Geneva 2016 – Posted Missing: Borgward AG

Borgward Redux – Are Diamonds Forever?

Borgward 2 March 2015 (2)
Photo: Autovia Media

On the morning of 3 March 2015, a middle-aged man from Wolfsburg, who had chosen a career in the liquor trade in preference to his father’s and grandfather’s calling to the motor industry, stood before the international media, gave a brief history of his grandfather’s business, then introduced the new venture carrying the family name. In the fifteen allotted minutes we were introduced to the venture’s CEO and “business strategist” Karlheinz L. Knöss, their designer Einar Hareide, and finally, distinguished Cooper-Borgward racer Stirling Moss.

Photo: Autovia Media
Photo: Autovia Media

A textbook “new start” press conference – not that there’s ever much conferring – but there seemed to be something missing. It didn’t take me long to work it out. A car, perhaps. There was a fine Isabella coupe, on the stand, but that was an aide-memoire.

The new Borgward, we were told, would be introduced at Frankfurt in September. “We are a German company, we will introduce our car in Germany”. Hints at its nature were sketchy. A plug-in hybrid drivetrain, a scalable platform which could accommodate various vehicle types and sizes. Possibly the first car would be an SUV. In 2015, it’s hard to imagine any aspiring premium carmaker saying anything different.

What was not said was the identity of the venture’s chief partner, widely known to be Chinese truck maker Beiqi Foton, part of the mighty and cash-rich BAIC group. We were told that Borgward AG’s base is Stuttgart – not Hanseatic, not even in the Kontor, but, probably not coincidentally, the home of Foton’s European R&D base.

Photo: Autovia Media
Photo: Autovia Media

Post-Geneva, more “information” emerged. Talk of 1000 engineers employed in Stuttgart, a sales target of 800,000 “accessible premium” cars a year by 2020, and 1.6 million vehicles per annum by 2025. The involvement of Beiqi Foton was confirmed, but as manufacturing partners – Borgward AG would retain design control. I started to think that perhaps Herr Borgward and his Chinese ‘partners’ came up with these figures at an informal “board meeting” with a couple of cases of their host’s prime stock and his James Last records for background music.

In May I attended an international Borgward gathering in north-west Belgium. One make enthusiasts can be a strange bunch, but the Borgwarders really are the nicest of people. There was no cynicism, no bitterness, just pleasure at the new interest in the marque which had produced its last Isabella – “Du warst zu gut für diese Welt” – nearly 54 years before.

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Frankfurt IAA was irresistible, and Borgward AG – or was it Beiqi Foton? – came good, as the Australians would put it. The BX7 is not strong on originality; it’s a synthesis of Audi Q5, Porsche Macan and Buick Envision, but hangs together pretty well, with nothing shoddy or sub-standard in evidence. Indeed, the interior quality put the Jaguar F-Pace on the neighbouring IAA stand to shame. The engine is a 225bhp 2.0 litre petrol in-line four, used in other Foton products, probably in a rather less developed form. As Borgward AG refer to a “strategic partnership with FEV on gasoline, diesel and alternative drive technologies”, it seems likely that the Aachen-based engine design specialist contributed to the BX7 engine’s design.

Sales in China are reported to start in mid-2016, with a German launch in 2017, followed by other European markets. India is another target market, with stories that Foton may also use the Borgward brand for locally-produced versions of their own LCVs and pick-ups. As for ‘sophisticated’ western markets, what are Borgward’s chances? Prices of around 26,000 Euros are talked about. Probably six month’s depreciation less than a Q5 or X3. In a hard-headed nameplate and residuals-led market, I can’t see many being won over. Not even the traditional Borgwarders. As mentioned before, they seem devoid of bitterness. Despite the rumoured Bavarian complicity in the 1961 Johannes Semler-brokered unpleasantness, their most widely favoured daily driver is Borgward Macht Weiter…

11 thoughts on “Geneva 2016 – Posted Missing: Borgward AG”

  1. I suppose a smattering of heritage is better than none at all. So, it could be thought that, even if you’ve never heard of Borgward, just hearing that it’s an ‘old European brand’ gives it kudos in certain markets. When Audi first appeared in the UK, the name meant nothing at all to UK buyers, except they were assured that it was an old German brand. In any case, I imagine that acquiring the name needed little upfront expenditure.

    I’ve bought ‘Kodak’ AAA batteries before now (a better known name that Borgward, admittedly) rather than some generic brand, even though I know that the Kodak brand has been fragmented and licensed in various directions, and that both sets of batteries are probably made in the same factory to the same specification,

    We can speculate on other names that might be available for Eastern manufacturers – Fairthorpe? Chenard-Walcker? Argyll? Though, personally I’d go for Moretti.

    1. Menabrea for me, please…

      I’m impressed with what the revived Singer are doing in the States, but I can’t discern any reference to the Gazelle, Chamois, Hunter or SM1500.

  2. Look, it’s Alvis and Wolseley who need to be revived.

    I might suggest a conglomerate with Simca, Wolseley, Riley and Alvis as the main brands. Simca sell mini, supermini and Golf-sized cars with basic trim; Riley and Wolseley would sell cars in the Golf, and Mondeo classes but with differing trims. Riley would be sporting but luxurious and Wolseley the other way around. The Wolseley brand would have a unique S-class sized car and an MPV. Finally Alvis would sell a two-door coupe and shooting brake with unique wheel and paint options. None of the cars would share any components. It would be prohibited. Each division would have its own styling and engineering office. Simca’s would be in France.

  3. Brief update: Borgward AG have been good enough to invite me to a soiree in Monday rather grandly described “more than just a world premiere at (sic) the eve of the Geneva Motor Show.”

    The venue is TAG Aviation Europe’s office at Cointrin, within staggering distance of Palexpo

    I’ve checked my diary, and regrettably discovered I will be toasting Archie Vicar’s memory elsewhere in the city that evening.

    What can they mean by “more than just a world premiere”?

    Are Ghoul Borgward going to use BAIC’s money to buy out the Quandt family’s share in BMW, as revenge for the 1961 unpleasantness?

    Has Sergio found his ideal partner?

    And will Ulrich Walker be taking questions on why Borgward don’t have a stand this year?

    1. It’s a pity you’re missing that event as it looks like a scoop. “more than a world premiere” is as impressive as “rounder than a sphere”, suggesting something beyond the four dimensions we inhabit.
      As to the Archie Vicar event: beware as there are at least two societies claiming to nurture his reputation. One is broadly pro-front drive and the other broadly agnostic on the topic. Both point to his texts as justifications for their positions. They are known as the “twill” and “corduroy” cliques, in reference to their preferred legwear.
      So, Robertas: twill or cord?

  4. In Geneva I feel the hands of Johns Calvin and Knox constantly on my shoulder. Not much guidance from that quarter, as they are generally pictured wearing some sort of Jubba, probably with dodgy lingerie underneath, if anything at all.

  5. Is there much of Calvin and Zwingli’s austere outlook left? In a way yes, as I feel that despite their affluence Swiss motorists show off less than, say, their Irish counterparts.

  6. The Swiss are tight folk with money, like the Germans and the Dutch, and it shows in the carscape.

    The most surprising thing about the Geneva automotive landscape is the inordinate number of big motorbikes. I’m thinking it must be a tax thing.

    I’m sure that the two Johns, Huldrich, Theodore, and Guillaume would not have been averse to the guilty pleasures of a big engined two wheeler, had such things been around in their time.

  7. Simon can wade on here to agree or qualify this: there are lots of nice cars is Switzerland. The preference is for quietly nice though. That’s why Lancia did so well. I notice a preference for warm coloured interiors. Peugeot is or was popular and Rover had some success too. There are surely lots of high end exotics but they are not used daily. In contrast any time I stand on a busy street in Dublin 4 I will see Bentleys, Rolls, Porsches and one or two Lamborghinis with Mercedes and BMW more common than Fords or Opels.

  8. Alas, the things you describe seem to be from the past. Yes, there was a remarkable broadness in the Swiss carscape two or three decades ago, certainly due to the fact that there was no domestic automotive industry to be preferred and protected. There was a good share of American and British cars, too. Italians anyway, as our southern neighbours have been the largest immigrant group for a long time, bringing their automotive taste with them.

    Nowadays, most cars I see are German, and with a preference for SUVs, the uglier the better. White X6s with black rims are not uncommon. In affluent cities like Zurich there is also a good share of exotics, and they say that the Porsche density is particularly high there (mostly due to that spicy powder, I guess). If you really want to see exotic cars in use, you have to go to St. Moritz or Liechtenstein, by the way.

  9. Ghoul Borgward update:

    The Chinese car sales figures for July are out, and in the first month of sales, 4079 BX7s have ‘found homes’, making it China’s 117th best selling passenger vehicle.

    Promising, but there’s likely to be a back order book, and the novelty factor is strong in China.

    Some other July numbers for comparison:

    No. 125: MG GS: 3907.

    No. 268 Qoros 3: 635 (-19%)
    No. 270 Qoros 5: 611 (-%)
    No. 317 Qoros 3: SUV 326 (-27%)
    Total 1572 (28%)

    Qoros continues to disappoint – the business plan anticipated 12,500 sales per month.

    Borgward’s pricing suggests that they have learned from Qoros’ struggle, and have realised that ‘affordable premium’ isn’t going to work if it means just matching the cost of western brands.

    Entry level for the BX7 is 169,800 yuan.

    For comparison:

    MG GS: 120,000 – 160,000 yuan
    Qoros 5: 139,000 – 194,000 yuan
    VW Tiguan: 200,000 – 300,000 yuan
    Audi Q5: 300,000 yuan

    The Q5 is a special decontented Chinese only version; the regular range starts at 340,000 yuan.

    Qoros’s pricing of the 5 is a lot more competitive with domestic products than that of their 3 – they’ve learned the lesson.

    The MG GS has a new generation 1.5 litre GM petrol turbo four. Despite a claimed 162bhp output, reviews have not been positive. Despite being nominally offered 4WD is not yet available.

    The BX7 is a three-row SUV, slightly larger than a Q5, with a high-output 2 litre petrol engine. Regardless of the badge, it looks like it could succeed on value for money alone. BAIC are cash-rich – I think they’re up for a fight.

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