A new Auto Union

Germany’s Manager Magazin asserts that VW might buy Fiat-Chrysler. Ferdinand Piëch wants to re-create Auto Union and combine the VW brands Audi, SEAT and Skoda with classics like Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Porsche. Along with Fiat and Chrysler it could make over 14 million cars a year, consigning Toyota and General Motors with about 10 million into second place.

In the 1930s four rings signified the creation of the first Auto Union, the amalgamation of the motor industry in Saxony. DKW, Horch, Wanderer and Audi joined up to weather financial storms following the Great Depression and face intervention from the emerging Third Reich. The State Bank of Saxony, the Allgemeine Deutsche Credit Anstalt (ADCA) and the Commerzbank of Berlin were midwives at the birth of the Auto Union.
Wanderer was the oldest, established in 1885 at Chemnitz. In 1899 August Horch set up at Cologne-Ehrenfeld, moved in 1902 to Plauen in the Vogtland, then in 1904 as a public company eastwards to Zwickau in Saxony. Third ring DKW also had roots in Chemnitz from 1904 when Danish entrepreneur, Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen established Rasmussen & Ernst GmbH in an empty textile works at Zschopau in the Erzgebirge. In 1914, as the Zschopauer Maschinenfabrik J S Rasmussen, it did military work, experimenting with a large, and as it turned out unwieldy, steam vehicle the Dampf Kraft Wagen (DKW - Steam-Power-Vehicle).

DKW persevered with motorcycles, making a primitive car in 1928, then at the 1931 Berlin motor show made a breakthrough with the first front wheel drive production car three years ahead of Citroën. FWD was novel, it was cheap, and DKW was good at it. Innovation did not bring prosperity however, and DKW was obliged to take a shareholding in Audi, making Rasmussen chairman. But by 1932 car sales in Germany had halved and DKW suffered from Rasmussen's expansionism. To make things worse, the Hitler regime planned a state-sponsored car to go on sale to the German Volk at a seemingly impossible price to savers of political tokens.
Amalgamation was complicated and it took nine months to agree terms and acquire funds. Headquarters were at Chemnitz, the Zschopauer Motorenwerke raised its share capital from 4.5 million Reichsmarks to 14.5 million and the new Auto Union AG bought the fourth ring, Wanderer, leasing its factories.

DKW's contribution of share capital was Rm10 million, Horch brought Rm500,000, Audi Rm2,500,000, and Wanderer Rm15,730,000. The new combine had a staff of 4,500 and factories at Zschopau making motorcycles and 2-stroke engines, Zwickau (cars), Berlin-Spandau (wooden body frames) and Siegmar (cars and steel bodies). Auto Union was a major player in the German motor industry alongside Adler, BMW, Opel, Daimler-Benz, and Ford. Meanwhile the cause of all the angst, the Volkswagen, was slow making its appearance.
Ferdinand Porsche’s consultancy made a submission to the Ministry of Traffic in Berlin for a car selling for Rm1500, with a fuel consumption of 8l/100 kms (35 mpg), a top speed of 100 kph (62 mph) and a weight of 650 kg (1433 lbs). Hitler and Porsche met in April 1934, at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin, together with Jakob Werlin, Mercedes-Benz dealer in Munich and an early member of the Nazi Party. Werlin carried weight, joined the Mercedes-Benz supervisory board, and went on to be inspector-general of the industry.

Hitler sanctioned the VW provided it could cruise the new autobahns at 100kph, obtain a fuel consumption of 7l/100 kms (40 mpg) and sell for Rm990. A contract was drawn up under which Rm200,000 was set aside for a prototype and a production run of 50,000. The effect on the established Saxony car makers was profound but in 1935 Volkswagen was inaugurated. State intervention had been inevitable and the Auto Union’s marques Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW were broadly complementary. Horch made premium big saloons and tourers, Audi was distinctly middle-class. Wanderer had a solid array of good family cars and DKW lively cheap two-stroke economy models.
An urgent task was to forge the group’s identity and it took up a German state subsidy to build a 16-cylinder car designed by Professor Porsche, inaugurating a momentous period of grand prix motor racing. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union overwhelmed all opposition in a demonstration of German technical pre-eminence, a triumph for the Reich’s propaganda machine under Dr Joseph Goebbels.

Now Automotive News Europe reports: "The simple deal logic is straightforward," London-based analyst Arndt Ellinghorst of ISI Group wrote in a note to investors. "Chrysler - better Jeep and Dodge - could fix VW's US problems; Alfa could replace the ailing Seat brand; Fiat Europe is basically the 500 product family plus LCVs. Latin America could be sold, potentially to a Chinese buyer."
Both Piëch and Martin Winterkorn, VW chief executive, are on record as showing interest in Alfa Romeo. VW had $24 billion in cash to play with at the end of March, so a takeover would be manageable. Everybody denies any such thing but Piëch, the obsessive and brilliantly successful 77 year old grandson of Ferdinand Porsche gets his way more often than he doesn’t. If VW bought the 150-strong Agnelli-Elkann dynasty's 30 percent controlling stake in Fiat-Chrysler it could be $5 billion or $6 billion richer and even keep Ferrari to bring a regular $475 million pocket money every year.

Top: Mid-engined masterpieces, Auto Union racing cars by Dr Porsche.

Audi adopted Auto Union’s four rings.

Number 1 surmounts the bonnet of an Audi Front.

Horch made some spectacular cars

DKW Sonderklasse. Front wheel drive, 2-stroke and one of my first ever test cars, borrowed from the factory in Düsseldorf in 1956. My first drive at the Nürburgring.

Workaday Wanderer W24 with Auto Union rings

Classic book

Guild of Motoring Writers on a front line? A handful of founders in 1944 maybe but not many. Road tests can be written under fire from unhappy PRs, readers throw brickbats, but it’s a relatively safe business so long as you choose carefully who to drive with on press launches. Yet Mike Brewer was actually shot at doing an illuminating series on army vehicles in Afghanistan. Bouncy and enthusiastic, his publicist describes Brewer as TVs best-known car dealing expert, and now he has produced a book on buying and selling modern classic cars.

Brewer presents Discovery channel’s Wheeler Dealer series, which has been running for nine years and is shown all over the world. It illustrates what interest there is in classic cars and Brewer’s book is a useful primer. It covers buying, owning, selling, auctions and basics like giving a car a deep clean. “It never ceases to amaze me how little effort people make when it comes to tidying up their cars,” Brewer says. Quite right. I learned it long ago during a brief spell in the rough and tumble of the Glasgow motor trade. “If it’s looking a bit grimy get the engine steam cleaned, and don’t forget the painted areas like the inner wings.” Every motoring writer should have a spell selling cars. What makes people buy can be revealing, and it’s hardly ever understeer or oversteer or how many seconds it takes to 60.

Brewer’s experience in the trade was more successful than mine. See his Tales from the Trade. There is cogent advice on starter classics. He recommends Mark 1 Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva HB - plenty of variants and spares are cheap. I was less convinced about his advocacy of the Triumph Spitfire although he does recommend later ones after 1974.

Sporting classics? MGA yes, Delorean definitely not – terrible car – a dishonest pastiche. Favourite modern classics? VW Beetle – OK. Ford Capri ? Maybe. Lotus Elan? Yes. Jaguar E-type, yes certainly although not the lugubrious V12. And Morgan? OK but probably not the Plus 8, which I always thought over-powered for the frail frame. As for the Citroën DS; well to say the complicated suspension and hydraulics aren’t for the faint-hearted is an understatement. I’d go for something more bullet-proof - an MGB maybe with a Heritage bodyshell – to fend off the Taliban.

Mike Brewer’s The Wheeler Dealer Know How! £16.99 ISBN 978-1-845844-89-9 everything you need to know about buying, preparing and selling collectable cars. www.veloce.co.uk.
Top: Jaguar E-type. Ford Capri II. My sturdy MGB. Bottom - I tested military vehicles in my Gunner days. 8 (Alma) Field Battery Royal Artillery Daimler Ferret armoured car, like they used to build in what became the Jaguar factory in Browns Lane. That’s me in the turret.


The French have never been good at luxury cars. Citroën is about to make its last C6. The DS of 1956 was a phenomenon, but its hydropneumatic circuitry and aircraft-quality technology didn’t work in cars. I once had a Citroën collapse embarrassingly on a Scottish press launch.

About to take off from Heathrow, my British Midland Boeing 737 taxied back to its stand. "We will not be going to Glasgow on this aircraft," the captain apologised. "We have an instrument warning light, which forbids us taking off." He said it was tiresome, probably nothing, but rules were rules and would everybody please get off.

Passengers agreed warning lights were not to be ignored, and we set off in another aircraft to try Citroën's reply to the BMW 5-Series, a 24valve XM. The warning light was apparently connected to the aircraft’s hydraulics. It was not going to be a good day for hydraulics.

Oily fluid in pipes conveying pressure, pumping up air springs, gave the XM a floaty, matchless ride. Electronic sensors puffed up air bags working in conjunction with the hydraulics, keeping the car on an even keel the way Citroën invented in the 1950s. You barely gave hydraulic brakes and hydraulically-assisted steering a thought; they had been with us so long and there were always mechanical alternatives on which to fall back - steering by rack and pinion, a rod-and-cable handbrake.

The flagship Car of the Year XM had a V6 24-valve engine of 200 horse power, did 145mph, and reached 60mph in 7.5sec. It was well-proportioned, had alloy wheels, colour-matched bumpers, and luxury appointments such as electric seat adjustment, air conditioning and wood door cappings.

Half way through the test the power steering stiffened. On a couple of corners hydraulic assistance left off assisting, and the light feel grew leaden. When it gave up altogether it was just like driving a Citroën with very heavy steering; the car went where it was pointed and it was satisfying to know that when steering hydraulics failed, there was a mechanical system to take its place.

However, a Citroën's hydraulics failure was problematical. They were central its operation, and some 30 miles further on, the suspension sagged. A warning light came on and a buzzer sounded. The facia said STOP! With an exclamation mark. Citroën's hydraulics had stopped hydraulicking. This warning light, unlike the Boeing’s, meant what it said.

A drive belt, the Citroën PR man claimed, had come off. The pump for the hydraulic pressure was pumping no more and the car decided that, although most things were still functioning, pressing on with the suspension in a state of collapse was not an option. Citroën found me a replacement; we were air-and-fluid-borne once more, completing the journey through the Highlands in the serene comfort of a top Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce.

The 1956 DS had tempted buyers away from Mercedes-Benz, but in the 21st century Citroën finds itself unable to make the C6 compete with premium brands, principally German. Only 556 were sold in Europe in the first 10 months of this year, so it has stopped. Peugeot also has quit the large luxury market so French consumers looking for premium saloons will need to buy BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz or, quelle horreur, a Jaguar. Renault makes the Latitude, but buyers in France are not buying it because it is a rebadge of the Samsung SM5, imported from South Korea. Up to October, Renault sold 3,792 Latitudes, a decline of almost 60 percent from last year.

Renault might develop a new flagship with the underpinnings of a Mercedes E-class, selling as the Initiale Paris sub-brand. Automotive News Europe is not alone in wondering whether Renault should follow Peugeot and Citroën and leave the big luxury segment to the BMW 5-series (101,600 sales in Europe after 10 months); the Audi A6 (89,300); and the Mercedes-Benz E-class (86,400). In Europe, this market segment speaks principally German. The end of the rainbow for the C6.


Ford Comuta electric 1967
Legislators in California and their eager apostles in Westminster and Brussels cannot reverse a tide of events by passing a law. Los Angeles tackled photo-chemical smog by regulation and now nothing turns politicians’ heads so much, especially on America’s West Coast, by proposing (according to Automotive News and the Wall Street Journal) new rules that 5.5 per cent of cars must be zero emission by 2018.

They have said all this before. The accompanying Sunday Times column of 17 November 1991 said California was insisting on seven cars out of ten being battery powered by 2010. Legislators have had to back-track several times. Demanding 1.7 million electric cars by 2000 proved absurd. Even now there are only some 5,000 on the roads of the Sunshine State.

Ford Comuta chassis (batteries not included)
We are still not much better at storing electricity than Camille Jenatzy was in 1899 and Jacques Calvet’s plea for on-street battery charging remains as piously optimistic now as it was in 1991. And as Ben Webster the Environment Editor of The Times pointed out last week, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has admitted that electric cars could produce higher emissions over their lifetimes than petrol equivalents owing to the energy consumed in making batteries. An electric car would have to drive at least 80,000 miles before producing a saving in CO2. Many will not travel that far in their lifetime because they typically have a range of less than 90 miles and are unsuitable for long trips.
Even those driven 100,000 miles would save only about a tonne of CO2. Emissions made by manufacture, driving and disposal of electric cars, does nothing for tackling doom-laden environmentalists’ belief in climate change. The government Committee on Climate Change has called for them to be increased from a few hundred to 1.7 million by 2020. The Department for Transport is spending £43 million over the next year giving up to 8,600 buyers of electric cars a grant from taxpayers of £5,000.
Sounds like California. Perhaps the environment lobby will shut up and Our Leaders will back-track. Let practicalities prevail.

Sunday Times: Motoring, Eric Dymock 17 November 1991
Stand by for the charge of the battery brigade

The Californian legislation that obliges car manufacturers to offer electric alternatives is spreading. Nine other US states have announced they will follow California's lead, and with three more thinking about it, the electric car now seems likely to become big business.
This week Citroën announced the promising battery-powered Citela in Paris, and the Worthing-based International Automotive Design (IAD) launched in Los Angeles the production version of the car it revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Its LA 301 has a tiny petrol engine providing the energy for a 32 kw (43 bhp) electric motor.
Electric cars have seen false dawns before. In 1874 Sir David Salomons of Tunbridge Wells built a 1 horse power three wheeler powered from Bunsen cells. In 1899 Camille Jenatzy set a world speed record with an electric car, covering a kilometre at 65.79 mph. But hardly anything more practical than a milk float has ever gone into production. Electric cars have been frustrated by heavy expensive batteries, long recharging cycles, and short range.
Jenatzy's car had to have its batteries charged before it could do the return kilometre, and there has been little real progress in terms of speed and range. Even with modern sodium-sulphur or nickel-cadmium technology, a 4 ton battery the size of a 550 gallon petrol tank would be needed to provide a family car's 400 mile range and 100 mph performance.
Until Californian air pollution provided the incentive, electric cars seemed destined to occupy the margins of motoring. But now any manufacturer who wants to sell cars on the rich market of the American west coast has to answer California's call for 1.7 million electric cars by the year 2000. The state will demand a proportion of the cars sold must be TLEVs (transitional low emission vehicles), followed by ULEVs (ultra low emission vehicles) in phases up to 1995.
By 2010 seven cars in every ten will need to be electrically powered or, in the legislative jargon, ZEVs (zero emission vehicles). When I asked a senior General Motors executive what would happen if nobody bought the electric cars it had to offer, he said flatly, "We have to sell them."
The law will demand that the quota is sold, at a loss if necessary, on pain of not being allowed to sell anything else on the territory until they are.
Manufacturers the world over, including Renault, Fiat, BMW, Peugeot and Volkswagen are pressing forward with electric developments. General Motors has revealed the unfortunately named Impact, which is designed to keep up with the speed of urban traffic. It can reach 60 mph as quickly as a Jaguar XJ6, has a maximum of 100 mph, and a range of 124 miles. But like Jenatzy's record-breaker of 1899, it still can not do both at once.
GM is reticent about how often its heavyweight batteries would have to be recharged after sprinting to 100 mph. BMW has found that its sodium sulphur batteries are more responsive but they are also more expensive. They need replacing after about 30,000 miles at a cost of £30,000.
Audi has a hybrid full-sized 100 estate which does shopping trips on electricity, and uses its ordinary engine on the motorway. It would not meet California's requirements, but it would do for congested town centres closed off to petrol or diesel vehicles.
Its nickel-cadmium batteries occupy the space normally taken by the spare wheel, last ten years, and provide sufficient energy to drive the car at 30 mph and accelerate to 20 mph in 8 seconds - adequate for town driving. A small auxiliary electric motor drives the power steering and there is a petrol-fed water heater. Audi says the extra cost would be under £10,000, and its operating range at town speeds would be about 20 miles.
The combustion engine takes 45 minutes of main road running to recharge the batteries, and Audi awaits encouragement from local authorities, delivery services, and residents in noisy and smoky streets before making production plans.
The British-designed IAD LA 301, with a 660cc Subaru engine, is ready for production under an arrangement with the Los Angeles department of water and power. Some 10,000 are expected to be built, with a range of 60 miles on a dollar's worth of subsidised off-peak electricity. The most likely price is £15,000.
The Citroen Citela, like the Audi, uses nickel-cadmium batteries with a long life expectancy, giving a range of up to 70 miles. Recharging takes two hours from a standard three-pin plug, or half as long from a specially transformed power supply.
There is space for three adults and a child, in a vehicle the size and weight of the Citroen AX on which it is based. When it goes into production in 1995, Citroen expects it to cost no more than a basic AX, around £6,000 excluding the batteries which account for a further £2,400.
What is needed now, according to PSA chairman Jacques Calvet, is for electricity authorities to start making provision for on-street battery recharging. A pilot scheme is to be run at La Rochelle in 1993, in which 50 Citelas will show their paces, and try out a recharging network of power points installed by EDF the French electricity undertaking. EDF plans a national programme of recharging outlets in French cities by 1995, ready for the start of Citella production if the La Rochelle experiment proves a success.

Boris johnson hopes... Nissan Leaf and charging for London

Citroen letdown

Surprising really for Citroën to be caught out by hydro-pneumatics twenty years ago, when they had been working on them for twenty five years, but there you are. There were some DS saloons wafting about at the Le Mans Classic a couple of weeks ago but not many. Their hydraulics, like those on the XM I was testing simply weren’t up to the rough and tumble of running on roads. You don’t see many Cars of the Year XMs about, but I was right about the Mercedes, “a speed machine for the connoisseur.” Still is. Prescient comment too about how speeding drivers are regarded and the promising state of the old Goodwood racing circuit, as used by Peter Gethin for his driving courses.
I watched Gethin win the 1971 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It was one of the most exciting grands prix ever, when Monza was a slipstreaming circuit and the lead changed several times every lap. Clay Regazzoni (Ferrari), Ronnie Peterson March), Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell), François Cevert (Tyrrell), Mike Hailwood (Surtees), Jo Siffert (BRM) and Chris Amon (Matra) all led at one point, Gethin only briefly on laps 52, 53 and crucially 55, the last. He won at an astonishing 150.75mph by 0.1 sec from Peterson. It was 2003 before Schumacher went faster on the changed track. The redoubtable Peter Kenneth Gethin took part in 30 grands prix; Monza was his only win. He was 70 on 21 February.