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German car brands are known for manufacturing high-class vehicles that consistently exceed driver expectations as far as performance and appearance are concerned. This reputation makes these brands the leaders in automotive production worldwide, with many of their marques ranking higher than similar American, Japanese, and Korean car brands.
And German car brands also feature a long history of innovative technologies and cutting-edge engineering — advances which were subsequently adopted by other European car companies. Plus, many of these vehicles just look stellar. From supercars to SUVs, these manufacturers have made some of the models that serious gearheads covet.
A Brief History of German Car Brands
German car history began in 1870 when Nikolaus Otto and Karl Benz invented the 4-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 China and Japan. And these brands aren’t just about quantity, as they also routinely claim top-marks for quality too.
In 2021, German car brands claimed three World Car Awards, including the World Car of the Year (Volkswagen ID.4), the World Luxury Car (Mercedes-Benz S-Class), and the World Performance Car (Porsche 911 Turbo).
Top German Car Brands: The Titans, Sleepers, And Has-Beens
When most people think of German car brands, companies such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz obviously come to mind. While these are a few of the most well-known German car brands, there are several other manufacturers that you might not have heard of. We’ve rounded up some of the top German car brands currently in operation and a few that have, sadly, ceased production.
Audi began production in 1909. Currently headquartered in Ingolstadt, Germany, the company received its name, which means “listen” in German, from its founder, August Horch. In 1932, Audi merged with Horch, Wanderer, and DKW to form Auto Union UG. The four linked rings in the Audi logo come from these four companies. Then, in 1966, Audi became part of the German automobile giant: the Volkswagen Group.
In the United States, Audi continues to become more popular each year. 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 including the TT and R8 with special runs like the Panther Edition R8 aimed at Audi enthusiasts.
Mercedes-Benz has been in business since 1926. The car manufacturer operates out of Stuttgart, Germany and was founded by Gottlieb Daimler who also worked with Karl Benz. Since its inception, Mercedes-Benz has had a reputation of being a manufacturer of luxury cars. 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 that was produced from 1964 through 1972.
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 convertibles. These include the C-Class, E-Class, AGT-GT, plus the SL Roadster.
BMW has been around since 1916 and is headquartered in Munich, Bavaria. Founded by Franz Josef Popp, BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works) and is often recognized instantly by its iconic blue and white roundel logo.
Their greatest successes over the years have come in the realm of handling, horsepower, and performance, solidifying their place amount the best German car brands in the world.
Since its inception, BMW has released many luxury passenger cars, sports cars, and SUVs. BMW USA offers a wide variety of luxury vehicles. They range from the X1-X7, 2-Series to 8-Series, Z4, M Models, i3, i4, and i8.
From comfy daily drivers to modified track-day beasts, the various iterations of BMWs lineup have found a faithful following in both casual drivers and motorsport enthusiasts around the world.
Volkswagen has been one of the most popular German car brands since 1937 when Ferdinand Porsche started the company. This automotive giant is currently headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. Over the years, Volkswagen went on to acquire other iconic brands such as Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Skoda, and SEAT.
Though not as flashy or luxurious as some of the other German car brands, Volkswagen has created some well-known vehicles including the Beetle and the Vanagon. They don’t have as many models as some of the other German car brands, but buyers still have a decent selection of reliable vehicles to choose from.
Volkwagen’s sedans include the Arteon, Passat, Jetta, and Jetta GLI. They also make the Tiguan, Taos, and Atlas SUV models; or if you’re looking for an EV, check out the ID.4, winner of the 2021 Car of the Year. Hot hatch enthusiasts can opt for the Golf or the souped-up Golf GTI.
Porsche is another well-known German automaker. Founded in 1931 by Ferdinand Porsche, its current headquarters are in Stuttgart, Germany.
Porsche mainly specializes in high-performance sports cars and has gained a lot of its reputation from its factory-racing team. Many older Porsches are worth a good deal of money today. The Porsche 911 has been a mainstay in the sports car world for years.
Current sports car models include the 718 Cayman, GTS, Boxster, and Spyder as well as the 911 Carrera, Targa, Turbo, and GT3. Across the board, you have your pick of high-end trim packages and can even opt for a cabriolet (convertible). Porsche also produces a Panamera sedan plus the Macan and Cayenne SUVs as well as its debut play in the EV market, the Taycan.
You might not be familiar with this German car brand as Opel currently does not sell any models in the U.S. However, the brand, also known as Adam Opel AG, is popular in Germany with its headquarters in Rüsselsheim.
Founded in 1862 by Adam Opel, the company began by manufacturing bicycles but quickly branched out to release the first vehicle in 1899. Opel grew in popularity from there. At present, the company and its parent brand, Vauxhall, are currently owned by PSA Groupe.
Opel came to the States branded as Buicks. It’s possible you’ve seen some Opel cars in old gangster movies. And you’ve likely spotted the 1969 Opel GT in “Starsky and Hutch” to the 1970 Opel GT in “Criminal Minds.”
At present, the brand makes a solid lineup of cars, SUVs, and even a van. The European market has a choice of the Astra, Corsa, Crossland X, Grandland X, Insignia, and Zafira.
Alpina has been around since 1965 and is currently owned by BMW, with its headquarters in Buchloe, Germany. Though you might not know about this brand, you’ve possibly seen the badging on a BMW. Alpina works closely with BMW to produce high-performance versions of BMW and Mini cars.
The brand is recognized as an automotive manufacturer as opposed to an aftermarket tuner as each Alpina vehicle leaves the assembly line with a unique serial number that differentiates it from its Bimmer counterpart.
Self-branded as “cars for automotive gourmets,” Alpina isn’t one to churn out a huge quantity of models, but if you do spot one in the wild, it’s sure to turn heads with its bespoke touches — namely their 20-spoke alloy wheels, Alpina Blue metallic paint, the thin, pinstripe styling, and, of course, the Alpina badging. Alpina currently crafts seven sedans (D3 S, B3, XD4, D5 S, B5, B7, and B8) and two SUVs (XB7 and XD3) all finished out with posh touches inside and out.