The company is traced back to 1899 and August Horch. The first Horch automobile was produced by him in 1901. In 1910, Horch was forced out of the company, and set up on his own with "Audi", which means "Listen!" in Latin (in German, "Horch" means the same). In 1932 Audi merged with Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form the Auto Union. The four interlinked rings that make up the Audi badge today represent these four brands. Following World War II, the company focused efforts on the DKW brand, waiting until September 1965 to bring back the Audi brand, when it introduced a 72-HP 4-door sedan.
Over the next thirty years Audi released a series of derivatives of this model at various horsepower ratings. This early set of releases culminated in the Audi 80, from which all subsequent generations descend. In 1986, as the Audi 80 was beginning to develop a kind of "grandfather's car" image, the type 89 was introduced. This completely new development hit the market like a bomb and 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 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 the car 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 to distinguish between the two. 60 Minutes ignored this evidence and set up a car to perform in an uncontrolled manner. The report immediatly crushed Audi sales, and forced the renaming of the effected model (the 5000 become the 100/200). Audi sales did not recover until the mid 90s, with the release of the VW based A4/6/8 series.
Audi's reputation over the years has been high performance and leading technology. The company has participated (and sometimes dominated) in numerous rallies and racing competitions. In 1980 the release of the Audi Quattro, a four wheel drive turbocharged car with no equal, that went on to win rallies and races worldwide, is considered one of the most significant rally cars of all time. It is one of the first to take advantage of the recently changed rules which allowed the use of four-wheel-drive in competition racing. Many critics doubted the viability of 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 1995 Audi was barred from entering its Audi S4 into the BTCC because of its domination on the sport. The Quattro (four-wheel drive) system was banned because Audi was unbeatable in the competition.
Audi is the only car manufacturer that produces 100% galvanized vehicles (to prevent corrosion). An all-aluminum car was brought forward by Audi, and in 1997 the Audi A8 was launched, which introduced aluminum space frame technology. Audi introduced a new series of vehicles in the mid-nineties and continues to pursue leading-edge technology and high performance.
The motto of Audi is: "Vorsprung durch Technik" which translates to "Progress through Technology".