DKW's pre-war car designs can trace their origin to the 1919 Slaby-Beringer Elektrowagen. Rudolf Slaby had been an aeronautical engineer during the First World War, but like many others was forced to try his hand in other industries after the Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from building aircraft. Slaby developed a small electric motor which he installed in a simple cyclecar. The cyclecar's body was self supporting plywood box.
Slaby joined forces with his cousin, Hermann Beringer, to begin building a saleable version and began shopping it around. They managed to secure a large export contract to Japan along with some small domestic sales. Unfortunately the fledgling company was adversely hit by the German economic crisis and was plunged into insolvency.
The largest domestic order of Elektrowagens was from DKW owner, Jorge Rasmussen, who ordered 20 cars in 1920. Rasmussen saw an opportunity in Slaby-Beringer's crisis and offered to buy out the company. Both Slaby and Beringer took shares in the Rasmussen Group of companies and Slaby became the chief engineer at DKW's newly formed automobile division. The Elektrowagen would form the basis of the first series of DKW cars culminating in the P-15 of 1928.