Rumors out of the press are suggesting that Audi is strongly considering re-use of the Horch brand name to denote its largest and most luxurious offering. Once one of the world’s most luxurious marques, the Horch brand is currently one of the defunct brands owned by Audi and one of the brands represented in Ingolstadt’s four-ring logo.
From what we can tell, the rumor first appeared published in Automotive News by the very credible German automotive journalist Jens Meiners. Given the source, we believe the consideration of re-use of the Horch name to be likely, and is outlined with the intended plan of action as a specially badged and most exclusive variant of Audi’s flagship A8 model.
The name Horch, of course, comes from Audi’s founder August Horch who founded a company under his own name in 1904. Over the years, Horch would lose control of the company bearing his name and later form the Audi brand, effectively the latin translation of the German word “Horch” (“Hark” in English). By the 1930s, Horch and Audi were merged with other German brands DKW and Wanderer under the four ring logo of Auto Union. In that Auto Union portfolio, Horch continued in its position as the most premium brand. It continued to produce cars until 1940. When most of the Auto Union facilities fell behind the iron curtain after World War 2, Horch’s existence as a car manufacturer effectively ended.
Fast forward to the late 1990s and there was a rush by car manufacturers to the super luxury segment. Volkswagen Group had just bought Bentley with Lamborghini and Bugatti not far behind, and BMW had successfully nabbed Rolls-Royce from VW’s grasp in that time. With no further existing brands to grab and always one to watch its competitors closely, Mercedes-Benz responded in kind by dusting off its own pre-war brand Maybach with a bespoke S-class derived super luxury sedan of its own.
During that time, Audi also considered reviving the Horch brand name. These were robust days in the car industry, and the idea of another German super luxury brand in the Volkswagen Group portfolio was definitely an interesting thing to consider both in Ingolstadt and Wolfsburg. The Horch coupe design model you see here was spotted in an Audi Tradition conference room in Ingolstadt back in 2008, by then already a historical curiosity. Even still, its proportions and size compared to the B3 80 model next to it seem to suggest this was yet another consideration of use of the original Bentley Continental architecture, which was itself a steel variant of the Audi A8’s aluminum D chassis.
Over time, Maybach proved less than successful and the dedicated Maybach sedans were canceled in 2012. Later, in 2015, Mercedes again went to the Maybach branding by launching the Mercedes-Maybach as the most exclusive variant of the established Mercedes-Benz S-class (W222). This most recent iteration was more of a trim level for S-class then, instead of its own bespoke brand and body style.
It seems, this latest run at Horch is much in the vein of the 2015+ Maybach strategy. Meiners offers even more specifics in his piece for Automotive News. According to that story, a Horch trim level of A8 will debut following that car’s mid-lifecycle freshening in roughly three years. Some changes seem obvious, like different wheels and Horch brand logo on the C-pillar or the quarter panels. It will also likely include the return of the currently unreleased W12 engine variant and maybe even the W12 twin turbo similar to the one utilized by Bentley in the Continental range. Meiners’ source also suggests that the Horch A8 could even include a turbocharged V8 version just as the Bentley does. While the A8 isn’t expected to be stretched any longer than it is, the long wheelbase A8L is expected to be used and even the upcoming S8 is rumored to switch to this body style.
The next question is whether Audi could choose to go even further with Horch branding on other vehicles. That’s not in the current plan, but also hasn’t been ruled out according to the factory source for the Automotive News story. Even still, the Bentley Bentayga has shown the work has already been done from a drivetrain perspective. If the market seems to think it needs another super-luxury SUV, then a Horch trimmed Q8 would be a fine example.