales began to slump for the Audi 80 series, and some basic construction problems started to surface.
This decline in sales was not helped in the USA by a 60 Minutes report which purported to show that Audi automobiles suffered from "unintended acceleration". The 60 Minutes report was based on customer reports of acceleration when the brake pedal was pushed. Independent investigators concluded that this was most likely due to a close placement of the accelerator and brake pedals (unlike American cars), and the inability, when not paying attention, to distinguish between the two. (In race cars, when manually downshifting under heavy braking, the accelerator has to be used in order to match revs properly, so both pedals have to be close to each other to be operated by the right foot at once, toes on the brake, heels on the gas. US citizens are used to automatic gearboxes and only two well separated pedals).
60 Minutes ignored this fact and rigged a car to perform in an uncontrolled manner. The report immediately crushed Audi sales, and Audi renamed the affected model (The 5000 became the 100/200 in 1989, as in Germany and elsewhere). Audi had contemplated withdrawing from the American market until sales began to recover in the mid-1990s. The turning point for Audi was the sale of the new A4 in 1996, and with the release of the A4/6/8 series, which was developed together with VW and other sister brands (so called "platforms"), Audi has regained what was lost due to biased journalism.
Currently, Audi's sales are growing strongly in Europe, and the company is renowned for having the best build quality of any mainstream auto manufacturer. 2004 marked the 11th straight increase in sales, selling 779,441 vehicles worldwide. Record figures were recorded from 21 out of about 50 major sales markets. The largest sales increases came from Eastern Europe (+19.3%), Africa (+17.2%) and the Middle East (+58.5%). In March of 2005, Audi is building its first two dealerships in India following its high increase in sales in that region. Though its brand still doesn't have the global cachet of Mercedes-Benz or BMW, Audi's reputation for quality and understated style has once again made it a highly desirable marque.
However, after 2003, with the release of the new A4, and in 2004 with the new A6, Audi's dedication to quality had finally paid off when it started to received news reports and various vehicle critics praising Audis over Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Audi has competed in (and sometimes dominated) numerous forms of auto racing. Audi's rich tradition in motorsport began with the Auto Union in the 1930s. In the 1990s Audi dominated the Touring and Super Touring categories of motor racing after success in circuit racing Stateside.
In 1980 Audi released the Quattro, an all wheel drive turbocharged car that went on to win rallies and races worldwide. It is considered one of the most significant rally cars of all time because it was one of the first to take advantage of the then-recently changed rules which allowed the use of all-wheel-drive in competition racing. Many critics doubted the viability of all-wheel-drive racers, thinking them to be too heavy and complex, yet the Quattro was an instant success, winning its first rally on its first outing. It won competition after competition for the next two years.
In 1984 Audi launched the "Sport Quattro" car which dominated races in Monte Carlo and Sweden with Audi taking all podium finishes but succumbed to problems further into World Rally Championship contention. After another season mired in mediocre finishes, Walter Röhrl finished the season in his Sport Quattro S1 and helped place Audi second in the manufacturer's points. Audi also received rally honors in the Hong Kong to Beijing rally in that same year. Michèle Mouton, the first female WRC driver to win a championship and a driver for Audi, took the Sport Quattro S1, now simply called the S1 and raced in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The climb race pits a driver and car to drive up a 4,302 meter high mountain in Colorado and in 1985, Michèle Mouton set a new record of 11:25.39 and being the first woman to set a Pikes Peak record. In 1986, Audi formally left international rally racing following the death in Portugal of driver Joaquim Santos in his RS200. Joaquim Santos avoided hitting spectators on one side of the road, and ended up hitting spectators on the other side. Bobby Unser used an Audi in that same year to claim a new record for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb at 11:09.22. In 1987, Walter Röhrl claimed the title for Audi setting a new record of 10:47.85 in his Audi S1 he retired from the WRC in 2 years earlier. The Audi S1 employed Audi's time-tested 5-cylinder turbo charged engine and generated over 600 hp (447 kW). The engine was mated to a 6-speed gearbox and ran on Audi's famous all-wheel drive system. All of Audi's top drivers drove this beast, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Walter Röhrl and the female driver, Michèle Mouton. The Audi S1 enjoys a 0-60 mph (0-100 km/h) time of 2.3 s. This Audi S1 started the S-series of cars for Audi which now represents an increased level of sports options and quality to the Audi line up.
In 1995 Audi was barred from entering its Audi A4 Quattro into the British Touring Car Championships because of its domination on the series. The Quattro (four-wheel drive) system was banned because Audi was unbeatable in the competition.
In 2004 Audi returned to touring car racing by entering two factory supported Joest Racing A4s in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series. In the US, Champion Audi racing entered an Audi RS6 in the 2003 speedvision GT challenge, competing against Corvettes, Vipers, smaller, more agiles BMWs, but once again the Quattro was too superior and Champion Audi won the championship. They returned in 2004 to defend their title, a newcommer, Cadillac, gave them a run for their money, but after 4 victories in a row, the Audis were sanctionned with several negative changes that affected deeply the car's performance, however Champion Audi still managed to win the 2004 championship
Sports car racing
Beginning in 1999, Audi built the Audi R8 to compete in sports car racing, including the LMP900 class at the 24 hours of Le Mans. The factory supported Joest Racing team won at Le Mans three times in a row (2000 - 2002), as well as winning every race in the American Le Mans Series in its first year. Audi also sold the car to customer teams such as Champion Racing. In 2003, two Bentley Speed 8s, with engines designed by Audi and driven by Joest drivers loaned to the fellow VW company, competed in the GTP class and finished the race in the top two positions, while the Champion Racing R8 finished third overall and first in the LMP900 class. Audi returned to the winner's circle at the 2004 race, with the top three finishers all driving R8s: Audi Sport Japan Team Goh finished first, Audi Sport UK Veloqx second, and Champion Racing third.
At the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans, Champion Racing entered two R8s along with an R8 from the Audi PlayStation Team ORECA team. The R8s received a restrictor plate cutting power and an additional 50 kg of weight. On average, the R8s were about 2-3 seconds off pace compared to the Pescarolo-Judd. But with a team of excellent drivers and experience, both Champion R8s were able to take 1 and 2 while the ORECA team took fourth and also marks America winning the Le Mans, something not achieved since 1967. This also ends the long era of the Audi R8, however there are speculations of a replacement for 2006, possibly powered by a diesel engine.
Audi is the only car manufacturer that produces 100% galvanized vehicles to prevent corrosion. An all-aluminium car was brought forward by Audi, and in 1997 the Audi A8 was launched, which introduced aluminium space frame technology. Audi introduced a new series of vehicles in the mid-nineties and continues to pursue leading-edge technology and high performance.
In the 1970's, some vehicle manufacturers including Audi (and Subaru) designed their own all wheel drive systems in passenger vehicles. In the 1980's, all-wheel drive systems in cars became a fad, and other manufacturers like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz offered all-wheel drive systems in their cars to compete in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the all-wheel drive system in the Mercedes-Benz vehicles were riddled with problems right from the design sheet. The system also was not popular in Porsche vehicles because owners wanted the traditional performance of the rear wheel drive they got used to in older Porsches. Although Porsche and Mercedes-Benz offer all-wheel drive systems in some cars today, neither manufacturer was able to ride the fad and come out on top like Audi has. Today, after many decades of class-leading technology and engineering, the name quattro is an identifiable symbol and trademark that shows would-be competitors the level of quality they have to achieve in order to attempt to compete with Audi.
In the 1980s, Audi was the champion of the inline 5 cylinder, 2.1/2.2 L engine as a longer lasting alternative to more traditional 6 cylinder engines. This engine was used in not only production cars but also their race cars. The 2.1 L inline 5 cylinder engine was used as a base for the rally cars in the 1980's, providing well over 400 horsepower (298 kW) after modification. Before 1990, there were engines produced with a displacement between 2.0 L and 2.3 L. This range of engine capacity was a good combination of good fuel economy which was on the mind of every motorist in the 1980's, and a good amount of power the customer wants. Through the early 1990's, Audi began to move more towards the position of being a real competitor in it's target market against Mercedes-Benz and BMW. This began with the release of the Audi V8 in 1990. It was essentially a new engine fitted to the Audi 100/200, but with noticeable bodywork differences. Most obvious was the new grille that was now incorprated in the bonnet.
By 1991, Audi had the 4 cylinder Audi 80, the 5 cylinder Audi 90 and Audi 100, the turbocharged Audi 200 and the Audi V8. There was also a coupe version of the 80/90 with both 4 and 5 cylinder engines.
Although the five cylinder engine was a successful and very robust powerplant, it was still a little too different for the target market. With the introduction of an all-new Audi 100 in 1992, Audi introduced a 2.8l V6 engine. This engine was also fitted to a face-lifted Audi 80 (all 80 and 90 models were now badged 80 except for the USA), giving this model a choice of 4, 5 and 6 cylinder engines, in sedan, coupe and cabriolet body styles.
The 5 cylinder was soon dropped as a major engine choice, however a turbocharged 230BHP (169kW) version remained. The engine, initially fitted to the 200 quattro 20V of 1991, was a derivative of the engine fitted to the Sport Quattro. It was fitted to the Audi Coupe and named the S2 and also to the Audi 100 body, and named the S4. These two models were the beginning of the mass produced S series of performance cars.
The Audi A8 replaced the V8 in 1994, with a revolutionary Aluminium Space Frame (ASF) to save weight. The weight reduction was offset by the quattro all-wheel drive system, however it meant the car had similar performance to it's rivals, but far superior handling.
The next major model change was in 1995 when the Audi A4 replaced the Audi 80. The new nomenclature scheme was applied to the Audi 100 to become the Audi A6 (with a minor facelift). This also meant the S4 became the S6 and a new S4 was introduced in the A4 body. The S2 was discontinued. The Audi Cabriolet continued on (based on the Audi 80 platform) until 1999, gaining the engine upgrades along the way. A new A3 (based on the Volkswagen Golf) was introduced to the range in 1997, and the radical TT coupe and roadster were debuted in 1998 based on the same underpinnings. Another interesting model introduced was the Mercedes-Benz A-Class competitor, the Audi A2. The model sold relatively well in Europe, however Audi decided not to develop a new model and it has since been discontinued as of 2004.
The engines available throughout the range were now a 1.4 L, 1.6 L and 1.8 L 4 cylinder, 1.8 turbo, 2.6 L and 2.8 L V6, 2.2 L turbo-charged 5 cylinder and the 4.2 L V8. The V6's were replaced by new 2.4 and 2.8 L 30V V6's in 1998, with marked improvement in power, torque and smoothness. Further engines were added along the way, including a 3.7 L V8 and 6.0 L W12 for the A8.
At the turn of the century, Audi introduced the direct shift gearbox, a manual transmission driveable like an automatic transmission. The system includes dual electrohydraulically controlled clutches instead of a torque converter. This is implemented in some Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3 and TT models. The engine range was continually upgraded, with a 2.7 L twin turbo V6 being offered in the Audi S4, A6 and allroad, the 2.8 L V6 was replaced by a 3.0 L unit.
New models of the A3, A4, A6 and A8 have been introduced, with the 1.8 L engine now 2.0 L and the 3.0 L V6 is now 3.1 L in size. Audi has now introduced FSI on some of their engines, including the 1.6 L 4 cylinder, a new 2.0 L (Audi is the first and only manufacturer in the world to utilize a turbo charger and the FSI on the same powerplant), and the 3.1 L V6. This is a direct fuel-injection technique that Audi had also used on its diesel engines since the early 1980s.
Audi now has an impressive range of cars, engines and transmissions available, which continue to lead the way and introduce new technologies into the market.
The following is a list of models Audi ostensibly plans to offer in the future.
The following is a partial list of concept cars.
- RSQ designed exclusively for the 2004 film I, Robot.
- Audi Allroad Quattro Concept
- Audi Shooting Brake, design study for the next generation TT
- Audi Avus Quattro
- Official website
- AudiWorld.com Enthusiast Website
- Fourtitude.com Enthuiast Forum
- Joest Racing
- Audi reviews
- Audi 100/5000 Self Documentation