Are German cars still the benchmark? A brief history of German auto engineering

Date Posted 13th January 2020
Read Time 4 min read

For what seems an eternity, German car manufacturers have eaten at the top table. The likes of Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW and Opel have littered the UK’s, and the world’s roads.

But are they still the ones to beat? Do they, today, still hold the dominance they once did?

Well, to find out, we have to take a trip down memory lane.

Germany’s early influence

During the 1870s, Germany made their first breakthrough in the automotive world. Karl Benz, who would later go on to found Mercedes-Benz, and Nikolaus Otto developed four-stroke internal combustion engines.

Benz, who is considered to have created the first practical automobile, attached one of his self-developed engines to his coach in 1887. It appeared to have a lasting effect, as by 1901 Germany was churning out about 900 cars a year.

Up until World War II, Germany’s development in the automotive industry continued. The giants of today, such as Audi, BMW and VW were founded, and under the Nazi rule of Adolf Hitler, one of the world’s most recognisable cars was born; the VW Beetle.

Constructed as part of a plan to make cars and automotive travel more affordable across Germany, ‘the people’s car’ launched in 1937 and went on to sell in vast numbers.

The theme continues

Despite much of Germany’s manufacturing sector lying in ruins following the conclusion of World War II, it proved only to be a speed bump in its automotive production.

In 1945, Wolfsburg; a city with a population of more than 120,000 today, was founded to house the workers of the VW factory.

And eight years later, through the signing of the London Agreement on German External Debts, which gave incentive to Germany’s creditors around the world to import goods from the nation, the automotive industry received a huge boost.

Sales continued to rise throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. However, during the early 1970s, VW faced major financial troubles.

VW’s financial troubles

At the turn of the 1970s, VW was almost bust. Renault had taken the continent by storm with their front-wheel-drive R16 hatchback a few years earlier, Ford had released the Escort and Capri, and simply put, VW had no answer.

That was until a period of three years which would go on to define automotive history; 1973, 74 and 75.

VW’s revival

The first saw the introduction of the Passat; a large family car in four different styles. Based on the mechanically-identical Audi 80 sedan, which was released a year earlier, the fastback paved the way for two further motoring cornerstones; the Golf and the Polo.

The Polo sought its competition as an entry-level rival to the Fiat 127 and Renault 5, who’d dominated the small car market.

Meanwhile, the Golf was a true trailblazer, fast becoming the most popular car of its size and forcing many other manufacturers to tap into the mid-sized hatchback market.

The German influence today

Fast forward 45 years and the VW trio is still as prevalent today as it was back in the mid-70s, probably even more so.

However, it’s not just Volkswagen flying the German flag. BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Opel in the name of Vauxhall, all feature heavily across our roads. But why?

Why choose German?

Simply put, with German manufacturing you’re usually guaranteed the most important thing you can find in any car; reliability.

The names mentioned above are renowned for their long-lasting cars, both mechanically and in style. And it’s that combination that keeps them ahead of the game.

If you look at both the interior and exterior of German cars, particularly the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz, they set the standard when it comes to technology and style. If you want to know what a standard hatchback interior will look like in 10 years, look at the Audi’s and Merc’s of today.

Answering the main question

So, we came here asking the question: Are German cars still the benchmark?

And the short answer is yes.

Many have tried to climb to the top of the hill in the past, and many will try to do so in the future, maybe even succeed.

But right now, it’s the Germans who are the ones to beat.

Find your perfect German car

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BMW 5 Series Saloon | £298.79/Month


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Vauxhall Astra | £134/Month

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