Most enthusiasts know that Audi is the current brand for what was once Auto Union, but where did the Audi name and logo come from?
August Horch, once formerly employed by Karl Benz, founded his own car company, A. Horch & Cie in 1899. Ten years later, he was forced out of his own company. Initially he attempted to continue use of the Horch name, but his former partners pursued legal action. August Horch needed to rename his new venture.
In a conversation at the apartment of his business partner Franz Fikentscher, Franz's son was studying Latin in the same room as the partner's conversation. Fikentscher's son asked if it would be a good idea to replace the word Horch, which means 'hark', or 'listen' in German, with it's Latin equivalent. That word, in Latin, is Audi. Thus was borne Audiwerke GmbH in 1910.
In 1932, four carmakers - Audi, Horch, DKW, and Wanderer - merged to create Auto Union. They used the four interlinked rings known so well today as the representation of their race cars, while still continuing to use their own names and logos discretely for factory cars.
Due to economic pressures through the 1930s, Auto Union was increasingly making smaller cars. By 1938, the DKW brand accounted for nearly 18% of the German car market whereas Audi held only 0.1%. So few Audis were delivered in 1939 that the Audi name disappeared from the Auto Union brand for more than two decades.
In 1958 under pressure from shareholders, Daimler-Benz took 87% ownership of the Auto Union company. He took over 100% ownership one year later. Deciding they wanted out of the small car business, Daimler-Benz decided to sell off the Auto Union business due to lack of profitability. Volkswagen, very focused in the small car business, acquired 50% interest, along with the rights to the Auto Union name and brands.
By 1965, Volkswagen was committed to four stroke engines. The formerly lucrative DKW was well known, but for their two strokes. In September 1965 under guidance from VW, the DKW F102 was equipped with a four stroke engine. Volkswagen was reluctant to retain the DKW brand because of the heavy association with two stroke technology. The car was facelifted and sold as an Audi, thus legitimately beginning the resurrection the brand.
Initially, Volkswagen explicitly denied Auto Union from any specific unique product development. Auto Union engineers were concerned about losing their former company's heritage, so they developed the first Audi 100 privately. The chief of Volkswagen at the time, Heinz Nordhoff, was so impressed when he saw it that he green lighted the car for production, cementing Audi's rebirth.
In 1969, Auto Union merged with NSU. Through the 50s, NSU had been the world's largest producer of motorcycles, but had begun to develop small cars as well as development on rotary engines. Volkswagen ultimately integrated the NSU offerings into its own line up, disbanding NSU as a separate product brand. The company name was still formally known as Audi NSU Auto Union AG.
In 1978 with NSU and Auto Union effectively nonexistent product-wise, the name was shortened to Audi AG. The logo was simply a mild evolution of the original Audi text logo in an oval. By 1985, the four rings were reintroduced at that time, paying homage to their heritage.
The original Audi typeface, introduced in 1909, while having been modified lightly over the years, was retained until as recently as 2009, when the typeface was modernized to the one seen in their current logo.