5 Dead Brands That Need to Return as EV Makers

5 Dead Brands That Need to Return as EV Makers

05/10/2021

The advent of the EV age has given plenty of opportunity for automakers to reinvent their identities, evidenced by the launch of several electric sub-brands. But automotive history also has no shortage of past marques to build upon, whether they were electric to begin with, or offered a compelling brand identity and design.

Some dead brands have already returned after decades on ice, and have their sights set on becoming EV makers soon, like Borgward, resurrected a few years ago. But there are a few others that have been gone just about as long and featured distinctive design language or engineering that we’d like to see return in some form.

Here are just five dead brands among many we’d like to see come back in the future as EV makers.

This Czech marque dates back to the mid-19th century, and offered its first automobile in 1897. So there is a rich heritage there to mine for design inspiration. Tatra the company is still in business, so it would be a matter of relaunching its passenger car division to offer EVs.

The case for it: Tatra the passenger car maker has plenty of history to lean back on for a relaunch, far more than Borgward, which was successfully resurrected just a few years ago. Tatra’s aerodynamic period is by far the most memorable one and the most compelling for a source of design inspiration, ranging from the T77 to the T603.

The case against it: In its later years Tatra the passenger car maker produced government limos for Czechoslovakia, and eventually folded in the late 1990s after a few ill-fated attempts to modernize the T613. So even in its later years it was a bit of a contrarian choice. Tatra the truck maker would have to offer something vastly new and compelling to resurrect a line of electric passenger cars.

Its first vehicle should be: A distinctive sedan with a design nod to Tatra’s aerodynamic period, perhaps an homage to the 603.

The DMC-12 is a car that needs no introduction, and despite a relatively small production run and plenty of drama during its production years, its design is now actually quite emblematic of the era, combining a cyberpunk exterior with a bodystyle that still makes plenty of sense today.

The case for it: It helps that ’80s design is getting a second look from collectors and from the music and fashion worlds, so as an early 1980s vision of the future, the DMC-12’s design hits all the right notes.

The case against it: The DMC 12’s pop-cultural status is linked a little too closely to the Back to the Future films, which might not entirely be the asset some think it is. DeLorean, in its short lifespan as an automaker, offered a futuristic exterior shape, but also a dull engine and so-so handling that are often overlooked because of its design.

Its first vehicle should be: For better or worse, a crowd-pleaser would be a more modern but still wedge-like reinterpretation of the DMC-12, complete with gullwing doors with some stylistic nod to the original. After all, it couldn’t be something like a Mitsubishi i-MiEV-sized bubble car with a DeLorean badge, or a cyberpunk-styled pickup truck. Because that’s already being done (we hope).

Eisenacher Motorenwerk emerged as a separate marque in the years following WWII after the BMW plant in Eisenach, Germany, ended up on the Soviet side of the country’s post-war spheres of allied control. The plant itself produced examples of pre-war BMW designs, mostly sedans, before it switched to producing Wartburg cars in the 1950s. But the cars themselves, with the red roundel, lived on for decades in the car-needy Eastern Bloc, babied by owners, so quite a few survived into the 1980s as seasonal drivers for the dacha season, among other obscure marques from the post-war years.

The case for it: BMW might need a lower-priced EV brand in the future, once the automaker itself transitions to a mostly-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell brand. EMW, now standing for Elektrisch Motorenwerk could play that role, sharing platforms with BMW’s smaller offerings, but offering its own distinct exterior designs and a lower price.

The case against it: Not that many people have actually seen an EMW in real life, especially in regional markets where the brand would be offered, and fewer still remember them when they were on the road. Also, the BMW Group already has Mini as a brand of smallish cars.

Its first vehicle should be: A small sedan or crossover, sharing a platform with an electric BMW sedan model.

Not many EV owners these days know there was an EV company based in the Motor City that’s more than a century old by now, producing cars starting in 1907. We still see them about once a year at concours events around the country, giving showgoers a glimpse of electric cars’ potential as the ranges (if not the speeds) of various models were actually quite comparable to some EVs today, or about a decade ago. The company ended production in 1939 after more than 10,000 vehicles had been produced.

The case for it: It was among the most successful electric car companies of the automobile age’s early years and enjoyed a niche kind of success, advertising ease of use and impressive mileage for the era.

The case against it: So much time has passed there’s really no design aesthetic that could be carried over into the present day, apart from the cab-forward design and the design of the logo. Also, not that many people alive today would remember seeing these when they were new, or remember the marque.

Its first vehicle should be: A crossover, because that’s what people buy these days.

One of the most memorable Eastern Bloc cars was the Trabant lineup, which was produced by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in East Germany. The Trabant that most people (who know what it is) tend to picture is the two-door sedan from the automaker’s later years, seen in great number in various Cold War films. The Trabant was one of the most affordable cars available in East Germany, and over time has become one of the symbols of ostalgie.

The case for it: Trabants were small, cute, and featured a lightweight duroplast body and a two-stroke engine. And they were built at the Zwickau plant that now produces electric Volkswagens. The design aesthetic is certainly there, and so is the brand recognition, at least in Europe.

The case against it: Not everyone has ostalgie, and not everyone wants a small car. In fact, it’s getting difficult to find people who will buy small hatchbacks to begin with, whether they’re electric, gas or diesel-engined.

Its first car should be: Styled after the original two-door sedan that exited production in the late 1980s.

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