Originally in 1885, automobile company Wanderer was established, later becoming a branch of Audi AG. Another company, NSU, which also later merged into Audi, was founded during this time, and later supplied the chassis for Gottlieb Daimler's four-wheeler.
On 14 November 1899, August Horch (1868–1951) established the company A. Horch & Cie. in the Ehrenfeld district of Cologne. Three years later in 1902 he moved with his company to Reichenbach im Vogtland. On May, 10th, 1904 he founded the August Horch & Cie. Motorwagenwerke AG, a joint-stock company in Zwickau (State of Saxony).
After troubles with Horch chief financial officer, August Horch left Motorwagenwerke and founded in Zwickau on 16 July 1909, his second company, the August Horch Automobilwerke GmbH. His former partners sued him for trademark infringement. The GermanReichsgericht (Supreme Court) in Leipzig, eventually determined that the Horch brand belonged to his former company.
Audi Type E
Since August Horch was banned from using "Horch" as a trade name in his new car business, he called a meeting with close business friends, Paul and Franz Fikentscher from Zwickau, Germany. At the apartment of Franz Fikentscher, they discussed how to come up with a new name for the company. During this meeting, Franz's son was quietly studying Latin in a corner of the room.
Several times he looked like he was on the verge of saying something but would just swallow his words and continue working, until he finally blurted out, "Father – audiatur et altera pars... wouldn't it be a good idea to call it audi instead of horch?" "Horch!" in German means "Hark!" or "hear", which is "Audi" in the singular imperative form of "audire" – "to listen" – in Latin. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by everyone attending the meeting. On 25 April 1910 the Audi Automobilwerke GmbH Zwickau (from 1915 on Audiwerke AG Zwickau) was entered in the company's register of Zwickau registration court.
10/22 hp (16 kW), was produced in the same year, followed by the successor Type B 10/28PS in the same year.
Audi started with a 2,612 cc inline-four engine model Type A, followed by a 3,564 cc model, as well as 4,680 cc and 5,720 cc models. These cars were successful even in sporting events. The first six-cylinder model Type M, 4,655 cc appeared in 1924.
August Horch left the Audiwerke in 1920 for a high position at the ministry of transport, but he was still involved with Audi as a member of the board of trustees. In September 1921, Audi became the first German car manufacturer to present a production car, the Audi Type K, with left-handed drive. Left-hand drive spread and established dominance during the 1920s because it provided a better view of oncoming traffic, making overtaking safer.
The merger of the four companies under the logo of four rings
In August 1928, Jørgen Rasmussen, the owner of Dampf-Kraft-Wagen (DKW), acquired the majority of shares in Audiwerke AG. In the same year, Rasmussen bought the remains of the U.S. automobile manufacturer Rickenbacker, including the manufacturing equipment for eight-cylinder engines. These engines were used in Audi Zwickau and Audi Dresden models that were launched in 1929. At the same time, six-cylinder and four-cylinder (the "four" with a Peugeot engine) models were manufactured. Audi cars of that era were luxurious cars equipped with special bodywork.
In 1932, Audi merged with Horch, DKW, and Wanderer, to form Auto Union AG, Chemnitz. It was during this period that the company offered the Audi Front that became the first European car to combine a six-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. It used a powertrain shared with the Wanderer, but turned 180-degrees, so that the drive shaft faced the front.
Before World War II, Auto Union used the four interlinked rings that make up the Audi badge today, representing these four brands. This badge was used, however, only on Auto Union racing cars in that period while the member companies used their own names and emblems. The technological development became more and more concentrated and some Audi models were propelled by Horch or Wanderer built engines.
Reflecting the economic pressures of the time, Auto Union concentrated increasingly on smaller cars through the 1930s, so that by 1938 the company's DKW brand accounted for 17.9% of the German car market, while Audi held only 0.1%. After the final few Audis were delivered in 1939 the "Audi" name disappeared completely from the new car market for more than two decades.