NSU and the Audi Neckarsulm Factory: 150 Years of Innovation and Transformation

NSU and Audi Neckarsulm Plant Annual Innovation and Transformation
NSU and Audi Neckarsulm Factory 150 Years of Innovation and Transformation

For its anniversary in 2023, Audi Tradition reveals some NSU goodies from AUDI AG's historic vehicle collection. The installation of the special exhibition “Innovation, Courage and Transformation”, a collaborative project between Audi Tradition and the German Bicycle and NSU Museum, continues.

The traditional NSU brand celebrates its birthday. Founded in 1873 by Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll in Riedlingen for the manufacture of knitting machines, the company “Mechanische Werkstätte Schmidt & Stoll” later evolved into NSU Motorenwerke AG and eventually to the present Audi factory in Neckarsulm. Named after NSU for its founding in the city of Neckarsulm on the Neckar and Sulm rivers, the company showcases the evolution of transportation, from bicycles and motorcycles to automobiles.

Audi Tradition plans to tell many stories about NSU's long history, stories about the company, its products, participation in races and much more throughout the year.

The first of these works will be a ten-episode series prepared by Audi Tradition. From March to December, one NSU model will be introduced each month, from classics with two or four wheels to prototypes and exotic models.

History of the traditional NSU brand

Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll founded the company in Riedlingen in 1873 as a manufacturer of knitting machines. The company moved to Neckarsulm in 1880 and was converted into a joint stock company in 1884. The Neckarsulm company was founded in 1886 precisely zamimmediately took action. Bicycles were becoming more and more popular. So NSU started to produce and sell more bikes. From 1900, the company also began the production of motorcycles. The new NSU (from NeckarSUlm) brand is starting to become popular all over the world. In 1906, the Original Neckarsulmer Motorwagen, a small mid-range car with a water-cooled four-cylinder engine, was presented to the public. In 1909, 1.000 employees produced 450 cars. The Neckarsulm-based automaker made a new history in the automotive industry when engineers first produced the aluminum-bodied NSU 1914/8 PS model in 24.

Despite the devaluation of the hyperinflationary 1923 year after the First World War, the NSU was in good shape financially. In 1923, 4.070 employees were producing an automobile every hour, a motorcycle every 20 minutes, and a bicycle every five minutes. In 1924, the company invested in a new factory for automobile production in Heilbronn to gain more space. But two years later, sales fell for the first time, causing cash problems. NSU was forced to cease automobile production in 1929 and sell the new factory in Heilbronn to Fiat. Fiat produced cars here under the name NSU-Fiat until 1966. Neckarsulm focused on the production of two-wheeled vehicles. In 1929 he took over the majority of Wanderer's motorcycle division and in 1932 established a sales partnership with the D-Rad brand in Berlin. Alongside BMW and DKW, NSU was one of the most important German motorcycle brands of the 1930s. It took over Opel's bicycle production at the end of 1936. Thus, it became one of the largest two-wheeled vehicle manufacturers in Germany. In 1933/34 NSU produced three prototypes of a vehicle designed by Ferdinand Porsche, equipped with an air-cooled 1,5-liter boxer engine at the rear. In its basic concept, this car was similar to the later VW Beetle. However, mass production was not started due to financial reasons. After the war, in May 1945, the Neckarsulm factory was largely in ruins.

Rebounded after WWII, the company continued production with the popular NSU bikes and the 98cc NSU Quick moped. A 125 and 250 cc model followed. Then came NSU Fox, NSU Lux, NSU Max and NSU Konsul with 500 cc engine displacement. Producing approximately 300 motorized two-wheeled vehicles (mopeds, motorcycles and scooters) per year, the Neckarsulm-based company reached the pinnacle of the global motorcycle industry in 1955. It was the largest two-wheeled factory in the world. NSU motorcycles; He gained worldwide fame with his victories in five motorcycle world championships between 1953 and 1955, and numerous world speed records. However, the company management had to find a solution to the decreasing demand for motorcycles since the mid-1950s. With increasing prosperity, customers wanted to drive. That's why remaking cars for NSU zamthe moment had come.

NSU resumed automobile production in 1958 with the compact Prinz model. He also made technical innovations in a short time. NSU had been working with Felix Wankel on an entirely new engine concept since the early 1950s. In 1957, a Wankel-type rotary piston engine worked for the first time at an NSU test station.

The Neckarsulm-based company introduced the NSU Wankel Spider at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show. Thus, he made history in automotive. It was the world's first production car powered by a single rotor rotary engine with 497 cc and 50 hp. The next breakthrough came when the Neckarsulm-based company unveiled the NSU Ro 1967 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the fall of 80, which excited the automotive world. The car was powered by a twin rotor NSU/Wankel rotary engine (115 hp). Its revolutionary design attracted a lot of attention. Also in 1967, the NSU Ro 80 became the first German car to be named Car of the Year.

On March 10, 1969, a contract was signed to merge NSU Motorenwerke AG and Ingolstadt-based Auto Union GmbH under the umbrella of the Volkswagen Group. From January 1, 1969, AUDI NSU AUTO UNION AG was established, with its headquarters in Neckarsulm. Volkswagenwerk AG owned a majority stake. The model range of the new company was also very diverse from a technical point of view. In addition to the NSU Prinz and NSU Ro 80, the Audi 100 was also produced at the Neckarsulm plant. However, after 15 years, two NSU models were phased out in the 1973s, the Prinz in 1977 and the Ro 80 ten years later in 1970. Finally, on January 1, 1985, AUDI NSU AUTO UNION AG was renamed AUDI AG and the company's headquarters was moved from Neckarsulm to Ingolstadt.

Transformation is part of the history of NSU and Audi's Neckarsulm plant, constantly renewing itself and its products. It has developed rapidly and continuously. With its expertise in large and small scale production, the Neckarsulm plant is now among the most complex plants in Europe and is one of the Volkswagen Group's most diverse locations. The facility turns into a smart factory and prepares for the transition to electric. Same zamIt is also an expert in high voltage batteries. In addition to the flagship Audi A8, the super sports Audi R8 and models in the B, C and D series, sporty RS models are also developed and produced in Neckarsulm. It is also the headquarters of Audi Sport GmbH, whose roots go back to the founding of quattro GmbH in 1983. It celebrates its 2023th anniversary in 40. The first all-electric Audi model produced in Germany since the end of 2020 is also produced here: the Audi e-tron GT quattro. AUDI AG, the Neckarsulm plant, with around 15.500 employees, is currently one of the largest companies in the Heilbronn-Franken region. However, it all started 150 years ago with ten employees.

Creative, innovative, groundbreaking and exciting NSU advertising

“Smart drivers use Fox”, “Smart gets Konsul”, “Stop running – get Quickly” – these are legendary NSU advertising slogans. Arthur Westrup, NSU's former Head of Advertising, explains in his book "Use Prinz and be King: Stories from NSU History" that NSU didn't have a lot of money in the 1950s, which prompted him and his team to be more creative. Apart from catchy words, marketing experts have signed special campaigns.

For example, a special advertisement for NSU Quickly was published on the back cover of the BİLD newspaper every Monday, sometimes covering current issues. The ad, applied after a match between Germany and England, read: “You see defeated players coming home from Berlin and all the forwards groan, 'Happy is a Quickly'.” It became another commercial hit in 1971. “Ro 80. One step ahead with technology.” It was written in large letters on the advertising poster of the NSU Ro 80. Thus, Audi's famous slogan was created in NSU's advertising department. And “One step ahead with technology” has stuck in the minds of people all over the world.

Neckarsulm is also ahead in races with victories and records

NSU has a long history of motorsport, both before and after World War II. British rider Tom Bullus won the German Motosik Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in 500 on an NSU 1930 cc race bike. Bullus's bike became famous as the most successful German race bike, with the NSU 500 SSR winning the Nations Grand Prix in Monza in record time apart from multiple races. NSU won 1931 German championships and 1937 Swiss championships between 11 and 5. The NSU 500 SSR, which fans refer to as the Bullus, was also sold as a street sport bike, as a version with less power.

In the 1950s, the NSU achieved relentless victories. In 1950, Heiner Fleischmann (on a supercharged 500 cc NSU race bike) and Karl Fuchs in his sidecar and Hermann Böhm (on a 600 cc motorcycle) became German champions in their class. Beginning with the 1951 season, supercharged engines were no longer allowed in motorcycle racing, but supercharged NSU motorcycles survived. With aerodynamic fairings and elongated chassis optimized in the wind tunnel, Wilhelm Herz became the fastest man in the world in a two-wheeled vehicle in 290 and 1951 km/h respectively, at 339 km/h. Due to their resemblance to dolphins and whales, NSU racing bikes soon became famous as the Rennfox Typ Delphin and Rennmax Typ Blauwal. They won almost everything that could be won in motorcycle racing at that time. He won at NSU's 1956 Tourist Trophy (TT). The Isle of Man factory team included Werner Haas, HP Müller, Hans Baltisberger and Rupert Hollaus. Hollaus finished first in the 1954 cc class, which is considered the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world. Haas, Hollaus, Armstrong and Müller finished first to fourth in the 125cc class.

NSU also scored victories on all four wheels. In 1926, for example, four supercharged NSU 6/60 PS race cars won four wins at the German Grand Prix for Sports Cars at the AVUS in Berlin. In the 1960s and 70s, NSU Prinz, NSU Wankel Spider and NSU TT demonstrated their technical skills in auto racing that thrilled audiences on different racetracks around the world. And the little NSU Prinz TT has come out on top too many times. This model has won a total of 29 national championships in Europe and North America, while Willi Bergmeister was also the German climbing champion in 1974.

The most important milestones: the story of NSU and Audi's Neckarsulm plant

1873 Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll set up a factory in Riedlingen on the Danube to manufacture knitting machines.
1880 The company moves to Neckarsulm.
1886 Bicycle production started
1900 Motorcycle production started
1906 Automobile production begins with the original Neckarsulmer Motorwagen.
1928 Independent automobile production ceased and the factory in Heilbronn was sold.
1933 Ferdinand Porsche is tasked with the production of the NSU/Porsche Type 32, the predecessor of the VW Beetle.
1945 The facility was partially destroyed in World War II; Production resumed gradually from mid-2.
1955 NSU Werke AG becomes the world's largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles.
1958 Automobile production continued with the NSU Prinz I to III.
1964 Production of the convertible NSU Wankel Spider begins, as the world's first mass-production car with a rotary piston engine.
1967 NSU Ro 80 Sedan, which was selected as the Car of the Year with its futuristic design and rotary piston engine, entered mass production.
1969 Merged with Auto Union GmbH Ingolstadt to become AUDI NSU AUTO UNION AG; The majority shareholder was Volkswagen AG.
1974/1975 The factory was threatened with closure due to the oil crisis. With the legendary March in Heilbronn in April 1975, workers struggled to save the factory.
1975 To make better use of production capacity, contract production of the Porsche 924 begins. The Porsche 944 followed shortly after.
The Audi 1982, produced in 100 in Neckarsulm, reached a world-record drag coefficient of 0,30.
1985 The Audi 100 and the Audi 200 are introduced with a fully galvanized body. The company was renamed AUDI AG and the headquarters was moved to Ingolstadt.
1988 AUDI AG entered the full-size car class with the production of the Audi V8.
1989 A turbocharged diesel engine with direct fuel injection is introduced in a passenger car, developed in Neckarsulm.
1994 Audi A8, the world's first mass-produced vehicle with an all-aluminum body (ASF: Audi Space Frame), began production.
2000 Production of the first aluminum large-volume mass-produced car, the Audi A2, begins.
2001 The newly developed FSI direct fuel injection in Neckarsulm triumphs at Le Mans.
2005 Audi Forum in Neckarsulm opened.
2006 Audi R8 super sports car production started; The first victory in the Le Mans 24-hour race came with the diesel engine developed in Neckarsulm.
2007 With the start of production of the Audi A4 Sedan, the first production bridge was established between the Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm factories.
2008 New Audi tool shop opened.
2011 Audi buys 230.000 square meters of land in the industrial park Böllinger Höfe in Heilbronn (more plots were acquired in 2014 and 2018).
2012 Technical Center for Fiber Reinforced Polymers and new Engine Test Center opened.
2013 Audi Neckarsulm receives the JD Power Award as Europe's Best Manufacturing Facility.
2014 Audi's Logistics Center at Böllinger Höfe facility was opened and R8 production started.
2016 New Audi A8 production buildings built.
2017 Fuel Cell Competence Center opened.
2018 The Technical Center for testing aluminum materials opens at the Audi Böllinger Höfe plant.
2019 A MEA Technical Center (functional layer systems) was established for fuel cell development. Cross-factory mission: zero environment program started with measures for decarbonisation, sustainable water use, resource efficiency and biodiversity.
Production of the 2020 all-electric Audi e-tron GT quattro begins.
2021 Automotive Initiative 2025 (AI25): Established a network of expertise for the digital transformation of vehicle manufacturing and logistics, and a competence center for high-voltage batteries.
2022 Production is optimized for electrified transportation, including the modernization of existing buildings and the groundbreaking ceremony of the new paint shop.