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11 Most Recognized German Car Brands

Which German automakers are you aware of?

Gumpert Apollo Top Car - rear view

German car brands are known for creating high-class vehicles that exceed expectations as far as performance and appearance are concerned. That’s what makes them a leader in automotive production worldwide, with many of their marques ranking higher against the likes of other American, Japanese, and Korean car brands. German car brands feature a long history of innovative technologies; many of which are used by other European car companies.

When most people think of German car brands, it’s typical to name off companies such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. While that’s good, there are several other German car manufacturers you might not have heard of or forgot about. We’ve got the list of the 11 German car brands currently in operation and a few that have sadly ceased production.

History of German Car Brands

German cars began in 1870 when Nikolaus Otto and Karl Benz got together to invent the four-stroke internal combustion engine. These two mechanical engineers helped Germany launch into the automotive production business. By 1901, about 900 cars were being produced annually in Germany.

Today, Germany has one of the largest automotive workforces in the world. According to Worldometers, Germany is the third largest auto manufacturing country after the United States and China. In 2018, three of the six World Car Awards were given to German luxury car manufacturers. This is just one example of how well the German car brands perform.

1. Audi

German car brands

Audi began production in 1909 and their headquarters are in Ingolstadt, Germany. The company received its name from their founder, August Horch. Audi in German means “listen.”

In 1932 Audi merged with Horch, Wanderer, and DKW to form Auto Union UG. That’s where the four linked rings in the Audi logo come from. Then, in 1966, they became part of the German automobile giant: the Volkswagen Group.

In the United States, they continue to become more popular each year. In fact, in 2017, their sales in the U.S grew 7.8%. This set a new record for the company with 226,511 deliveries. In the worldwide market, Audi had an eighth consecutive year of growth in 2017 with 1,878,100 automobiles sold. Audi arguably builds some of the best German cars in the world.

They offer a wide variety of vehicles in the American market. Sedans and sportbacks include the A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, RS 3, RS 7, S3, S4, S5, S6, and S7. They also sell numerous crossovers and SUVs including the Q3, Q5, Q7, Q8, and e-Tron. As far as their coupes and convertibles, they are known for creating sporty, performance vehicles. Some of these include the TT and R8.

Plenty of famous people drive or have driven Audi brand vehicles and support the German car brands. Some of most known include Katy Perry (2009 black A5 Sportback), Kevin Costner (had a Q7 and S8), and Zac Efron (with an S6).

2. Mercedes-Benz

2018 Mercedes-Benz convertible - left front view

Mercedes-Benz has been in business since 1926. The car manufacturer operates out of Stuttgart, Germany and was founded by Gottlieb Daimler who worked with Karl Benz. Since their inception, they’ve been seen as a manufacturer of luxury cars. If someone drives a Mercedes brand vehicle, it’s naturally assumed that they have money, and the Mercedes-Benz logo has become synonymous with quality, emblazoning some of the best cars in the industry.

Over the years they’ve produced numerous types of vehicles including trucks, limousines, vans, and buses. In fact, the Mercedes-Benz 600 was a luxury vehicle that became a popular limousine model. They were produced from 1964 through 1972.

In 2017 alone, Mercedes-Benz sold 337,246 units in the United States. With that said, they sold approximately 2.3 million cars worldwide, which was an increase of 9.9% over the previous year. That’s why they’re one of the best German car brands.

Mercedes offers some unique car models. Their sedan lineup includes the A, C, E, and S-Class as well as the Maybach. Coupes also include some from the C, E and S-Class plus the AMG-GT. Their SUV lineup has also grown to include the GLA, GLC, GLE, and GLS. Several of their vehicles are also produced as a convertible model. These include the C-Class, E-Class, AGT-GT, plus the SL Roadster.

Because Mercedes vehicles are seen as a luxury item, it makes sense that famous people drive them. In fact, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class seems to be exceptionally popular. Some of the most well-known Mercedes brand vehicle drivers include Floyd Mayweather, Kim Kardashian, and Sylvester Stallone. That’s why they’re ranked as one of the top German car manufacturers.

3. BMW

2018 BMW i8 Roadster - passenger side view

BMW has been around since 1916 and is headquartered in Munich, Bavaria. It was founded by Franz Josef Popp and it stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), often recognized instantly by the iconic BMW logo. Their greatest successes come from the engine, which continues to improve over time. That’s what makes it one of the best German car brands in the world.

Since their inception, they’ve released many luxury passenger cars, sports cars, and SUVs. Their U.S. sales did drop slightly in 2017 to 305,685 vehicles which was a 2.4% decrease over 2016. On the other hand, they did rise 4.2% in worldwide sales for the year with 2.09 million vehicles sold.

BMW USA offers a wide variety of luxury vehicles. They range from the X1-X7, 2-Series-8-Series, Z4, M Models, i3, and i8.

Because of their status as the builders of some of the greatest cars of all time, there have been many celebrities caught behind the wheel of a BMW. In recent years, some of the famous people include Jessica Alba (X6), Halle Berry (i3), and Heidi Klum (6-Series convertible).

4. Volkswagen

2018 Volkswagen Beetle - left side view

Volkswagen has been one of the popular German car brands since 1937 when Ferdinand Porsche started the company. They currently have their headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany and were known as “the car of the people.” Over time, Volkswagen went on to acquire Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Skoda, and SEAT. It is the ultimate German brand, and a giant in the automotive industry, putting many American car brands to shame.

Volkswagen has created some well-known vehicles like the Beetle and the Vanagon. In 2017, Volkswagen of America sold 339,676 total vehicles which was a 5.2% increase over 2016. They also sold 10.7 million vehicles worldwide in 2017, marking a 4.3% increase.

They don’t have as many models as some of the other German car brands, but there’s still a nice selection to choose from. Their sedans include the Passat and Jetta. They also make the Tiguan and Atlas SUV models. Their compact cars include the Beetle and Golf.

While Volkswagen isn’t known as a luxury car maker, there are still plenty of famous people that drive vehicles wearing the classic Volkswagen logo. Some of them include Chris Pratt (custom-built VW), Heidi Klum (two Beetles, a Tiguan, and endorser), plus Justin Timberlake (Jetta).

5. Porsche

2018 Porsche GT3 - drivers side view

While they don’t sell as many as the other German car brands, Porsche is still a well-known automaker. They started in 1931 by Ferdinand Porsche once again. Their current headquarters are in Stuttgart, Germany. They specialize mainly in sports cars and gained a lot of reputation from their racing career. Many of their older cars are worth a good deal of money today.

Porsche Cars North America, Inc. set a record in 2017 with 55,420 vehicles sold. That was a 2.1% increase over 2016. Worldwide, Porsche AG has delivered around 246,000 cars in 2017, giving them a 4% increase over 2016.

Current sports car models include the 718 Cayman, GTS and Boxster, as well as the 911 Carrera, Targa, GTS, Turbo, GT2 RS and GT3. They also produce a Panamera sedan plus the Macan and Cayenne SUVs.

Many celebrities have been seen vehicles sporting the Porsche logo, especially those that enjoy performance cars. Some of the most popular include Jerry Seinfeld (owned 47 of them), Keanu Reeves (911 Carrera 4S), and LeBron James (911 Turbo S).

6. Adam Opel AG

1969 Opel GT - right rear view

This might not be one of the German car brands that you know about, but that’s because they aren’t sold here. In fact, they are popular in Germany and they maintain headquarters in Rüsselsheim, Hesse. They’ve been around since 1862 and were founded by Adam Opel.

At first, they only manufactured bicycles but released their first vehicles in 1899. From the popularity, they just grew from there. It’s possible you’ve seen some Opel cars in gangster movies. You’ve also seen the 1969 Opel GT in Starsky and Hutch plus a 1970 Opel GT in Criminal Minds.

7. Alpina

Alpina B6 GT3 - right side view

Alpina has been around since 1965 and is currently owned by BMW. They have headquarters in Buchloe, Germany. You might not know of this German car brand, but they are active and produce their own vehicles. A lot of their processes work in conjunction with the BMW production line and you’ll find the cars scattered around their homeland.

They are most known for their 20-spoke alloy wheels, an Alpina Blue metallic paint, and the thin, pinstripe style on the outer body. There’s also a metal plate located inside the car that provides the serial number and heritage of each vehicle.

8. Bitter Cars

Bitter Vero - hood up

This is one of the newer German car brands founded by Erich Bitter, a former race car driver. This luxury brand produces premium sports cars, but they haven’t gained a whole lot of popularity yet. That doesn’t mean we won’t hear more from them in the future.

9. Gumpert

Gumpert Apollo Top Car - rear view

Gumpert is only 14 years old and started in 2004. The founder is Roland Gumpert and the headquarters are located in Altenburg, Thuringia. Despite being one of the German car brands that manufacturers automobiles, they can’t seem to get any popularity. With that said, they have made some appearance in Top Car as the “Apollo Racecar.”

10. Isdera

Isdera Commendatore - driver side view

This privately owned German car brand began in 1969 under the direction of Eberhard Schulz. They are based out of Hildesheim, Germany and are known as ‘Ingenieurbüro für Styling, Design und Racing.’ Their main focus is on manufacturing sports cars, but not like most automakers do. Instead, they utilize a small team of automotive craftsmen to build each car. You might have seen one on Need for Speed II in 1997.

11. Keinath

Keinath - passenger side view

The last active company on our German car brands list includes this company which began in 1983. Their founder is Horst Keinath and they have headquarters in Reutlingen. What makes them slightly different is that they only focus on building race cars. They received some attention for creating a variant of the Opel Monza. They’ve also created a GTR which was stylish, powerful, and sporty.

German Car Brands No Longer Around

In addition to the 11 German car brands currently in existence, we also have some that are no longer producing vehicles. These brands either shut down completely or became part of one of the larger German car brands.

1. Adler

Adler - driver side front view

Adler was a German car brand that also produces motorcycles. They produced vehicles from 1900-1957. The word Adler means “eagle” in German. Before World War II, they were also known for producing typewriters. In their cars, they utilized De Dion two- and four-cylinder engines ranging from 1032 to 9081 cc.

In fact, in 1930, Adler created a lightweight VW prototype featuring a tubular chassis, independent wheel suspension, and mid-mounted engine. After the War, they decided not to resume production of cars, but they went on to make motorcycles for eight more years. Then, Adler motorcycle designs were given to Britain and were associated with Triumph.

2. Auto Union AG

Auto Union Type D Silver Arrow - right side view

Auto Union AG was in existence from 1932 through 1966 and later became Audi. Prior to that, Volkswagen owned them for a short time. The company focuses heavily on two-stroke engines which became less popular during the 1960s. Customers began looking for more four-stroke engines so Auto Union AG started selling off shares of the company with help from the West German government.

3. DKW

DKW car - left front view

You might recognize DKW as a German car brand that merged with Auto Union AG. It’s known as the “steam-powered car” or “the little wonder.” They built German cars and motorcycles from 1916 through 1966. A Danish engineer founded the automaker, but they created their last car in 1966, the F102. Then, Audi built the four-stroke F103, its successor.

The trademark for the company is still owned by Auto Union GmbH, which is part of Audi AG.

4. Borgward

Borgward Isabella

The Borgward car company was based in Bremen and founded by Carl Borgward. They produced vehicles 1929 through 1961. They had four brands, Borgward, Goliath, Lloyd, and Hansa, all who were sold to international customers.

The Borgward Isabella was a popular premium model during the 1950s in German. It was often driven by working-class residents, but some controversial insolvency proceedings brought the company to an end. The brand itself did see a revival during the 21st century through the Borgward Group AG with manufacturing and design in China instead of Germany.

5. Eisenacher Motorenwerk(EMW)

Eisenacher Motorenwerk - overhead view

This is one of the German car brands that didn’t make it long. In fact, the company only existed from 1945 through 1956. Most people knew the company as EMW and they were based in Eisenach. They produced sports cars plus some Formula One cars during the 1950s. They are also known for some motorcycle production.

EMW was one of the Formula One car builders in 1952, but they didn’t race in more than one event. It only made it 12 laps before ending the run due to exhaust trouble. Prior to the war, the EMW plant was a BMW factory. After the war ended, the Soviets took over the location. They attempted to continue under the BMW brand but were sued and forced to change the name to EMW. In the end, they closed down due to bankruptcy.

Final Thoughts

The four best-selling automobiles in Germany are German car brands. Ranking first in the country is VW, second is Mercedes, third is Audi, and the fourth is BMW. The rankings in America are different. In relation to the German car brands, Mercedes-Benz comes in first place, with Volkswagen in second and BMW in a close third. Audi, on the other hand, ranks much further down the list of best-selling brands.

With that said, it’s clear that the German car brands aren’t going anywhere, in Germany or the United States. They are known for producing high-performance automobiles that the general public love. They also tend to rank high as far as dependability and have innovative features. Which one of the German car brands do you enjoy the most?

Brian Jones
About Brian Jones

Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.