It seems highly improbable that a dormant German brand of cars, dead since 1961, could have found big-money backers and is all set to return.
Borgward -- best known in this country for the Isabella coupe and sedan of the late 1950s -- is prepping a new, seven-passenger SUV and plans to add new vehicles, establish a global presence and generate sales of 500,000 vehicles by the early 2020s.
Borgward has been resuscitated by Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., which markets cars in China under the Senova brand, trucks and buses under the Foton brand and heavy trucks and military vehicles under the BAW brand, which is short for Beijing Auto Works.
The company builds more than 2 million vehicles yearly.
In its best years, Borgward was West Germany’s third-largest automaker, and it had a pretty good run until financial problems brought the company down. It was always an obscure brand in the U.S. Borgward says its market positioning for its new vehicles will be “accessible premium.”
I’ve been watching the revival of Borgward with great interest because I think there are some other dormant brands that also could come back today and fill vital roles for existing automakers and the industry.
Here are a few:
Packard: Before World War II, some of the high-end Packard models rivaled Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars for style, luxury, craftsmanship, technology and high quality of assembly. America needs a world-class, hand-crafted brand of super-expensive, super high-quality and super-exclusive luxury cars. An all-new Packard could be that brand. Lincoln appears to be forever stuck being little more than more luxurious Fords. Cadillac might have the bandwidth to pull it off. The stunning Elmiraj concept car shows what’s possible, but GM won’t build it. And Cadillac has many other problems to solve first. Still: Why should Rolls, Bentley and Mercedes own the highest levels of luxury cars? America can compete, too.
Duesenberg: See above. In the 1930s, American-made Duesenbergs were arguably the world’s finest luxury cars.
Willys: With Jeep moving upmarket with more and more technology and luxury features, Fiat Chrysler could roll out a subbrand of very basic, no-frills off-road vehicles that are affordable, rugged and simple. Think of wind-up windows, AM-FM radios, power steering and brakes, air conditioning and that’s it for the options list. Willys could be that brand.
Hummer: Killing this brand of all-terrain vehicles was the worst mistake GM made as it sped through bankruptcy. The Hummer brand, with a Jeep Wrangler fighter and vehicles that match up with the Jeep Cherokee, Renegade and Grand Cherokee as well as Range Rover, would be on fire right now. GM should bring back Hummer and fold GMC into Chevrolet.
Rover: Jaguar can amortize its large investments in its new products by activating its dormant Rover brand for a line of entry-level, upscale, small and midsize cars to compete with Mini, Buick, Acura, Lincoln and others. This would be tough: A new line of Rovers could share the basic Jaguar platform and have base versions of Jag powertrains, but little else. It would be the brand that you own before moving into a Jag.
Mercury: The defunct Mercury division could be recast as the division of Ford that makes basic transportation for people who view cars as appliances, who shop the deal and who keep their cars until they’re worn out. Ford has done a masterful job of moving its core brand upscale, but it also could use a basic, entry-level brand of cars, shorn of needless electronic gizmos that consumers don’t want or value. The only options would be air conditioning and colors. Safety items would include nothing more than required by law. If consumers want more, they can move up to a Ford-badged vehicle. Nissan is using this approach with the revived Datsun brand in some markets.
There are also a few brands that could disappear without causing a ripple. Those include Acura, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Scion and Smart. In the classic “push-pull” business model, these brands are all heavy pushes.