Wednesday, February 25, 2015

German Brand Borgward Is Coming Back, But Will It Honor Its Forward-Thinking Past?

Borgward Isabella

The story of Preston Tucker and his car is well known: Better-looking and technologically superior to the competition, the "game-changing" 48 (née Torpedo) was brought down by a combination of an obtuse and hostile press and mean-spirited competitors and government officials. Germany has an equivalent of Tucker: Borgward. But while the Chicago-based American carmaker folded after just 51 units were completed, Borgward was the fourth largest carmaker in Germany and employed over 20,000 people in its heyday. The were sold under the Lloyd, Hansa, Goliath, and Borgward brands.

Conceived by the charismatic industrialist Carl F. W. Borgward, the cars were stylish and brimming with cutting-edge technology. The Isabella is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful cars of its era; the Borgward 2400 was an early fastback sedan, available with an in-house automatic transmission; its successor, the P100, was one of the fastest cars in its segment and fitted with an air suspension, including an innovative anti-roll and anti-dive system. Some models were exported to the U.S.

The engineering passion that drove Borgward contributed to its downfall. Each brand had its own engineering and purchasing departments; there was little commonality between the cars, and sometimes, the company found itself short on cash.

In December 1960, a cover story in the magazine Der Spiegel ridiculed Borgward's engineering-driven and impulsive style and highlighted the company's financial travails. The senate of the city state of Bremen, where Borgward was headquartered, seized the opportunity to renege on a pledge to vouch for a credit that Borgward needed to move forward. The move was informed by emotions as much as facts: The ruling Social Democrat Party in Bremen hated Carl Borgward, a feeling that the old-school industrialist reciprocated.


Given the alternative to close down immediately or hand over his company to the State, Borgward chose to give up his assets to Bremen; the senate put in charge Johannes Semler, a manager who simultaneously headed BMW's supervisory board.

BMW, of course, was a direct competitor of Borgward. Semler's half-baked attempts to save Borgward came to an end little over a half year later. But after the company closed its doors, all creditors were paid off, casting severe doubt over the claims that it was in desperate financial shape.

As a result its moment of triumph and subsequent meddling with the company, the city state of Bremen lost almost 20,000 jobs and millions in tax revenue; on a larger scale, Borgward's downfall became first ominous crack in the German postwar Wirtschaftswunder, or "economic miracle."

Many assets were shipped to Mexico, and the P100 was assembled there until 1970. A late 1970s attempt to resurrect Borgward with a new car that put carry-over technology under the skin of an AMC Hornet never came to fruition.

Now Borgward is back. In 2008, the founder's grandson Christian Borgward teamed up with former Saab and Daimler PR executive Karlheinz Knöss; last year, they sold the rights to the brand to Beiqi Foton Motor in China. At the Geneva auto show, Foton will give a glimpse of its future plans—which include launching a Borgward-badged premium model before the end of the year.

It's good to see the great, if largely forgotten Borgward nameplate back on the market. To live up to its heritage, the new models need to offer style—and cutting-edge technology. Let's hope Foton can pull it off and launch a few cars that Carl F.W. Borgward would be proud of.

2015 Geneva auto show full coverage

from Car and Driver Blog


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