THINK 'MADE IN Germany' and precision, streamlined and technologically advanced spring to mind. Think Audi and all these descriptions sit as comfortably with the car maker as a derriere in one of its soft leather seats. Audi is a popular choice among Hong Kong's executive elite - and last month it celebrated its 100 birthday. The first Audi off the production line sauntered along at 50mph. Fast-forward a century and its latest version, the zippy R8 V10, has the finely tuned speedometer nudging 195mph, leaving speed demons in Hong Kong pining for autobahns. But the road to becoming one the world's leading producers of luxury cars has been a bumpy one. Audi - the name is Latin translation of the German word Horch (listen) - was founded in 1909 by engineer August Horch. Since then the carmaker has undergone numerous changes, its biggest in 1932 when the firm merged with three German car makers - DKW, Horch and Wanderer - to form the Auto Union. The brand's emblem of four overlapping rings symbolises this union. But like all German manufacturers, Audi suffered during the second world war as materials and resources were funnelled into the war machine. It was only after its acquisition from Daimler-Benz by Volkswagen in 1965 and the drive of one of its engineers that the Audi 100 emerged in 1968 - ready to take on the hi-tech world and live up to its slogan, vorsprung durch technik (advancement through technology). And advance it did, with the help of Ferdinand Piech who had his foot firmly on the technological pedal, taking over as Audi's technical development director in 1974. The gifted Piech successfully steered the company not only into foreign markets but the luxury one as well. Giant steps came with the development of the first five-cylinder engine and the first turbocharged diesel injected (TDI) engine which grew to become Audi's trademark and, in today eco-conscience environment, the engine is considered the most fuel efficient. It's hard to pinpoint the moment when Audi stamped its mark on the industry ... maybe in 1968 when the Audi 100 was rolled out and became an instant hit or in 1972 when the Audi 80 sold more than one million in a six-year period. In 1994 another improvement in the production process was introduced: The ASF (Audi Space Frame), a 100 per cent-recycled aluminium body which is still used today. From 1994 new models of the Audi 80 became known as the A4 (safe and charming), while the Audi 100 became the A6. As the brand cracks open its birthday champagne, its biggest toast is reserved for the Audi A4 which is in its 15th year of production. Quirky, smart, stylish, it is also powerful and exciting, and is considered the most popular Audi sold today, having secured a five-star rating from the European New Car Assessment Program safety tests. Refinements are continuing: Today's four-wheel drive Audi A4 has had its waistline reduced, becoming 12cm narrower and with dual-zone climate control, a defroster, heated seats, cell phone/iPod holder, cup holders, power plug and a push start/stop power button, it is also one of the most technologically advanced cars on the block. Audi has also defied a global slump, with well-heeled customers - a growing number in China - turning to the luxury carmaker. For the past 13 consecutive years Audi has recorded sales increases (it was 34.2 billion euro last year). And while its production roots are in the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt, it now builds cars in Hungary, China and Belgium, employing 58,000 people worldwide. Sales have been boosted thanks to a bigger slice of the growing Asian market and a German programme where people are paid to get rid of old cars and buy news ones. Refinements to quality and new fuel-efficient technologies also make Audi a popular choice as the need to preserve the environment enters the thought process of car buyers. 'This 100-year milestone provides motivation for all Audi employees to continue writing the company's success story into the future,' Audi's chief executive Rupert Stadler said. And for Audi, the future is all about the two e's: economical and eco-friendly. It says its new economically friendly electronic vehicles will be released in the near future. With its four electric in-wheel motors, Audi plans to release five varieties ranging from a small hatchback to a trendy cabriolet. Also in the pipeline is a sport-back version of the current vehicles and these will be available soon to add that extra sparkle. With such a bright future there is good reason to celebrate.