STUTTGART -- The rebirth of the iconic German brand Borgward with Chinese backers appears to be foundering.
Borgward began selling cars in China and Europe after Foton, the commercial vehicle subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Chinese group BAIC, acquired the rights to the brand in 2014.
Foton hoped the Borgward name would help it to add a successful car business to its truck sales. German names have a good reputation in China and Foton wanted Borgward to compete with the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
When Foton began building Borgward cars in a renovated plant in suburban Beijing in 2015, there was talk of annual sales of 800,000 vehicles by 2020. Three new models were to be launched each year.
Borgward started selling the BX7, which is about the size of an Audi Q5, in Europe in 2018 and said it planned to open a factory in Bremen, Germany in 2019 to build 10,000 cars a year. However, the option for the planned site was never taken.
Like many other startup manufacturers Borgward soon hit the hard ground of reality.
The Chinese market became more difficult amid increasing competition from similar start-ups supported by local governments offering dozens of different SUVs. Borgward's models were expensive in comparison.
According to the Chinese manufacturers' association, CAAM, the brand sold more than 30,000 units of the BX7 in 2017, its first full year of sales. But despite the subsequent launch of the smaller BX5, sales figures declined steadily thereafter.
Since first-hand information about the company is available neither in Germany nor in China, only pieces of the puzzle of the decline can be put together to form an overall picture.
For example, Borgward's former world headquarters in Stuttgart near the main train station no longer has any lettering indicating the existence of the company. Anyone who tries to reach the office by telephone ends up in the endless loop of an answering machine.
The nearby brand center in a prime city location where Borgward celebrated its German sales start has long been deserted. When the center opened, Borgward executives talked of up to 30 such brand centers in Europe.
Borgward's German homepage is still active, and the models are shown in a promotionally effective way. But the site has not been maintained for a long time. The last entry in the press releases section is from Dec. 14, 2018.