The Audi four ring emblem symbolizes the 1932 merger of four previously independent motor-vehicle manufacturers: Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. Later, in 1969, Auto Union GmbH amalgamated with NSU Motorenwerke AG. Below is a brief look at the roots of today’s AUDI AG:
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 November 14, 1899 in Cologne. August Horch was one of the pioneering figures in automobile engineering, and before setting up a business on his own, his professional experience included three years in charge of automobile production at Carl Benz in Mannheim. In 1904, August Horch moved his business to Zwickau and transformed it into a joint-stock company. However, as early as 1909, August Horch left the company he had founded. From then on, his activities were always linked with the name “Audi”.
As the company established by August Horch in Zwickau on July 16, 1909 could not take its founder's name for competitive reasons. A new name was found for the company when the son of one of August Horch's business partners came up with the idea of translating Horch’s name, which in German means "hark!" or "listen!" into Latin. As a result, the second company established by August Horch commenced trading on April 25, 1910 as Audi Automobilwerke GmbH.
In 1885 two mechanics, Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke, opened a bicycle repair workshop in Chemnitz. Due to a high demand at that time, they soon began to design and make bicycles of their own. These bicycles were marketed under the brand name Wanderer, and in 1896 the company itself began trading as Wanderer Fahrradwerke AG. In 1902, Wanderer built their first motorcycle and in 1913 the idea of branching out into car production was finally put into practice. A small two-seater by the name of "Puppchen" began Wanderer's car production tradition and went on to last several decades.
Originally founded in Chemnitz in 1902 as Rasmussen & Ernst, the company moved to Zschopau in the Erzgebirge region in 1907. Initially, the company manufactured and sold exhaust-steam oil separators for steam power plants, vehicle mudguards and lights, vulcanization equipment and centrifuges of all kinds, but the company's founder Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen later began to experiment with a steam-driven motor vehicle. In 1916 he registered DKW (short for Dampfkraftwagen – steam-driven vehicle) as a trademark. In 1919 the company (now renamed Zschopauer Motorenwerke), switched over to the manufacturing of small two-stroke engines. From 1922 onwards they successfully started building motorcycles under the brand name DKW. The first small DKW motor car appeared on the market in 1928.
On 29 June, 1932, Audiwerke, Horchwerke and Zschopauer Motorenwerke/DKW merged under instruction from the State Bank of Saxony forming Auto Union AG. At the same time, a purchase and leasing agreement was agreed with Wanderer for the takeover of its motor vehicle division. The new company's head offices were in Chemnitz, Germany. Following the merger, Auto Union AG became the second-largest motor vehicle manufacturer in Germany. The company emblem consisted of four interlocking rings, meant to symbolize the inseparable unity of the four founder companies. Although Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer retained their brand names within the group, each was assigned a specific market segment: DKW for motorcycles and small cars, Wanderer for midsize cars, Audi for cars in the deluxe midsize segment, and Horch for luxury cars at the top end of the market.
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, Auto Union AG found itself in the Soviet occupied zone of Germany and was expropriated by the occupying Soviet forces. A number of the company's senior managers had departed for Bavaria, and there, a new company under the name of Auto Union GmbH was founded in 1949 in Ingolstadt. They aimed to uphold the automotive traditions embodied by the four ring emblem. The first vehicles bearing the four-ring emblem to leave the company's production lines after its new start were well-proven DKW products with two-stroke engines – motorcycles, cars and delivery vans.
In 1965, a new Auto Union model appeared on the market. This was the company's first post-war vehicle and featured a four-stroke engine. To coincide with the dawning of this new era, they felt it was time for a new product designation. This resulted in the revival of the traditional and historical “Audi” name. A short time later, the last two-stroke DKWs left the production line in Ingolstadt. From then on, the new models with four-stroke engines were produced under the brand name "Audi". 1965 also saw the Volkswagen Group acquire the Ingolstadt-based company. It really was the start of a new era in more ways than one.
NSU was founded in 1873 in Riedlingen on the Danube, by two Swabian mechanics, Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll. Seven years later, the company then moved to Neckarsulm. For its first twenty years, NSU manufactured knitting machines, but in 1886 the company, whose original name was Neckarsulmer Strickmaschinenfabrik (Neckarsulm Knitting Machine Factory), diversified into bicycles. From then on, two-wheeled vehicles were to have a decisive influence on the company's fortunes. In 1901, Motorcycle production commenced at NSU and five years later the first motor car was built. Motor car production was abandoned in 1929, however, to allow the company to further concentrate on building two-wheelers. It was almost thirty years later, in 1958, before car production recommenced in Neckarsulm. On March 10, 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 established retrospectively as of January 1, 1969.
The last NSU left the production line in March 1977, and from then on the company manufactured Audi cars exclusively. Streamlining the company's rather cumbersome name of Audi NSU Auto Union AG was discussed, with the objective of giving the company and its products the same name, Audi NSU Auto Union AG was renamed AUDI AG in 1985. At the same time the registered offices were transferred from Neckarsulm back to Ingolstadt. The four rings of the Audi emblem symbolize the brands of Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer that were amalgamated to form the Auto Union in 1932. Auto Union and NSU merged in 1969. Both played a key role in the development of the motor car.