Chinese-owned, Stuttgart-headquartered Borgward AG presented an all-electric Isabella concept at the Frankfurt IAA. Is it a hubristic Frankenstein fantasy, or a worthy bearer of the revered name?
Die Isabella ist tot, es lebe die Isabella. Ein gute idee is besser als tausend Bedenken.
(The Isabella is dead, long live the Isabella. A good idea is better than a thousand concerns.)
So said Dr. Jochen Schlüter, the fictional chairman of the living and thriving Borgward AG in Andreas B Berse’s 2006 contra-factual novel ‘Borgward Lebt’ on the occasion of the launch of the fourth generation Isabella at the Frankfurt IAA in September 1989.
Even in 2006, Berse was close to the Borgward revival project being instigated by the founder’s son Christian, and business strategy consultant Karlheinz L. Knöss, who are included in the list of credits in his book. Would even he have believed then that a new Isabella would be on show at Frankfurt eleven years later?
Had Borgward ridden out the 1961 unpleasantness, they might well now be the most inventive and adventurous of Germany’s big four premium carmakers. The latest Isabella teaser might have been the harbinger of the tenth generation. In this context, Anders Warming and his team’s concept looks well-judged. You don’t employ a star designer to stick a big diamond and some oversized lettering on a Tesla clone. It’s overdone without doubt, but it does what a concept car’s intended to do – create controversy and thereby attract media attention.
Everyone’s trying identify the influences; Alpine A110? Porsche 928? An axolotl? The last is very much in favour with designers of “new energy” vehicles.
I’d refer them to the extraordinary Borgward Traumwagen.
From 1955, a year after the true and original Isabella went on sale. The running prototype was intended for show at the 1955 Frankfurt IAA, but was damaged in a collision just before the show, and was never displayed to the public.
So the story goes, but was it beyond the capabilities of Borgward to knock the Traumwagen into shape? They managed to take the Isabella from a twinkle in Carl Friedrich Wilhelm’s eye to the showroom floor in a mere eighteen months.
I suspect CFWB may have been uncomfortable about presenting something so outre, and his word was final. The grip he held over his company, of which he and his wife were outright proprietors, made Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Piëch look like arms-length dilettantes.
To return to the 62nd anniversary Isabella, a few figures: the external dimensions are reported as 5000mm long, 1920mm wide and 1400mm high, rather smaller than the C-Class, 3 Series, and A4.
Battery technology comes from technology partner LG, and a 500km range and fast charging ability is claimed, at least as an ambition. All four 21” wheels are driven, with motors at front and rear giving an aggregate output of 220kw, or 300bhp, and 450N/m of torque. 0-100 km/h is achieved in 4.5 seconds and the top speed is 250 km/h. The range is 500km, with the capability to charge to 80% capacity in 30 minutes.
Most of these are just numbers on a screen. What matters is that the electric storage and drivetrain technology is becoming ever more commoditised and affordable, and China is leading the field.
So is the electric Isabella just a kite-flying exercise, or the harbinger of a production reality? This timeline from a Borgward presentation a few months ago shows two new fastback saloons (or possibly coupe-saloons) arriving in 2020.
By then there will be plenty competition in the EV sector, but also far wider buyer acceptance, led at least in Europe, by government policy. I’d expect the production Isabella to ditch the sliding doors and the NCAP-nightmare Traumwagen homages.
Will there be enough left to appeal in a market where the established carmakers will have credible rivals on offer?