Wilhelm Karmann GmbH, commonly known simply as Karmann, in Osnabrück, Germany, was until 2009 the largest independent motor vehicle manufacturing company in Germany. For more than a century, they have undertaken various roles, from design to production and assembly of components, for various automobile manufacturers; including Chrysler, Porsche and Volkswagen Group.
Falling demand drove the Karmann company, along with other financially connected businesses, to file for protective insolvency on 8 April 2009. Insolvency practitioner Ottmar Hermann followed some of the approach seen with the earlier insolvency of Woolworths' German business, and the Karmann business is emerging with little independence, but supported by significant cash investment from long-standing customer Volkswagen. Resumption of car production with a new version of the Volkswagen Golf cabriolet is scheduled for March 2011.
Some of the most well-known cars produced by Karmann in the 20th century are the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet (1949–1980), and, most closely associated with the Karmann name, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Between 1955 and 1974, a total of 443,482 VW Karmann Ghias were manufactured, placing their own sports car-style body on the chassis of the Volkswagen Beetle. Later in the 20th century, they assembled the Scirocco, Corrado, and Golf Cabriolet for Volkswagen. Karmann also built the Ford Sierra for the American market, sold under the Merkur brand by Lincoln/Mercury dealers. Many Karmann produced vehicles carry a small wagon wheel emblem, the coat of arms of Osnabrück, where the company was founded.
Karmann assembled complete knock down (CKD) kits in an agreement with American Motors (AMC). In 1968, AMC introduced the Javelin, a new competitor in the U.S. "pony car" segment. AMC did not have a manufacturing subsidiary in Europe, therefore, Karmann assembled the American designed car for distribution in Europe. Karmann built the cars in Rheine with 280 horsepower (209 kW) 343 cu in (5.6 L) V8 engines and they were named "Javelin 79-K".
Karmann is best known for its work on convertibles/cabriolets. It provides roof-components for many cabriolet automobiles, such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK, the Renault Mégane CC, and the Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet.
Both the headquarters in Osnabrück, and the additional facility in Rheine also construct complete vehicles, such as the former Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet, the former Audi A4 Cabriolet, the Mercedes-Benz CLK, and the Chrysler Crossfire. A small number of vehicles are also produced in Brazil São Bernardo do Campo. The Osnabrück facility also produces the chassis and body panels of the Spyker C8 Spyder.
Other facilities at Sunderland UK, Puebla Mexico, and Plymouth Township U.S. manufacture roof systems for the Nissan Micra C+C, Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet, and Pontiac G6, respectively.
It is one of the only plants that built cars for the second and third-largest North American automakers Ford (along with its now-defunct Merkur luxury brand) and Chrysler.
A large part of the development of the Chrysler Crossfire was done independently by Karmann, and the vehicle was produced at their Osnabrück facility. Karmann U.S. also supplies the top for the third-generation Chrysler Sebring (convertible) and Ford Mustang Convertible.
The first Karmann motorhomes were launched in 1974 based on the Volkswagen Type 2, and on the late 'Bay Window' chassis. The bodies were of a sandwich structure, the motorhomes had two beds, kitchen, shower, waste water tank, rear body supports, secondary battery, toilet, hot water heater and gas heating. Optional was luggage rack over the driver's cab. Approximately 1,000 units were produced through 1979.
With the introduction of the Volkswagen T3 (Vanagon/Transporter/T25) in 1979, the motorhomes received a permanent overhead area with a bed for two people. Called Karmann Gipsy, 741 were made between 1980 and 1992. This number excludes 30 or more Type 3 Syncro models made between 1986 and 1989, and 7 Syncro 16" models made between 1991 and 1992. An additional 113 Cheetah T3's were manufactured between 1986 and 1990 to make a total 891 Volkswagen T3 Karmann Coachbuilt Motorhomes - all produced in Karmann Rheine factory and not at Osnabruck.
From 1978 to 1996, a total of 3,103 Volkswagen LT based models were produced. These included the LT "M", LT "L 1", LT "L 2", LT "L Distance Wide", LT "L Distance-Wide Gold", LT "H Distance-Wide", LT "H Distance-Wide Gold", LT "S Distance-Wide" and the top-of-the-line LT "Distance-Wide Autovilla".
In 1996, the motorhome design was updated and based on the Volkswagen T4, named Colorado and Missouri. The Volkswagen Transporter (T5) based versions were introduced in 2003.