1931 The first volume-built car with front-wheel drive
In August 1928 J. S. Rasmussen acquired the majority of shares in Audiwerke AG. He had the DKW small car with front-wheel drive produced in large numbers at this company in Zwickau from 1931. This car also had a wooden body covered in imitation leather and the typical DKW two-stroke engine. This design formed the basis for one of the most successful German small cars of the 1930s, over 250,000 of which left the Zwickau plant up to 1942.
On 29th June 1932, the four Saxon motor-vehicle brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer joined forces to create Auto Union AG, which had its head office in Chemnitz. The new company group was consequently able to serve all market segments, from light motorcycles to luxury saloon cars.
At the 1933 Berlin Motor Show, Auto Union AG presented the new Audi, its first standard-size passenger car with front-wheel drive. The company used a kind of modular design principle for the first time and the Wanderer six-cylinder engine.
The new Auto Union received its greatest popularity boost with the success of a racing car design that was based on plans by Ferdinand Porsche. The sixteen-cylinder engine was installed behind the driver which had a very beneficial effect on the vehicle’s aerodynamics.
In 1936 the group management of Auto Union, which had previously directed the company from Zschopau, moved into its new main office building in Chemnitz. In the same year, central facilities for design, development and testing were set up in Chemnitz.
The Auto Union racing cars were high-tech products in their time. They stood for supreme achievements in motor-vehicle construction that concentrated above all on high-performance engines, aerodynamic design and the systematic use of lightweight construction. The Auto Union car with streamlined fairing and an output of 545 horsepower was the first to exceed a speed of 400 km/h on a normal road.
From 1938 Auto Union AG carried out systematic rollover and crash tests, one of the first manufacturers in the motor-vehicle industry to do so. Various DKW models with sheet-metal, wooden and plastic bodyshells were tested in order to examine the various ways in which these bodies behave in a rollover.
With the development and production of special vehicles for military purposes, Auto Union became an important supplier of vehicles to the armed forces in the mid-1930s. Following the outbreak of war, civilian production was interrupted in May 1940. After this, the company produced exclusively for military purposes.