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NSU started as a knitting machinery manufacturer in 1873, diversifying into bicycles, motorcycles and then motor cars. The name emerged around 1892, from its location (where the two rivers Neckar and Sulm meet). NSU cars were introduced in 1905, and restarted production of its motorcycles in mostly destroyed factories after World War II. In 1955, NSU became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. It was not till 1957 that car production resumed with the NSU Prinz. In 1964, NSU introduced a Wankel-engined model, the Wankel Spider, and in 1967, the revolutionary Ro 80 appeared.

Problems with the Wankel engine proved costly for the company, exposing it to being taken over by Volkswagen in 1969. VW merged NSU with Auto Union, and the Audi brand name became the main focus. With the demise of the Ro 80 in 1977, the NSU brand disappeared.

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