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Can the Trabant make a comeback?

Amy Scott Nov 9, 2009

Can the Trabant make a comeback?

Amy Scott Nov 9, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell. Or started to fall, anyway. East Germans poured into West Germany — many for the first time ever. And on that day a particular kind of car clogged the westbound roads: the Trabant. Marketplace’s Amy Scott reports, there’s now a plan to revive the car.

Amy Scott: During Communist rule, the Trabant was the cheapest and most popular East German car. Today an old model sits in a museum in Berlin.

STEFAN WOLLE: It’s all plastic. Only plastic.

That’s historian Stefan Wolle. Not only was the Trabi — as it was called — made of plastic. It was cramped, spewed dirty exhaust, and broke down frequently. But Wolle says it was beloved by East Germans who often had to wait to 10 to 15 years to get one. When they finally did, it was like a part of the family.

WOLLE: Like a cat or a dog. My lovely Trabi, ya.

After the Wall fell, East Germans could buy any car they wanted. Demand for the Trabi evaporated. But maybe not forever. Today Herpa, a company that normally makes model cars and planes, hopes to revive the old affection. It’s teamed up with manufacturer IndiKar to bring back the Trabi. This time as an electric car.

IndiKar CEO Ronald Gerschewski shows me the prototype he debuted at the Frankfurt auto show this fall. It’s a shiny, powder blue. Looks a bit like a longer version of another retro car — Britain’s Mini.

RONALD GERSCHEWSKI: That grip for opening.

Scott: Oh, sorry. There we go. I just pulled off some paneling.

It is just a prototype. Gerschewski hopes a sturdier version will hit the roads in the next three years or so. He’s looking for investors and a partner to mass-produce the car. He says most of the interest has come from outside Germany.

GERSCHEWSKI: We have learned that the Trabant is a symbol of the German reunion, and it’s a very positive symbol and it’s well known all over the world.

Here in Germany, nostalgia has revived demand for some old Communist brands. But in the wider world, retro cars like the new VW Beetle and the PT Cruiser have failed to catch on. Without an experienced carmaker backing the new Trabant, one analyst told me the flop risk is very high.

In Berlin, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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