Ten Reasons Why – Audi
By Wayne Batty
Two World Wars, several mergers, two acquisitions and eleven decades of fierce competition; Audi appears to have thrived through it all. Wayne Batty offers ten reason why.
1. A Little Latin Goes a Long Way
In 1909, when forced to rebrand his cars due to a dispute with the new owners of his old Horch car company, August Horch simply chose a Latin translation of his German surname. Hence Horch, which means ‘hark’ in English, became Audi. 1932 saw the creation of the four interlinked rings as, Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer merged to create Auto Union AG. After the war Auto Union relocated to Ingolstadt and survived the early post-war years by selling parts and front-wheel-drive, two-stroke DKW vans. The company was acquired completely by Daimler-Benz in 1959, prompting Daimler’s board of management spokesman Fritz Könecke, to announce ‘We have married a nice girl from a good, old-established family!’ But by 1964, the relationship had soured and Daimler-Benz offloaded Auto Union to Volkswagen. (With hindsight, perhaps not such a clever move.) Auto Union then merged with NSU in 1969 forming Audi NSU Auto Union AG. Over time that rather ungainly title was deemed no longer appropriate and so in 1985, Latin made a comeback and Audi AG was born.
Above: When Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer merged to form Auto Union AG, each brand was allocated a specific market segment within the new company, along with, it would seem, equal portions of showroom floor.
2. Porsche's Grandson Lent a Hand
Audi was pretty dowdy before Ferdinand Piëch joined as Head of Technical Development in 1974. His arrival from Porsche, courtesy of a unanimous decision that all Piëch and Porsche family members withdraw from operative business at Porsche, signalled the beginning of Audi’s massive push upmarket. During Piëch’s tenure, which ended as chairman in 1993, he oversaw the development of quattro, five-cylinder engines, fully galvanised bodies, TDI turbo diesels and the first production series all-aluminium body (A8). The ‘Vorsprung durch technik’ slogan, first introduced in 1971 to accompany the avantgarde NSU Ro 80, wasn’t just Marketing hot air.
3. Quattro Gave the Brand Real Traction
The idea of transferring power to all four wheels was not a new one when Audi launched its quattro coupe in Geneva in 1980, but the company certainly took ownership of the idea. It was more than just an engineering success, the marketing of quattro as a concept was exceptional too. Race and rally wins preceded championships and titles by the dozen in series as diverse as American TransAm, IMSA GTO, German Touring Cars and Group B rallying. The stars of Mikkola, Mouton, Blomqvist and Röhrl ascended quickly at the steering wheels of various quattro cars, culminating in the 1987-1989 Pikes Peak record runs in specially bodied Sport quattro S1s.
4. Audi-Folk Can Screw Stuff Together
Audi’s perceived reputation for interior build quality is the envy of every rival this side of Rolls Royce. Although entirely subjective, the sense of solidity has inspired many a motoring scribe to use the old ‘hewn from granite’ metaphor.
5. It Has the Light Stuff
Quite a few manufacturers, notably Jaguar, have followed suit, but it was Audi who pioneered the use of all-aluminium bodies for large scale production series cars. Displaying the ASF (Audi Space Frame) concept car’s highly polished panels at the 1993 Frankfurt motor show signalled intent. One year later Audi launched the all-aluminium-bodied production A8. Premium baby, the A2, also made use of the lightweight but expensive construction method.
6. It Made Winning at Le Mans Look Easy
Endurance road racing doesn’t come any tougher and winning isn’t any more prestigious than at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Between the years 2000 and 2014, Audi dominated the event, winning 13 times in 14 starts. First with the petrol-engined R8 LMP, followed by the diesel-powered R10, R15 and R18 prototypes. The only year the team didn’t compete in was 2003 when VW Group subsidiary Bentley claimed the win with Audi lending its engine, expertise, resources and even its contracted drivers to the Speed 8 project.
7. It's All by Design
From the strict form follows function of the Thirties and arcing Bauhaus-inspired geometry of the Eighties and Nineties to the technically detailed emotion of the latest models, Audis have always been reaching bravely for the design high ground. Absolute highlights include the cigar-shaped Auto Union Grand Prix cars, 1988 Audi Coupé, 1991 quattro Spyder concept and the seminal TT.
8. It's Not All Commercial
Over the years, Audi has produced a superbly entertaining array of quattro commercials. The most memorable? Watching an Audi drive up a 38 degree ski jump sure hit home. The year was 1986, the car was an Audi 100CS quattro with a mere 136bhp on tap. Audi remade the ad in 2005, this time with a 335bhp A6 4.2 quattro weighing a hefty 1,900kg. And yes, they again swear the safety cable ‘behaved itself at all times.’
9. Build Your Concept Cars
Audi has a delightful tendency to put many of its popular show cars into production, so fabulous concepts like the TT, Nuvolari and Le Mans got a chance to become so much more than just museum pieces.
10. They're Ambitious
From two-stroke motorcycles to premium car world domination. It wasn’t so long ago that Audi was a four model company all badged A-something. Now there’s a range of Q-cars, the TT and R8, plus an ever-expanding line-up of e-trons. You’d think every niche is already filled, but with over 30 body styles already in production, not including RS versions, the barrage of new Audis is not likely to ease up. Global sales in 2000 topped 650,000. In 2009, breached the million mark. Last year, despite the challenges, worldwide sales fell just short of 1,7 million. Hark! the Herald Tribune sings, Audi’s polishing its four rings.
If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments which current carmaker you’d like featured next.
Article by Wayne Batty