Although the last Mercedes-Benz CLK convertible rolling off the assembly line in Osnabruck, Germany, signaled the dawn of the forthcoming E-class cabriolet, it represented something more: the end of Karmann as we’ve long known it.
Founded in 1901, the German coachbuilder had staked its name as a convertible specialist since it first cut the top off a Volkswagen Beetle in 1949. Karmann was subsequently responsible for engineering and manufacturing a good number of Volkswagen Beetle and Golf convertibles, as well as the Karmann Ghia, the Mercedes-Benz CLK, and the Chrysler Crossfire. Since that first Beetle, Karman has built nearly 3.3 million convertibles.
Although it was once the go-to firm for drop-top production, European manufacturers have increasingly brought such work back in-house. Karmann had pinned its hopes on possibly manufacturing a future Volkswagen convertible, but VW decided to produce the vehicle on its own. Mercedes-Benz took a similar approach—the forthcoming E-class cabriolet, the successor to the CLK, will be built entirely within Mercedes-Benz’s own plant.
This shift hit Karmann hard, and unable to truly change its long-standing business model, it declared insolvency in April 2009. Continued losses led the firm to simply end production of the CLK ahead of schedule.
“’We could no longer avoid shutting down the vehicle assembly line because auto manufacturers’ strategies have changed,’ said Ottmar Hermann, an official at Karmann.
The forced shutdown means CLK convertible production has ended slightly early, but Mercedes-Benz feels it has enough inventory to sustain dealers before the launch of the E-class convertible.
In the meantime, Karmann will likely resort to simply being a supplier, not a full-fledged manufacturer. The firm currently supplies roof modules for a host of cars, including the BMW 1-series and Chrysler Sebring convertibles, and is also responsible for producing the chassis and body panels for the Spyker C8.
Source: The Local