Success story followed a momentous start
- 40 years since the merger of NSU Motorenwerke AG and Auto Union GmbH
- Formation of Audi NSU Auto Union AG laid the foundation for the AUDI AG of today
- Heated discussions accompanied the stockholders meeting in 1969
Neckarsulm on April 26, 1969: the first day of Audi NSU Auto Union, the company that would later develop into the AUDI AG we know today, was a momentous occasion. Following at times heated discussions at the extraordinary general meeting of NSU Motorenwerke AG held 40 years ago, the NSU stockholders finally approved a merger with the VW subsidiary Auto Union GmbH. The press dubbed the event the “stockholders meeting of the year” – after all, the birth of the new company was not without its share of controversy.
Having taken over the controlling stake in Auto Union GmbH in December 1964, Volkswagen, in search of new production capacity, went on to gradually acquire a majority interest in NSU Motorenwerke AG in the late sixties. Following this acquisition, the parent company sought to bring about a merger between its two subsidiaries based in Ingolstadt und Neckarsulm.
On March 10, 1969, a merger agreement was signed between Auto Union GmbH and NSU Motorenwerke AG. After exactly 12 hours and 21 minutes of sometimes heated discussion with initial resistance from the NSU stockholders, the agreement was approved at a special meeting of stockholders on April 26, 1969. On August 21, 1969 the agreement became effective with the merger backdated to January 1, 1969. The key argument that clinched the NSU stockholders’ approval was the conversion of income from the so-called “Wankel licenses” into NSU participation certificates, which remained in the hands of the NSU stockholders after the merger. VW then transferred its shares in its Auto Union subsidiary to NSU. The new firm was named Audi NSU Auto Union AG. Neckarsulm became the company’s corporate seat and Dr. Gerd Stieler von Heydekampf, chief executive of NSU at the time, was appointed as chairman of the board of management.
In NSU Motorenwerke AG, Volkswagen had acquired a company with a long and rich tradition. The former bicycle manufacturer, which had originally started out making knitting machines, has a history going back to 1873. In 1900 it was one of the first companies in Germany to be building motorcycles, and as early as 1906 NSU produced its first car, named the “First Neckarsulm Motor Car”. NSU became the world’s largest maker of two-wheeled vehicles in 1955. Two years later, the company started production of a new car, the NSU Prinz, thus creating one of the protagonists of the German Economic Miracle.
NSU also made a name for itself by developing the rotary piston engine (known as the Wankel engine after its inventor Felix Wankel). Although, in the end, the technology did not achieve widespread application, the new engine concept attracted keen worldwide interest at the time. NSU sold Wankel licenses to carmakers around the globe, including Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Mazda, Citroen and General Motors. The company based in Neckarsulm became the first German manufacturer to win the “Car of the Year” award with its NSU Ro 80 in 1967. This luxury-class saloon with its futuristic streamlined look is still considered a design icon today. In 1969 NSU was also on the point of unveiling a mid-class car, the K 70, which was later launched as a VW model.
At the time of the merger, NSU was producing some 128,000 cars per year with annual sales in excess of 566 million marks. Its new partner in Ingolstadt could present even more impressive numbers: in 1968 Auto Union posted sales of more than 590 million marks. However, VW Beetle assembly accounted for a major share of this figure. In the same year, over 92,000 VW Beetles and some 70,000 Audi models were produced in the Auto Union factory in Ingolstadt. As a result of the merger, the new company’s equity rose to 215 million marks and its workforce increased to over 23,000. In the year of the merger, the newly formed southern German car manufacturer already achieved record sales of more than 1.6 billion marks (+ 43 percent) and produced some 265,000 cars (+ 33 percent), thus exceeding all expectations. The merger of NSU and Auto Union was to prove highly successful. The wide variety of technically advanced concepts in the Audi NSU product range at the time gave rise in 1971 to the advertising slogan that still stands for the Audi name today: Vorsprung durch Technik.