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Audi, NSU and the importer conflict in the polder

The Audi and NSU range for 1971. A turbulent year for two Dutch importers of both brands.
ER Classics Desktop 2022

In 1969, Volkswagen took over the idiosyncratic NSU. It previously took over Auto Union from Mercedes-Benz. And that was the beginning of Audi in the mid-sixties, which returned in terms of name to the car world. Volkswagen merged NSU and Audi. And that's how daughter company was born Audi NSU Auto Union GmbH. This would make the management of both brands more efficient for Volkswagen. So two birds with one stone. At least you would think so. In the Netherlands, the merger of Audi and NSU was a hassle, a lot of hassle.

The Rotterdam importer NV v/h company Van Oorschot has been importing NSU models since the fifties. Hart Nibbrig & Greeve (HNG) had been riveted to the import of Auto Union products for years. After the disappearance of the DKW brand name, the importers' shelves were first filled with the F103 models of the reborn Audi. The same Audi suddenly became a sister brand of NSU and a partner within the newly founded subsidiary of Volkswagen. And that meant that Hart Nibbrig & Greeve could now also import NSU models. You understand: people in Rotterdam were not happy about that.


Collaboration with HNG not an option for Van Oorschot

Van Oorschot had every reason for this, because the Rotterdam importer had grown together with NSU. The news that Hart Nibbrig & Greeve was also going to import NSU models in addition to Audi's was certainly not received with applause at Van Oorschot. Yet it remained relatively quiet, also because Wolfsburg announced that Van Oorschot would in any case remain the designated importer for NSU's models. In the meantime, the Rotterdammers did not think about doing the Audi and NSU imports in collaboration with HNG. One of the reasons was that Sassenheim since 1966 cross connections had with Datsun emerging in the Netherlands. Director De La Porte had founded Datsun Nederland during that year.

Van Oorschot content

Van Oorschot therefore stood his ground. They wanted the exclusive right to the Audi and NSU imports. They received a letter from West Germany. Van Oorschot was advised, because the letter stated that they would become the exclusive Audi-NSU importer for the Netherlands. It is not known whether such a decision was also celebrated with champagne in the year 1970, but people in Rotterdam were extremely pleased with the decision, which was also considered logical at the same time. Van Oorschot would carry out the activities for the VW subsidiary under the name Audi NSU Import Nederland.

HNG: chagrin and new strategy

At Hart Nibbrig & Greeve, people were certainly not happy with these developments. And the management of HNG became extremely grumpy when it received an unwelcome letter from West Germany at the end of 1970. It stated that from January 1, 1972, HNG was no longer allowed to be an importer of the Audi brand and therefore also not of NSU. Performance closed, locker closed, end of story. That's what you thought. Because in the background a changing of the guard took place within the Volkswagen group. The role of corporate boss Kurt Lotz and of staff members Zimmermann and Von Heydekampf was waning. Rudolf Leiding and his companion Schönbeck took over the direction in Wolfsburg. And then you know it: new brooms sweep clean.

Leadership: increasing focus on Audi

This was true in several respects in this case. Leiding had thought that the Audi NSU range would consist of only three models in the near future: the NSU Ro80, the Audi 100 and the future Audi 50, which was destined to replace all Prinz models of NSU. This car was developed under the project name Kolben-50, which was clearly a hint to NSU and its past. Leiding did not say a word about the Audi 80, even though it had been under construction for a long time. Logical, because it was destined to become part of the future VW Passat series.

HNG will still remain an importer alongside Van Oorschot

Leiding also made use of his new influence in another way, and the shrewd HNG knew what to do with it. They invoked a promise from Kurt Lotz. He would have promised HNG that they could also continue to import Audis and NSUs. And when Leiding took over, he confirmed the alleged commitment. Although this was presented differently to the outside world, the focus was no longer on NSU. Audi would become the luxury brand of Volkswagen, with a lot of interchangeable technology. NSU had its own technical image, with the Ro80 and the Prinz models still running at the time. And that did not fit within the desire for efficiency and growth. And HNG had the necessary expertise and common ground with Audi and its legal predecessors. For example, the roles were partly reversed, and two importers continued to fight each other for the Audi and NSU split.

HNG grows, Van Oorschot sees sales fall

HNG greeted rising numbers. The HNG Sterdealers sold significantly more cars in 1971 than in 1970. Van Oorschot saw sales (especially those of NSU) drop dramatically. It led to a lawsuit in 1971. And the judge ruled in favor of Van Oorschot, they were given the exclusive right to import from Audi and NSU. A later appeal court - before the turn of the year 71/72 - resulted in a polder compromise. Both importers were allowed to import Audis and NSUs, also because Rudolf Leiding had promised HNG that it could distribute Audis in the Netherlands.

Thick line through the bill

And that was a big draw for Van Oorschot, which had just had a new distribution center built in Tegelen for the import and roll-out of Audi models in the Netherlands. By the way, anyone who sees Van Oorschot advertisements from that time can't ignore the hidden stings of the time. For example, in an advertisement for the then new Audi 80, it is stated that HNG Star Dealers being and Audi NSU dealers. It is also reported that in 1972 there are (still) two Audi importers for the Netherlands. the word yet is significant, but took on a very different meaning in 1974.

Pon takes over total import at strategic moment

Because Pon, which had been riveted to VW for years, took over all import activities for Audi NSU Auto Union GmbH at the end of 1974. This was done under the guise of exchange, cost savings for the customer and economies of scale. The takeover moment was clever and strategically chosen by Volkswagen and Pon. Because the new VW range was ready, the air-cooled range had shrunk considerably. The small(er) NSU models enjoyed their retirement. And Audi had already said goodbye to the F103 series. Ingolstadt had completed the model range with the 80 and the small 50. And within the higher segment, Pon had the Audi 100 models and the NSU Ro80 ready in addition to the exclusive Porsche.

Pon smiling third

In this way, Pon was able to roll out a new strategy with a modern offer. How were the ruffs from Sassenheim and Rotterdam? HNG started looking for a new brand. Because of the ongoing activities for Datsun, it was not unfamiliar with the Japanese trade and walk. HNG took over the import of Mitsubishi immediately after the Audi NSU farewell. That happened on November 1, 1974. Thanks to this development, the Japanese made their market debut in the Netherlands, and not without success. After the transition from Audi NSU to Pon, Van Oorschot mainly focused on other activities. And Pon was going to prosper. The importer from Leusden became the smiling third in the Dutch Audi NSU Auto Union GmbH story.

3 Comments

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  1. Well, who doesn't remember Greenib-Sassenheim's advertisements? Cars, Bicycles, later even motorcycles such as BMW and Harley and… airplanes. Now Greenib is a real estate company, with even a business park named after it. So a piece of the pie and not something to feel sorry for, just like Pon.en associates.

  2. Another very nice story, and as always: When two dogs fight for a bone, a third runs with it…
    In 1997-1998 I also had a 100 Auto 1974 coupe, as in the middle of the photo, with the intention of fully restoring it. In the end it was scrapped because nothing, absolutely nothing (not even a single wear part) was available anymore.
    Audi should, in my opinion, have a little more respect for its own past, but presumably they do not want older models of their brand to be seen on the street. (also a kind of corporate policy?)

  3. This story was once necessary and makes a lot clear to everyone who knows the brands and models, but not about company policy and other backgrounds.

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