The Audi emblem of the four rings denotes one of Germany’s oldest motor car manufacturers. It symbolises the union, accomplished in 1932, of four previously independent motor vehicle manufacturers: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. These companies are the foundation stones on which the present-day AUDI AG is built.
At the end of the 19th century, there were already a number of car manufacturers in Germany. One of them was August Horch & Cie., founded on 14 November 1899 in Cologne. August Horch was one of the pioneering figures of automotive engineering. Before setting up in business on his own, his professional experience had included three years as head of automobile production at Carl Benz in Mannheim. In 1904, August Horch relocated his company to Zwickau and transformed it into a stock company. However, as early as 1909, August Horch left the company he had founded. From then on, his achievements were forever to be linked with the name ‘Audi’.
The company established by August Horch in Zwickau on 16 July 1909 could not take its founder’s name for reasons of fair trade. A new name was found for the company by translating his name, which means “hark!”, “listen!”, into Latin. The second company set up by August Horch thus commenced trading under the name Audi Automobilwerke GmbH, Zwickau on 25 April 1910.
In 1885, the two mechanics Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke opened a repair business for bicycles in Chemnitz. Shortly afterwards they began to make bicycles of their own, since demand at that time was very high. These were soon being marketed under the brand name Wanderer, and in 1896 the company itself began to trade as Wanderer Fahrradwerke AG.
Wanderer built its first motorcycle in 1902. The idea of branching out into motor car production was finally put into practice in 1913. A small two-seater by the name of “Puppchen” heralded in Wanderer’s tradition of motor car production that was to last several decades.
Originally founded in Chemnitz in 1902 under the name Rasmussen & Ernst, the company was moved to Zschopau in the Erzgebirge region in 1907. It initially manufactured and sold exhaust-steam oil separators for steam power plants, vehicle mudguards and lights, vulcanisation equipment and centrifuges of all kinds. The company’s founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen began to experiment with a steam-driven motor vehicle in 1916, registering DKW (short for Dampfkraftwagen – steam-driven vehicle) as a trademark. In 1919 the company, by now renamed Zschopauer Motorenwerke, switched to the manufacture of small two-stroke engines, which from 1922 onwards served as a springboard for its success in building motorcycles under the brand name DKW. The first small DKW motor car appeared on the market in 1928.
Auto Union AG, Chemnitz
On 29 June 1932, Audiwerke, Horchwerke and Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW merged on the initiative of the State Bank of Saxony to form Auto Union AG. A purchase and leasing agreement was concluded at the same time with Wanderer for the takeover of its motor vehicle division. The new company’s head office was in Chemnitz. Following the merger, Auto Union AG was the second-largest motor vehicle manufacturer in Germany. The company emblem depicted four interlocking rings, intended to symbolise the inseparable unity of the four founder companies. The brand names Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer were retained. 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.
Auto Union GmbH, Ingolstadt
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, Auto Union AG was expropriated by the occupying Soviet forces. A number of the company’s senior managers departed for Bavaria, where a new company under the name of Auto Union GmbH was founded in 1949 in Ingolstadt, upholding the motor vehicle tradition of the four rings. The first vehicles bearing the four-ring emblem to leave the company’s production lines after its new start were established DKW products with two-stroke engines – motorcycles, cars and delivery vans. A new Auto Union model appeared on the market in 1965, the company’s first post-war vehicle with a four-stroke engine. Along with this dawning of a new era, it was felt that the time was ripe for a new product name. The traditional name Audi was thus resurrected. A short time later, the last two-stroke DKWs rolled off the production line in Ingolstadt. From then on, the new models with four-stroke engines were produced under the brand name “Audi”. A new era had begun in another sense, too: the Volkswagen Group acquired the Ingolstadt-based company in 1965.
NSU was founded in 1873 in Riedlingen on the Danube, by the two Swabian mechanics Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll. Seven years later they moved the company to Neckarsulm. For its first twenty years, the company manufactured knitting machines. The firm, whose original name was Neckarsulmer Strickmaschinenfabrik (Neckarsulm Knitting Machine Factory), diversified into bicycles in 1886. From then on, two-wheel vehicles were to have a decisive influence on the company’s fortunes. Motorcycle production commenced at NSU in 1901, and five years later its first motor car was built. Motor car production was abandoned again, however, in 1929, to allow the company to concentrate on building two-wheelers. It was almost thirty years later, in 1958, that production of cars recommenced in Neckarsulm. On 10 March 1969, Auto Union GmbH of Ingolstadt merged with NSU Motorenwerke AG of Neckarsulm. The new company bearing the name Audi NSU Auto Union AG, with its head offices in Neckarsulm, was formed retrospectively as of 1 January. 3/4
The last NSU left the production line in March 1977, and from then on the company manufactured Audi cars exclusively. Ideas were aired about streamlining the company’s rather cumbersome name of Audi NSU Auto Union AG. With the objective of giving the company and its products the same name, in 1985 Audi NSU Auto Union AG was renamed simply AUDI AG. At the same time as the change of name, the company’s registered headquarters was transferred from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt. The four rings of the Audi badge symbolise the brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, which were combined under the umbrella of Auto Union in 1932. Auto Union and NSU, which merged in 1969, played a key role in the development of the motor car. AUDI AG was formed from Audi NSU Auto Union AG in 1985. Together with the two traditional companies, Auto Union GmbH and NSU GmbH, Audi Tradition preserves and presents the rich and diverse history of Audi. The Audi museum mobile at the Audi Forum Ingolstadt is open from Monday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The August Horch Museum in Zwickau is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.