There are few phrases, in the modern world, that can create the image of the highest quality: American customer service, Italian food, African safari, Caribbean beaches, British sense of humour. None of these quite drum up the image of perfection like “German Engineering”. The connotations of the phrase itself are almost certainly born from the famed quality, reliability and longevity of German cars.
German manufacturers are renowned for being efficient, detailed and regimented with their execution. Despite a turbulent few years in the German Automotive Industry, during the first half of the 20th Century, these qualities have maintained a high demand and desire for German cars.
Then there’s the “Big 3” luxury brands of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Much like many first date questions like favourite food, favourite sports team and favourite colour; a usual question to be asked is “Merc, BMW or Audi?”.
Let’s look at the best of the bunch with our Top 5 German Car Brands:
Volkswagen owns almost everything. Just look at the names in the above infographic and you will see why Volkswagen Group are one of the biggest motoring groups in the world.
However, that doesn’t mean that Volkswagen needs its stablemates to compete – VW alone is responsible for 6.2m sales worldwide in 2018. Which is responsible for more than half of the entire group’s sales during that time.
Originally formed in 1937 to provide the people with a car (hence its name, literally meaning “People’s Car”) that they could realistically afford. Legendary car builder, Ferdinand Porsche, was brought in to assist with the designs and the result was the VW Beetle, or “Bug”. The Beetle was in production for decades – only being discontinued in 2018. This ushered in the era of small family hatchback cars, and Herbie.
Now, Volkswagen dominates the European car market, with the dynasty of Golf and Polo family hatchbacks entering into motoring legend and setting the benchmark for its class.
Mercedes-Benz (also referred to as “Mercedes” or “Merc”) has revolutionised motoring in many ways that aren’t obvious at first. The majority of standard and commonly-found equipment on modern cars were originally pioneered by Mercedes-Benz. Supercharged engines, diesel passenger cars, 4-wheel independent suspension, crumple zones and ABS are all things that started with a Mercedes-Benz.
Karl Benz, the literal inventor of the petrol-powered car, patented his machine in 1886. Gottlieb Daimler then founded the Daimler Motor Company, with Wilhelm Maybach, in 1890. Benz and Daimler eventually collaborated, and later merged, to produce a line of luxury vehicles. This line of vehicles was eventually dubbed the “Mercedes”, after an Austrian investor’s daughter. The name obviously stuck and the Daimler company named its car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz.
Thanks to it’s staggering 2018 global sales figures of 2,310,185 units; Mercedes-Benz is the biggest luxury car company in the world. This is down to its desirability, reputation for quality, luxury and performance; along with its racing pedigree. The Mercedes Formula One team is the current dominant force in motorsport.
The “Ultimate Driving Machine”. Need I say more? Oh… really? OK. Sure. BMW is known for creating luxury and high-performance saloons, hatchbacks, roadsters and SUVs, which put the driver’s experience at the forefront of their consideration. Coupled with a market leading infotainment system, the iDrive, it makes for a driver seat that everyone needs to sit in.
The Bavarian Motor Works (English translation) started life in 1913 as the Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH, an engine manufacturer for aircraft and motor vehicles, founded by the German engineer, Karl Rapp. After Rapp left the company in 1917, the company was renamed to the now familiar “Bayerische Motoren Werke”, adopting the blue and white chequered flag of its home region of Bavaria.
BMW has a long-standing love affair with motorsport, whether contributing teams or engines. Most notable are stints in Formula One, various Touring Car Championships and Le Mans and other Endurance Series races. BMW also had their own Formula Series, which helped develop young drivers from karting, familiarise themselves with single-seater racing, on their way to Formula One. They currently operate in Formula E, an all-electric racing series, with their electric-car focussed BMW i division.
With global sales figures of over 2m, BMW has established itself as one of the biggest and most diverse luxury car companies in the world.
One of the “Big 3” luxury car manufacturers, which sold the least in 2018, but still going strong in the market with 1,812,500 units sold globally.
Audi is renowned for its technological advancements and their impeccable interiors. Driving an Audi feels like piloting an Iron Man suit: lots of power whilst feeling protected and looked after by intuitive technology. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit sets them above the competition and the exterior styling is desired by many. They also offer the Porsche developed Tiptronic gearbox in higher models and spec levels; this allows you to seamlessly override the automatic gearbox, giving you the best of both worlds.
Originally founded in 1910 by German engineer August Horch, “Audi” is the Latin translation of his last name. Audi subsequently formed part of the Auto Union, along with DKW, Wanderer and the original Horch Company, for which the now recognisable “four rings” logo was adopted for. Effectively defunct in the ‘40s-‘50s, Auto Union moved into West Germany in order to re-establish itself as a motoring manufacturer.
After Volkswagen acquired the company in the mid-1960s, they turned to just use the Audi name for all 4 brands. Audi found worldwide recognition in the ‘80s, with the dominance of the Audi Quattro in rallying, using a 4-wheel-drive system from an old VW military vehicle on a small family-sized car.
Ferdinand Porsche had an impact on much of the motoring world during his lifetime, particularly with being credited with designing and building the first affordable small family car, the VW Beetle. He later set up his own high-performance company, due to his involvement in and love of motorsport, and used the design for the Beetle to create his own iconic motoring legend, the Porsche 911.
The company logo was created by merging the prancing horse and stag coats of arms of the company’s founding city and region, Stuttgart and Württemberg, respectively. The company’s headquarters remain in Stuttgart to this day and is still in the hands of the Porsche family. The Porsche company is the majority owner of Volkswagen AG, who themselves wholly own Porsche cars.
The 911 has been around ever since its first conception and remained largely unchanged throughout the evolving generations. Porsche have added SUVs and family cars to its stable, but the 911 remains the stuff of dreams.
Porsche only sold less than 260,000 units worldwide in 2018. However, much like its high-performance competitors, this only adds to the exclusivity and desirability of the cars.
Opel is a very old and large car manufacturer, based in Germany and operates across Europe and other continents. You would recognise its lightning logo from sports sponsorships and imports only, as it’s not sold in the UK. Now part of the PSA Group – which includes Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Vauxhall – the Opel models are sold as Vauxhall cars in the UK. As of writing, the PSA Group has not published its brands’ individual sales results for 2018, so it’s hard to determine the impact of Opel cars on the current market.
However, it is safe to say that Opel is a big brand name… just not on this side of the pond.