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2010 Audi S4: AJAC has named it the Best New Sports/Performance Car over $50,000 for 2010


Audi's A game Add to ...

August Horch, of course, could not have foreseen any of this, though he was a bold engineer turned businessman who was a willing risk-taker and one not entirely willing to back down from a fight. Horch, in 1899, was the 31-year-old head of the motor vehicle department at Karl Benz's firm in Mannheim, but like other auto pioneers of his age, he wanted to run his own show.

So he left Benz to found A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen Werke, only to fall out with his partners a decade later. He left to launch a new auto maker in Zwickau, Germany. With the Horch name already tied up, he called the new company Audi, the Latin word for Horch which means "listen" or "hearken" in German.

Pre-First World War Audi soon became the talk of Europe, with victories in the Austrian Alpine Rally from 1911 to 1914. A key model was the Audi Type C 14, known as the "Alpine Conqueror."

In 1914, Audi Automobilwerke GmbH went public. The war slowed Audi's progress, but by 1921 Audi was moving ahead quickly again.

Audi Werke AG introduced the first left-hand-drive car in Germany in 1921, the 50-hp Audi 14 Type K. The Type M, with a six-cylinder engine, followed in 1923, and the Audi Imperator, the first Audi car powered by an eight-cylinder engine, was introduced in 1927.

The late 1920s were a heady time for many auto makers, Audi included. Deals were being done in Europe and North America as smaller companies were combining or being swallowed by larger ones. Audi became part of this trend.

A Dane, Joergen Skafte Rasmussen, the owner of Zschopauer MotorenWerke, acquired a majority stake in Audi in 1928 and folded the firm into his own company. But by the early 1930s, the Great Depression had devastated many auto companies. Audi's fate was in peril.

By June, 1932, the Saxon State Bank had successfully pushed for a merger of Audi, Horch and Zschopauer MotorenWerke (DKW). Those three became Auto Union AG; a fourth, the Wanderer Werke's automotive division, was added and the new firm's four-ring logo was born, surviving as Audi's logo today.

The Second World War ended Audi Auto Union's run of commercial and retail success. The last Audi model rolled off the line in April, 1940, and after the war, Auto Union's factories were dismantled.

Still, there were Auto Union vehicles in post-war Germany and they needed parts. An executive staff came to Ingolstadt in late 1945 to run a parts depot that later evolved into Auto Union GmbH.

By the early 1950s, entrepreneur Friedrich Flick had amassed a substantial stake in Auto Union and in 1958 he managed to attract Daimler-Benz AG as a majority partner. In 1964, Volkswagen bought control of Auto Union from Daimler.

VW then merged Auto Union in 1969 with another smallish auto maker (and also a motorcycle manufacturer), NSU of Neckarsulm, Germany. The new company was called Audi NSU Auto Union AG. By 1985, with the Audi brand growing and gaining recognition, the company was renamed Audi AG.

The key to Audi's success today can be traced not to August Horch, who died in 1951, but to Ferdinand Piech, the 72-year-old grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who rose from Audi test engineer to CEO with a vision of Audi as a premium brand with a rally-racing history - one willing to gamble on technical flourishes such as all-wheel-drive, TDI (a turbocharged diesel with direct injection) and lightweight construction.

Piech was Audi's development chief in 1977 and, under him, Audi introduced quattro (four-wheel-drive) in 1980 and quattro is key to Audi's brand image nearly three decades later. Piech became CEO in 1988 and stayed there until 1993, when he became CEO of Volkswagen AG. He remains a force in the company as chairman of VW's supervisory board.

Audi, of course, shares its basic platforms with VW vehicles, so to separate its vehicles from VW's, Audi has pioneered technical innovations such as quattro. In the future, Audi is developing new lighting systems, for instance, to distinguish its models from VWs and to position Audi as a serious rival to BMW and Mercedes.

Audi's future, and that of Ingolstadt, relies on further technical innovations, along with eye-popping designs, superb interiors, cutting-edge safety and chart-busting performance. But for Audi to top BMW and Mercedes, it must also continue working on the very basics of the auto industry: quality, durability, reliability and resale value.

And there is work yet to be done, both in Ingolstadt and at Audi's operations elsewhere around the world.

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