Audi aims to become king of the autobahn at 100

Audi aims to become king of the autobahn at 100
Photo: DPA
German carmaker, which turns 100 on Thursday, has visions of becoming the world's leading luxury car producer despite friction between its parent company Volkswagen and VW shareholder Porsche.

Audi head Rupert Stadler has said he wants to out-sell his great rivals, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, part of the Daimler group, by 2015.

The company is banking on being able to better resist the global downturn than its competitors thanks to the appeal of its products in Europe and China. Audi was founded in 1909 by engineer August Horch and the firm’s name is a Latin translation of his surname.

Over the years it has undergone several transformations. In 1932 it merged with three German auto makers, a move that explains its current symbol, four linked rings. Between 1940, when it was called on to take part in the Nazi military effort, and the late 1960s, it produced no vehicles at all.

It was only after its acquisition from Daimler-Benz by Volkswagen in 1965 and the determination of one of its engineers that the Audi 100 emerged in 1968. It was the arrival of Ferdinand Piech as Audi’s technical development director in 1974 that completed the company’s transformation into a “technically innovative manufacturer,” the group says.

A gifted engineer, Piech built his career on Audi’s success in foreign markets. He eventually came to head the Audi division and would later take over at Volkswagen, the parent company, where he is still chairman of the supervisory council. He reoriented Audi toward the luxury end of the market and developed the five-cylinder engine.

“Piech contributed decisively to Audi’s current success,” said Metzler bank analyst Jürgen Pieper. “If you look back over 20 years, when he became head of Audi and then of VW, it was Piech who was behind the move to raise Audi to the status of BMW

and Daimler.”

Pieper said Audi was also fortunate to have had “a series of able leaders,” including Martin Winterkorn, VW’s current chairman. But clouding the picture for Audi is a conflict between Porsche and VW, in which Porsche has a 51 percent stake.

The Porsche and Piech families have been bitterly at odds for months over the future of Porsche and VW against the backdrop of economic crisis and plunging auto sales worldwide.

On Thursday the principal players in the drama, Piech and arch-rival Wendelin Wiederking, the head of Porsche and who has the backing of Wolfgang Porsche, could well come face to face, champagne glasses in hand, as they celebrate Audi’s first century.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among the guests and is scheduled to speak at the gathering, which takes place at Audi headquarters in the southern German town of Ingolstadt.

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