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The company was founded in 1864 as N. A. Otto & Cie by Nikolaus Otto, inventor of the four-stroke internal combustion engine. In the early years, Otto and his partner Eugen Langen, were only interested in production of stationary engines, not in automobiles. In the middle of the 1870s, technical director Gottlieb Daimler, who was eager to produce automobiles, was transferred to the company's St. Petersburg factory to reduce his influence. He resigned, taking Wilhelm Maybach with him. Deutz also produced agricultural machines such as combine harvesters and tractors, as well as commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses.
Famous people who worked for Deutz include Eugen Langen, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, Prosper L'Orange, Rudolf Diesel, Robert Bosch and Ettore Bugatti.
During World War II, the company was ordered to produce artillery and operated under the name Klöckner Humboldt Deutz AG (KHD). Commercial vehicles powered by Deutz engines were popular from 1960 to 1980, sold under the brand name Magirus Deutz.
Deutz's head office is in the Porz district of Cologne and as of 2004 was manufacturing liquid and air-cooled diesel engines. The larger engines in the Deutz range were manufactured in Mannheim, at a production facility that once belonged to Süddeutsche Bremsen-AG as MWM-Diesel. Deutz also have production facilities in other countries including Spain and a joint venture production facility in China. After Deutz took over, the plant specialised in marine engines. This facility now produces engines for marine and power generation which can run on either fuel oils or fuel gases (including landfill gas). In 1995 Deutz sold its agricultural machinery division – Deutz-Fahr – to the Italian company SAME, forming SAME Deutz-Fahr.