Borgward Redux – Are Diamonds Forever?
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.
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.
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.
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…