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Audi has a century-long heritage but emerged only relatively recently as a luxury European brand worthy of mention in the same breath with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Four independent German automakers joined forces in 1932 to form Auto Union; thus Audi's four-ring logo. The original company was dismantled by the Allies after World War II but soon a new Auto Union was formed, although at first without the Audi brand. Daimler-Benz owned it until 1964, when Volkswagen bought Auto Union -- and the modern Audi brand took shape. It ventured into the upper mid-size car segment and entered the U.S. market by 1969. But the key move for Audi came in 1980 with its new Quattro, a sport coupe that featured all-wheel drive -- the first application of this technology in a high-performance vehicle. The Quattro platform helped Audi gain accolades, sales and market share and presaged later Audi engineering firsts in areas such as continuously variable transmission. U.S. sales tanked in 1989 after media reports of an "unintended acceleration" problem in Audi 5000 models, which actually turned out to be driver error; Audi contemplated leaving the American market. But its new A4 in 1996 helped Audi regain its footing in the U.S. as a pure luxury and performance brand, and now the marque has a complete and robust product lineup in America as in other markets.
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