German automotive manufacturers have been in the news a ton lately—though not always in a good way, as evidenced by Volkswagen and the ongoing "Dieselgate" scandal. Still, German brands like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche command a level of respect and panache in the automotive landscape because their names have become synonymous with luxury and performance.
The German brands have managed to earn that reputation thanks to decades of building cars that looked, sounded, and felt good. But with the industry becoming increasingly international and competitive, do German brands still deserve to command their high prices for new cars, used cars, and, of course, maintenance?
In many ways, the entire world has managed to catch up with the Germans, although their own missteps may be equally to blame, as well. Keep scrolling for 18 facts most people don't know about German cars.
18 Those Logos
Most drivers on the road can instantaneously recognize the logos of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volkswagen. But the BMW and Mercedes-Benz logos are almost similar. The reason is that they are designed to resemble airplane propellers (with BMW's showing the blue sky in the background) because, like many car companies, they used to build planes.
17 Luxury Reliability Problems
In the United States, German cars are typically thought of as luxury vehicles—even Volkswagen's lower-end products are nicer than the base models of American brands. But despite charging higher prices, German cars don't fare well in reliability tests. Consumer Reports ranked 31 global manufacturers in overall reliability, with Audi coming in at seventh, BMW at eighth, and Mercedes-Benz all the way down in 17th.
16 Massive Conglomerates
Ask anyone about German cars and they'll probably recognize BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen as hailing from that nation. But VW also owns subsidiary companies including Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, while BMW owns Mini and even Rolls-Royce. Does that make Lamborghini and Bugatti German or the same for Mini and Rolls-Royce?
15 Built Where?
Given that most automobile manufacturers have, by now, become massive international conglomerates that own multiple brands, it's hard to classify them as belonging to a specific country. One way to classify brands is by where their headquarters are—though consumers may still assume their German cars are built in Germany. But BMW's biggest manufacturing facility is actually in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
14 The Mercedes-Benz X-Class
Another way that the idea of "German" cars seems to falter is the prevalence of badge-engineering. True, the brands thought of as "German" aren't quite as guilty of this practice as some American manufacturers, but Mercedes-Benz currently sells the X-Class pickup truck—which is little more than a rebadged Nissan Navara. Meanwhile, BMW sells the Mini Cooper, which hit the market with a fair amount of Chrysler parts under the hood.
13 The "Mini" Cooper
When the modern Mini Cooper debuted in 2001, most people probably thought it was just another reboot of a classic British brand trying to revamp its products for the modern age. In fact, BMW had bought Mini when the company purchased Rover Group in 1994. So now, the British brand is owned by a German company, which sourced parts from Chrysler for many years and also built the Paceman in Austria until 2016.
12 BMW's M Cars
Nowadays, most of BMW's cars can be bought with some sort of M badging. From the 1M all the way up to the 2020 M8, there are too many options to count. Adding in borderline-M cars like the M240i and the X5 M50i only makes things more confusing. Essentially, the M now stands for a little performance upgrade—though the original M cars, like the M1 above, were a big step up from BMW's other cars in every way.
11 VAG And Dieselgate
By now, everyone who doesn't live under a rock should know that Volkswagen got caught for cheating emissions testing in the scandal now known as "Dieselgate" the world over. But while VW has, no doubt, taken the brunt of the PR hit, their Porsche and Audi diesel engines were also affected, leading to executives across the conglomerate being indicted and arrested.
10 The G-Wagen
The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen has become one of the brand's most recognizable SUVs, thanks largely to celebrities like the Kardashians who drive them from hip restaurants to expensive boutiques in Los Angeles. But the G-Wagen remains one of the most capable off-roaders in the world. Is it truly German, though, if it's manufactured by Magna Steyr in Austria?
9 Karl Benz
Most people mistakenly believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile. But in reality, Ford just used the assembly line to drive prices down to a point where the middle class could afford to purchase a car. Karl Benz, meanwhile, is credited with patenting his Benz Patent Motorcar way back in 1885.
8 Auto Union
Audi is Volkswagen Auto Group's mid-tier luxury brand, though their top-end sedans and SUVs, as well as the R8, have begun to creep suspiciously up into Porsche's territory. But Audi wasn't always the all-wheel-drive rally car brand, nor the luxury brand, that it is today. Audi used to be known as Auto Union, of which the Audi name was used on only one-fourth of its products.
One German automotive brand that most American consumers might not even realize exists is Opel. But Opel has been around for a long, long time; it originally built sewing machines and was founded in 1862. In 1886, Opel began producing bicycles and in 1899, it built its first car. Meanwhile, from 1929 all the way to 2017, Opel was owned by General Motors!
6 Ford-Werke GmbH
Most of the brands typically known as "German" automobile manufacturers have multiple international subsidiaries, but what about other car brands? Well, General Motors was definitely building Opel cars for a long time, but another one of the most prominent American manufacturers has deep roots in Germany, as well. Ford has their own German subsidiary, Ford-Werke GmbH, which has been in the country since 1925.
5 Porsche's Beetle Roots
Porsche sits atop the heap of German manufacturers when it comes to luxury and performance—mostly because of the performance side of things. But even though Porsche is currently owned by Volkswagen Auto Group, the two brands have been connected for a long, long time. In fact, Ferdinand Porsche designed the Beetle!
4 Audi's S Cars
Much like BMW has M models, Audi sells S and RS cars. The RS models are the higher-performers, though the company also sells S-Line models of their base cars. To make things more confusing, the R8—without an S—sits atop the lineup as a mid-engined, all-wheel-drive (most of them, anyway) supercar.
3 Mercedes & AMG Cars
Of all the German manufacturers to offer premium performance options, Mercedes-Benz might be the most confusing. First, they had AMG-badged cars. Then, some of the cars are no longer Mercedes-Benz but Mercedes-AMG. In fact, there are both AMG-badged cars and Mercedes-AMG models. Why these companies can't straighten things out remains a mystery.
2 The New Supra
Getting back to the international reach of most automotive manufacturers, the recent reboot of the Toyota Supra is a lesson in rebadging, badge-engineering, and downright confusion.
The Supra's inline-six engine is built by BMW and shared with the new Z4. But the Z4's inline-six is rated at 382 horsepower in the US, while the Supra's is rated at 335 horses. That's a big difference. What's even stranger, though, is that Car and Driver dyno-tested the Supra and discovered 339 hp and 427 lb-ft of torque at the wheels!
1 Weight Problems
These days, just about every automotive manufacturer's products have continually increased in size. But German cars are some of the most guilty for adding bulk. Case in point is the BMW M3. The E30-generation M3 had a curb weight of about 2,645 pounds, as declared by BMW-M.com. Meanwhile, the 2018 M3, despite using a ton of carbon fiber, tipped the scales at up to 3,631 pounds, an increase of about 38%!
Sources: Consumer Reports, BMW-M, and Car and Driver.