The Audi A8 May Go Electric and Ultra-Luxurious with a New High-End Model

Clifford Atiyeh
Photo credit: Andi Hedrick - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

  • Horch, like Mercedes-Benz's Maybach, is a brand name that belonged, at one time, to an independent German automaker building some of the most expensive, fastest cars prior to World War II.
  • Audi has not confirmed rumors that the Horch badge will reappear but said it will expand the A8 lineup with a separate "prestigious derivative."
  • That derivative may launch with this current-gen A8, but an EV isn't scheduled until the next-gen model arrives in the mid-2020s.

Audi appears to be considering bringing back an obscure name from its past-Horch-that was last seen in 1940. If so, it could be attached to an ultraluxury model, in the way that Mercedes has done with the Maybach brand.

At Audi's annual shareholder meeting earlier this week, Audi said the next-generation versio of the A8 might go fully electric and that it would expand the A8 lineup with an "especially luxurious and prestigious derivative" of the full-size sedan. Automotive News went a step further by suggesting this ultimate Audi would be called Horch.

If, like the average Audi buyer, you're outside the car-collecting circle and haven't read into prewar German automobiles, you may not know what a Horch is. August Horch, a former Benz engineer, founded his namesake company in 1899, was kicked out in 1910, and in that same year founded Audi (a Latin translation of Horch, which means "hark!"). Then Horch's Audi and the Horch company came together in 1932 with two other companies to form Auto Union, a Saxon version of General Motors. These four brands-DKW, Wanderer, Audi, and Horch-offered, in that order, a range of cars (and motorcycles) from economy to super luxury. But the Horch and Audi brands dissolved by 1940, Daimler-Benz bought the majority of Auto Union in 1958, and in 1965 Volkswagen bought the remaining companies and remade the first Audi models, which were in part engineered by Mercedes-Benz, into a separate brand.

Photo credit: Jim Fets

There's a slightly disconnected link between Horch and Maybach, too. During the war, Auto Union built tank engines designed by Wilhelm Maybach, Gottlieb Daimler's original business partner who competed against Horch with his own extravagant cars during the twenties and thirties. Horch was no slouch in excess, either. Well after Horch the man departed, the automaker was cranking out dual-overhead-cam straight-eights, servo-actuated brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, transverse leaf springs, and five-speed gearboxes. In the Depression era, this was serious innovation and performance. Back then, wealthy Europeans lined up to pay.

Photo credit: Jim Fets

That's not all easy to break down, but Audi will have to convince customers that an A8 Horch-a name it has flirted with before, in recent years-is worth close to $200,000 like the Mercedes-Maybach S650, or even $160,000 like the BMW M760i. Right now, they're not. The most expensive A8 in the U.S., with all options, only crests $126,000, in no small part to Audi dropping its incredible W-12 engine in the U.S. And although Audi launched the A8 as an all-new generation for 2019, it's not all that popular. Last year, for every 10 people who bought an S-class, just one bought an A8.

It's also unclear whether the Horch name might be applied now, in this model's generation, or shelved until the mid-2020s when the proposed electric version arrives for the next generation.

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