The Trabant Lives Again! Cold War Auto Icon Reborn as an Electric Car.


Ah, the Trabant. That most humble and often-maligned communist-era East German auto icon. To people who remember the car — lovingly and mockingly nicknamed the Trabi in its heyday — it conjures up all sorts of feelings. Personally the Trabi and I have a special connection: My wife grew up in East Germany and has fond, bittersweet memories of taking vacations to the Baltic Sea crowded into the back (and sometimes even the trunk) of the loud, blue-smoke-belching, death trap.

For a bit of humor check out this vintage 1960’s Trabant commercial. If you don’t understand German, they are basically saying it can hold a lot of stuff, it’s fast, and it can go off road — all of which are complete BS, unless, of course, you wanted to get stranded in the woods, were racing a turtle, and carried only as much stuff as a smurf.

When the Soviet Union fell apart and the wall came down, the Trabant disappeared into history without even a whimper. But now, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Trabant name has a chance at a new life. Perhaps driven by resurgent interest in East German culture, enough time seems to have passed that memories of the car’s drawbacks (of which there were many) have faded, leaving only the fond feeling of nostalgia — and an opportunity for modern enterprising German capitalists to cash in on the brand name.

A group of three German car companies/designers is hoping that their re-envisioned Trabant nT (neue Trabant) electric car will be a big hit. Designed as a car for city-dwellers, the Trabant nT will be small enough to fit into tight parking spaces, have a solar panel roof to run the A/C, and according to Ronald Gerschewski — head of IndiKar, the East German auto company that built the original Trabant — “there will be connections for a sat-nav, mobile phone and iPod.”

Although it uses the Trabant name, Mr. Gerschewski insists that there will be nothing retro about the new Trabi, and that the company isn’t looking to exploit the nostalgia that many Germans feel for the brand. Personally I don’t buy it. It would be a mistake to not try and bring some of the feel of the original car into the new car, and capitalizing on people’s memories and emotions is an essential part of the capitalist marketplace.

The new Trabant is set to make its debut at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show happening from September 17-27, 2009. I’d love to see this car, and the Trabant brand name, make it back to an elevated status — if only because it would make my wife ecstatic.

If you want to get creative, you can download a cut-out, self-assemble model of the Trabant nT from Herpa, one of the three car companies behind the project.

Sources: Edmunds, Popular Science, and PhysOrg.

Image Credit: East German couple driving a Trabant past a checkpoint into West Germany right after the wall came down courtesy of antaldaniel‘s Flickr photostream. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.