german car brands

What are the German car brands like?

30 May 2022

German cars are extremely popular in almost every category. German sports cars, the luxurious cars, and more and more electric cars are especially popular. No wonder – the German car brands have been building their reputation for years.


The beginnings of the German automotive industry

Reaching back to the end of the 19th century the beginnings of the German automotive industry are actually the beginnings of the automotive industry itself. In history, primarily one particular name has recorded itself – Carl Benz. It’s him who created the first car. He also laid the foundation for the future – not only German – cars.

Throughout history, the German car brands multiple times had to deal with crises which strongly impacted their plans. They were the result of the intense involvement of Germany in the First and the Second World War. During the first and the second conflict, nearly entire German industry was shifted to the armament manufacturing – and its consequences were severe.



The manufacturers were forced to give up their current businesses – and when the wars were coming to an end, along with the orders from the army, the problems started to occur.


It’s exactly these turns of fate which marked the future of the German automotive industry. Fortunately, this is already history, and today every company can produce any car they wish to. The German car brands make use of this freedom, creating the most diverse cars – small and city-destined, huge and luxurious, as well as the German performance sports cars. So, although difficult, the history of the German automotive industry is definitely an extremely interesting one.


What characterises the German cars?

Can we speak about any particular characteristics of the German cars? Nowadays, when models are created globally, based on the subassemblies provided by external companies from an almost entire world, the differences between the German and e.g. the Japanese automotive industry are lesser than ever before. Still, the German car brands share certain aspects:

  • sustainability – although the time of the models from the previous century which were able to endure everything has passed long ago, but still the German companies take care of the quality, and the cars they produce pay back with the high sustainability,
  • solidity and reliability – the aesthetic aspect recedes to the background, as the German designers primarily expect that the car fulfills its basic function – that it safely brings its passengers to the destination,
  • advanced technologies – cars produced in Germany stand aloof from the extravaganza, but you can find on their boards the latest and very advanced technologies, on condition, of course, that they are appropriately tested first, 
  • frequent sports performance ambitions – the German sports cars have rich history of participating in races and raids all over the world, and some of them – such the Porsche brand logo – are clearly associated with sports successes. 



Most of the manufacturers make sure that their car can reach any place – comfortably and safely. Opinions regarding particular brands will always differ, which is a result of the differences in preference and experience of users, and their sympathy above all.


Some regardless of anything prefer a Bavarian sports car, others reach for an economic compact with the logo of a thunder. The first and the second have four wheels, both originate from Germany – and that’s it when it comes to the things they have in common.


Popular German car brands

Wanting to enumerate the German passenger car brands, most people would begin with the so-called premium segment trio. Indeed, Mercedes, BMW and Audi are names known worldwide. This is not the end – Volkswagen and Opel are purchased in hundreds of thousands of copies annually, and in addition, there also sports brands, such as Porsche, and niche ones, like Alpina.



Mercedes-Benz is one of the oldest German manufacturing car brands. It’s history reaches back to the end of the 19th century, when Carl Benz in 1883, and Gottlieb Daimler in 1890 founded their businesses. Soon after, Daimler partnered with an Austrian pioneer Emil Jellinek, whose daughter was named Mercedes. Wilhelm Maybach also cooperated with Daimler – another name which left its mark in history.

Daimler and Benz were developing their businesses parallelly – up to the point of the Second World War outbreak, when the competing businessmen were somewhat forced to join forces. This is how the Daimler-Benz AG business was founded, which, with enormous success, functioned until 1998. Regardless of the many transformations in the ownership structures of the business, the cars have been manufactured with the Mercedes logo on their hood. The brand from Germany has had better and worse periods, but it has survived the hardships and today – as it seems – it’s prospering better than ever before.

The latest Mercedes models are primarily the passenger and cargo cars, but there are also trucks and buses produced as well.

  • Mercedes-AMG is a company founded in 1967, and since 2005 it entirely belongs to the Mercedes-Benz Group. At first, it processed selected Mercedes model for the sports purposes, also realising some single individual orders. Today, AGM is an inherent part of the Mercedes offer – and nearly every model of this brands has its own sports version.
  • Mercedes-Maybach – a company founded by a German industrialist Wilhelm Maybach. Since 1909, it manufactured luxurious cars, but it was liquidated in 1940. The Daimler-Benz group obtained the right to the brand in 1960 and… for a long time didn’t do anything with it. Only in 2002, two new models started to be manufactured Nowadays, Mercedes-Maybach is a sub-brand offering a luxurious limousine based on the S Class, and a SUV built on the basis of the GLS Mercedes.
  • Mercedes-Benz EQ is the latest sub-brand of the group, founded in 2016. It manufactures the electric Mercedes cars. It deals not only with cars, but it also offers services and develops solutions. The entire activity of the brand focused on the electromobility.

Nowadays, many manufacturers have luxurious cars in their offers. Nevertheless, it is the Mercedes cars which remain the synonym of a limousine.



The history of this Bavarian brand reaches 1916. It had been a while until its founders – Gustav Otto and Karl Rapp – became interested in cars. AT first, they dealt with aviation. Some state, that the reflection of this  can be found until today, in the BMW logo, but that’s not true. One can a white and blue checkerboard on the brand logo. It is a motive taken from the flag of Bavaria, which BMW is inseparably connected with.

Only at the end of the First World War, the German companies gained freedom of production. Karl Rapp left the brand, which was followed by restructuring and changing the name. This is how the Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH, that is the Bavarian engine factory – BMW in short – was created.



Until then, the brand dealt with manufacturing aircraft engines, but when the army demand decreased to zero, problems started to occur. Many various complications happened in the history of BMW. From the manufacturing of engines, the company shifted to manufacturing pneumatic brakes, and later – in the following years – to motorcycles. It was its first such big breakthrough, that it managed to prevent the company liquidation for some time. At the end of the 20s of the previous century, the first experimental model of the BMW car debuted.

At the outbreak of the WWII, the history came full circle. In the Bavarian factories, the aircraft engines were produced again and – same as before – after the end of the war, only destruction and problems remained. The period of lesser and greater crises lasted for the following years – and the motorcycles manufactured by the company, as well as the small car manufactured on the Italian license, BMW Isetta, didn’t help.

Things changed only in the 60s. of the 20th century. At that time, the so-called New Class Mercedes cars debuted, and the the BMW factories couldn’t keep up with the order processing. With time, new cars were being released, for which Germans are famous for – 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series are one of the most commonly purchased models of this Bavarian brand.



The German car brands in many cases are linked with an intertwined history, and this also applies to Audi. The beginning of the company’s history is said to have started at the time when its founder – August Horch – was cooperating with… Carl Benz, by manufacturing luxurious passenger cars in Cologne. The cooperation wasn’t smooth, problems occurred, and then Horch was forced to leave. In 1910, he officially founded Audi Automobilwerke GmbH (the German Horch means “listen!” – just like the Latin Audi). After a few months, the first car drove out of the factory.

The debut years of Audi were a period of spectacular sports success, which ensured the brand the worldwide publicity, as well as the financial prosperity. It was the period during which the brand experimented with big engines, as well as the time when the first German cars with the steering wheel installed on the left side were released.



After WWI, August Horch left the company, and, in the following years, Audi itself was forced to be joined with other businesses. It was necessary for the sake of the protection against the negative effects of the military operations of the economic crises.


In 1969, the company joined the NSU AG company from Neckarsulm, and the so-called modern history of Audi began, along with the successful models it produced –  the100 (already since 1968), and the 80 (since 1972). One of the milestones in its history was developing the Quattro four-wheel drive system – which was also the name of an Audi sub-brand, responsible for the sports cars of the logo of four-circles on their hoods.

Nowadays, Volkswagen Ag is the owner of Audi, which holds over 99.5% of the shares.



The history of Volkswagen reaches to 1931, when Ferdinand Porsche was asked to prepare a project of car, whose type is nowadays not associated with his name at all. It was a cheap car, named Type 12. A bit later, another prototype was creates – Type 32,  and eventually, the German government led by Adolf Hitler himself also presented its expectations. Hitler demanded creating a cheap and family car, which the citizens could have afforded. This is how the famous Beetle was created, and this name also later given to the company.

Volkswagen in German literally means “people’s car”.

Some deem 1938 as the official beginning of the Volkswagen brand, others think it’s a bit later, in 1945. Again, the brand’s path crosses with the war, and the history is not a glorious one. Again, it is filled with the army orders, as well as, unfortunately, forced labour of prisoners. Fortunately, this period ended long ago, although it’s worth knowing that right after the war, VW still produced vehicles for the army – this time for the British one.

The following years were a spectacular carrier of the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the greatest successes, when it comes to the world, not only the German car brands. Along the Beetle, there were other timeless models released – the Volkswagen Transporter and the Passat. Later, there was the Golf and the Polo, and the wish that these models were the people’s cars was granted completely.

There were nearly 12 million of the Beetle itself manufactured, and the German manufacturer joined the list of the world’s mightiest companies. Nowadays, Volkswagen AG is a powerful company which manufactures not only the passenger cars, but also the cargo cars, parts and subassemblies, and which is developing dynamically. Some financial institutions belong to the VW group, with the Volkswagen Bank being one of them.






Adam Opel started his business in 1862 in Rüsselsheim… of course not from a car. He then constructed his own sewing machine, after some time he developed his own bicycle, and only after his death, the company got interested in cars. The first car was the Opel System Lutzmann equipped with a 4-HP combustion engine. There were 11 copies of this model produced.

In 1909, the Opel 4/8PS, known as the Doktorenwagen, debuted, which was followed by other cars with time. During the WWI, Opel produced mainly trucks, however, the company didn’t completely abandon manufacturing the passenger cars. In the 20s, it was already the biggest manufacturer in Germany, and in 1929, most of the company’s shares were bought by General Motors. The outbreak of the Second World War brought perturbations to Opel, which the company managed to survive.

In 1947, the production of the Olimpia models was resumed, and with time, other, legendary from today’s perspective, models arrived – the Opel Kadett, the Ascona, and finally, the Vectra and the Astra.

Until 2017, the Opel brand was in the hands of General Motors, after which it was taken over by the French Groupe PSA. Today – after the fusion of PSA with FCA – Opel remains one of the companies included in the “mega-group”, Stellantis.





In 1931, Ferdinand Porsche founded in Stuttgart a business, whom he borrowed his name. It dealt with the car construction, and later… its history goes the same path as the other manufacturers. By Hitler’s orders, it started manufacturing vehicles for the army. This is the part of the history which the biggest car brands would definitely want to forget. And so it happened, as in 1948, the Porsche 356 debuted, having a lot in common with the Volkswagen Beetle, by the way designed by the same author.

In 1963, the first Porsche 991 entered the market, which very well went down in history, considering the German sports cars. The Series 911 has been continued until today – and the company itself offers not only the typical racing sports cars, but also the limousines (the Porsche Panama), as well as trendy SUVs (the Porsche Cayenne, the Macan).



MAN is yet another – besides BMW – Bavarian brand which nowadays hires tens of thousands of employees all over the world. However, it all started very long ago – in the mid 18th century in the St. Antony ironworks. It is there where the industrial machinery was produced, and this is the place which was the foundation of the future MAN brand. Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg is the oldest company publicly listed in Germany.

For years, the MAN business dealt with i.a. manufacturing the diesel engines, and in 1923, it constructed the first truck with the diesel engine marked with the MAN logo. During the following years, the MAN company was dynamically developing, taking over other companies, and eventually… it was taken over as well. The company nowadays belongs to the extensive portfolio of the Volkswagen group.


Who do the particular German car brands belong to?

The German car brands for years have been strongly developing – and grouping. Today, they mostly belong to the mightiest companies. It is a popular in Europe, as well as in the rest of the world, solution which allows i.a. lowering the production costs, co-sharing engines and other solutions, and mutual support (which is important e.g. during delivery issues).


BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke AG)

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG – a Bavarian engine factory – is nowadays a company consisting of four brands. Aside from BMW itself, in its portfolio, it also has the MINI and the Rolls-Royce car brands, as well as – recently – BMW has possessed also the Alpina brand.


Daimler AG – nowadays: Mercedes-Benz Group AG

The Mercedes group mainly consists of the Mercedes (along with AMG, Maybach and EQ), and the Smart, as well as other brands – the Freightliner, the Unimog and the Setra. The group deals not only with manufacturing the many passenger cars, but it also provides the market with trucks, buses, motorcycles and machinery.


Volkswagen AG

The Volkswagen AG group portfolio includes many well-known companies. There is the Volkswagen itself, along with its departments from many parts of the world, as well as Audi, Seat and Škoda, the luxurious Bentley, the sports cars of Lamborghini and Porsche. The group includes also the truck manufacturers – Scania and MAN, as well as the motorcycles – Ducati.

Bugatti is yet another brand belonging to the Volkswagen AG group. However, it has been recently sold and currently it is a part of the Bugatti-Rimac group, 45% of its shares – interestingly – belongs to the VW Porsche.

More information about the Volkswagen group, Daimler and BMW,as well as other big companies in the automotive industry can be found in our article devoted to the car brands.


Popularity of the German car brands in other countries

German cars – whether the German sports cars, or the more “casual” ones – are very popular. Not only Germans value their high manufacture quality, reliability and predictability. For a long time, the German cars have been considered the ones which can be relied on – and this belief translates into the sales rankings in the individual European countries.

In 2021, the Škoda and the Volkswagen cars, both brands belonging to the German VW group, were ranked – right after Toyota. BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Opel were also ranked high. The situation is very similar on the secondary market – the German car brands are incredibly eagerly purchased. Germany is also no. 1 in terms of importing cars from abroad.

To learn about how to enter the country with a car purchased in Germany, read our article devoted to the cars imported from Germany.



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Also read other articles in our series:

  1. “What Polish cars have been driven?”
  2. “What do the French car brands stand out for?”
  3. “What are the Italian car brands like?”
  4. American car brands – check which cars are from USA”
  5. “Which Japanese car brands are popular?”
  6. Car brands – who do they belong to?”
What are the German car brands like?
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