The new merged company was incorporated on 1 January 1969 and was known as Audi NSU Auto Union AG, with its headquarters at NSU’s Neckarsulm plant, and saw the emergence of Audi as a separate brand for the first time since the pre-war era. Volkswagen introduced the Audi brand to the United States for the 1970 model year. That same year, the mid-sized car that NSU had been working on, the K70, originally intended to slot between the rear-engined Prinz models and the futuristic NSU Ro 80, was instead launched as a Volkswagen.
After the launch of the Audi 100 of 1968, the Audi 80/Fox (which formed the basis for the 1973 Volkswagen Passat) followed in 1972 and the Audi 50 (later rebadged as the Volkswagen Polo) in 1974. The Audi 50 was a seminal design because it was the first incarnation of the Golf/Polo concept, one that led to a hugely successful world car. Ultimately, the Audi 80 and 100 (progenitors of the A4 and A6, respectively) became the company’s biggest sellers, whilst little investment was made in the fading NSU range; the Prinz models were dropped in 1973 whilst the fatally flawed NSU Ro80 went out of production in 1977, spelling the effective end of the NSU brand. Production of the Audi 100 had been steadily moved from Ingolstadt to Neckarsulm as the 1970s had progressed, any by the appearance of the second generation C2 version in 1976, all production was now at the former NSU plant. Neckarsulm from that point onward would produce Audi’s higher end models.
The Audi image at this time was a conservative one, and so, a proposal from chassis engineer Jörg Bensinger was accepted to develop the four-wheel drive technology in Volkswagen‘s Iltis military vehicle for an Audi performance car and rally racing car. The performance car, introduced in 1980, was named the “Audi Quattro“, a turbocharged coupé which was also the first German large-scale production vehicle to feature permanent all-wheel drive through a centre differential. Commonly referred to as the “Ur-Quattro” (the “Ur-” prefix is a German augmentative used, in this case, to mean “original” and is also applied to the first generation of Audi’s S4 and S6 Sport Saloons, as in “UrS4” and “UrS6”), few of these vehicles were produced (all hand-built by a single team), but the model was a great success in rallying. Prominent wins proved the viability of all-wheel drive racecars, and the Audi name became associated with advances in automotive technology.
In 1985, with the Auto Union and NSU brands effectively dead, the company’s official name was now shortened to simply Audi AG. At the same time the company’s headquarters moved back to Ingolstadt and two new wholly owned subsidiaries; Auto Union GmbH and NSU GmbH, were formed to own and manage the historical trademarks and intellectual property of the original constituent companies (the exception being Horch, which had been retained by Daimler-Benz after the VW takeover), and to operate Audi’s heritage operations.
In 1986, as the Passat-based Audi 80 was beginning to develop a kind of “grandfather’s car” image, the type 89 was introduced. This completely new development 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 1990s, sales began to slump for the Audi 80 series, and some basic construction problems started to surface.
In the early part of the 21st century, Audi set forth on a German racetrack to claim and maintain several world records, such as top speed endurance. This effort was in-line with the company’s heritage from the 1930s racing era Silver Arrows.
Through the early 1990s, Audi began to shift its target market upscale to compete against German automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW. This began with the release of the Audi V8 in 1990. It was essentially a new engine fitted to the Audi 100/200, but with noticeable bodywork differences. Most obvious was the new grille that was now incorporated in the bonnet.
By 1991, Audi had the four-cylinder Audi 80, the 5-cylinder Audi 90 and Audi 100, the turbocharged Audi 200 and the Audi V8. There was also a coupe version of the 80/90 with both 4- and 5-cylinder engines.
Although the five-cylinder engine was a successful and robust powerplant, it was still a little too different for the target market. With the introduction of an all-new Audi 100 in 1992, Audi introduced a 2.8L V6 engine. This engine was also fitted to a face-lifted Audi 80 (all 80 and 90 models were now badged 80 except for the USA), giving this model a choice of four-, five-, and six-cylinder engines, in Saloon, Coupé and Cabriolet body styles.
The five-cylinder was soon dropped as a major engine choice; however, a turbocharged 230 hp (170 kW) version remained. The engine, initially fitted to the 200 quattro 20V of 1991, was a derivative of the engine fitted to the Sport Quattro. It was fitted to the Audi Coupé, and named the S2 and also to the Audi 100 body, and named the S4. These two models were the beginning of the mass-produced S series of performance cars.
Sales in the United States fell after a series of recalls from 1982 to 1987 of Audi 5000 models associated with reported incidents of sudden unintended acceleration linked to six deaths and 700 accidents. At the time, NHTSA was investigating 50 car models from 20 manufacturers for sudden surges of power.
A 60 Minutes report aired 23 November 1986, featuring interviews with six people who had sued Audi after reporting unintended acceleration, showing an Audi 5000 ostensibly suffering a problem when the brake pedal was pushed. Subsequent investigation revealed that 60 Minutes had engineered the failure – fitting a canister of compressed air on the passenger-side floor, linked via a hose to a hole drilled into the transmission.
Audi contended, prior to findings by outside investigators, that the problems were caused by driver error, specifically pedal misapplication. Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases, including all the ones that prompted the 60 Minutes report, were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals. CBS did not acknowledge the test results of involved government agencies, but did acknowledge the similar results of another study.
In a review study published in 2012, NHTSA summarized its past findings about the Audi unintended acceleration problems: “Once an unintended acceleration had begun, in the Audi 5000, due to a failure in the idle-stabilizer system (producing an initial acceleration of 0.3g), pedal misapplication resulting from panic, confusion, or unfamiliarity with the Audi 5000 contributed to the severity of the incident.”
This summary is consistent with the conclusions of NHTSA’s most technical analysis at the time: “Audi idle-stabilization systems were prone to defects which resulted in excessive idle speeds and brief unanticipated accelerations of up to 0.3g [which is similar in magnitude to an emergency stop in a subway car]. These accelerations could not be the sole cause of [(long-duration) sudden acceleration incidents (SAI)], but might have triggered some SAIs by startling the driver. The defective idle-stabilization system performed a type of electronic throttle control. Significantly: multiple “intermittent malfunctions of the electronic control unit were observed and recorded … and [were also observed and] reported by Transport Canada.”
With a series of recall campaigns, Audi made several modifications; the first adjusted the distance between the brake and accelerator pedal on automatic-transmission models. Later repairs, of 250,000 cars dating back to 1978, added a device requiring the driver to press the brake pedal before shifting out of park. A legacy of the Audi 5000 and other reported cases of sudden unintended acceleration are intricate gear stick patterns and brake interlock mechanisms to prevent inadvertent shifting into forward or reverse. It is unclear how the defects in the idle-stabilization system were addressed.
Audi’s U.S. sales, which had reached 74,061 in 1985, dropped to 12,283 in 1991 and remained level for three years. – with resale values falling dramatically. Audi subsequently offered increased warranty protection and renamed the affected models – with the 5000 becoming the 100 and 200 in 1989 – and reached the same sales levels again only by model year 2000.
A 2010 BusinessWeek article – outlining possible parallels between Audi’s experience and 2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls – noted a class-action lawsuit filed in 1987 by about 7,500 Audi 5000-model owners remains unsettled and is remains contested in Chicago‘s Cook County after appeals at the Illinois state and U.S. federal levels.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Audi introduced new technologies including the use of aluminum construction. Produced from 1999 to 2005, the Audi A2 was a futuristic super mini, born from the Al2 concept, with many features that helped regain consumer confidence, like the aluminium space frame, which was a first in production car design. In the A2 Audi further expanded their TDI technology through the use of frugal three-cylinder engines. The A2 was extremely aerodynamic and was designed around a wind tunnel. The Audi A2 was criticised for its high price and was never really a sales success but it planted Audi as a cutting-edge manufacturer. The model, a Mercedes-Benz A-Class competitor, sold relatively well in Europe. However, the A2 was discontinued in 2005 and Audi decided not to develop an immediate replacement.
The next major model change came in 1995 when the Audi A4 replaced the Audi 80. The new nomenclature scheme was applied to the Audi 100 to become the Audi A6 (with a minor facelift). This also meant the S4 became the S6 and a new S4 was introduced in the A4 body. The S2 was discontinued. The Audi Cabriolet continued on (based on the Audi 80 platform) until 1999, gaining the engine upgrades along the way. A new A3 hatchback model (sharing the Volkswagen Golf Mk4‘s platform) was introduced to the range in 1996, and the radical Audi TT coupé and roadster were debuted in 1998 based on the same underpinnings.
The engines available throughout the range were now a 1.4 L, 1.6 L and 1.8 L four-cylinder, 1.8 L four-cylinder turbo, 2.6 L and 2.8 L V6, 2.2 L turbo-charged five-cylinder and the 4.2 L V8 engine. The V6s were replaced by new 2.4 L and 2.8 L 30V V6s in 1998, with marked improvement in power, torque and smoothness. Further engines were added along the way, including a 3.7 L V8 and 6.0 L W12 engine for the A8.
Audi’s sales grew strongly in the 2000s, with deliveries to customers increasing from 653,000 in 2000 to 1,003,000 in 2008. The largest sales increases came from Eastern Europe (+19.3%), Africa (+17.2%) and the Middle East (+58.5%). China in particular has become a key market, representing 108,000 out of 705,000 cars delivered in the first three quarters of 2009. One factor for its popularity in China is that Audis have become the car of choice for purchase by the Chinese government for officials, and purchases by the government are responsible for 20% of its sales in China. As of late 2009, Audi’s operating profit of €1.17-billion ($1.85-billion) made it the biggest contributor to parent Volkswagen Group’s nine-month operating profit of €1.5-billion, while the other marques in Group such as Bentley and SEAT had suffered considerable losses. May 2011 saw record sales for Audi of America with the new Audi A7 and Audi A3 TDI Clean Diesel. In May 2012, Audi reported a 10% increase in its sales—from 408 units to 480 in the last year alone.
Audi manufactures vehicles in seven plants around the world, some of which are shared with other VW Group marques although many sub-assemblies such as engines and transmissions are manufactured within other Volkswagen Group plants.
Audi’s two principal assembly plants are:
Outside of Germany, Audi produces vehicles at:
In September 2012, Audi announced the construction of its first North American manufacturing plant in Puebla, Mexico. This plant is expected to be operative in 2016 and produce the second generation Q5.
From 2002 up to 2003, Audi headed the Audi Brand Group, a subdivision of the Volkswagen Group’s Automotive Division consisting of Audi, Lamborghini and SEAT, that was focused on sporty values, with the marques’ product vehicles and performance being under the higher responsibility of the Audi brand.
On January 2014, Audi, along with the Wireless Power Consortium, operated a booth which demonstrated a phone compartment using the Qi open interface standard at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In May, most of the Audi dealers in UK falsely claimed that the Audi A7, A8, and R8 were Euro NCAP safety tested, all achieving five out of five stars. In fact none were tested.
In 2015, Audi admitted that at least 2.1 million Audi cars had been involved in the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal in which software installed in the cars manipulated emissions data to fool regulators and allow the cars to pollute at higher than government-mandated levels. The A1, A3, A4, A5, A6, TT, Q3 and Q5 models were implicated in the scandal. Audi promised to quickly find a technical solution and upgrade the cars so they can function within emissions regulations. Ulrich Hackenberg, the head of research and development at Audi, was suspended in relation to the scandal. Despite widespread media coverage about the scandal through the month of September, Audi reported that U.S. sales for the month had increased by 16.2%. Audi’s parent company Volkswagen announced on 18 June 2018 that Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler had been arrested.
In November 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implicated the 3-liter diesel engine versions of the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L and the Q5 as further models that had emissions regulation defeat-device software installed. Thus, these models emitted nitrogen oxide at up to nine times the legal limit when the car detected that it was not hooked up to emissions testing equipment.
In November 2016, Audi expressed an intention to establish an assembly factory in Pakistan, with the company’s local partner acquiring land for a plant in Korangi Creek Industrial Park in Karachi. Approval of the plan would lead to an investment of $30 million in the new plant.