Blog : So, what did Honda get from Rover…?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Martin Halliwell worked for the Rover Group in Cowley during the 1990s, and saw some interesting changes at the company. Sparked by our recent update of the Rover R3 development story, he shares his thoughts on the relationship between the Honda CR-V and Land Rover Freelander.

The Honda Rover collaboration story has been well told in these pages. In any kind of industrial relationship like this only a naïve uncoordinated partner would not learn or want to learn from the other.

Thus communication, between parties must be well controlled and focused only on the agreed projects. This was particularly important for Rover and Honda because they were competitors in the same sectors.

In the case of Rover XX programme, this communication was by fax and Honda controlled their responses very accurately – if you asked a question that you had asked before, they would point you to the date and time of their original response! This happened a lot…

Formal became informal

As later projects progressed working relationships developed and more informal inter-company communication was common. In 1994 this communication went badly wrong.

At this time product data management was in its infancy, data was held by part number and was structured by programme – like a big filing cabinet full of drawings. A computer-aided design data specialist was asked to supply data to Honda on specific projects. This person also supplied the body data for CB40. This may have been a mistake or careless, but once done it could not be undone.

Now, I don’t know how much Honda knew about Rover’s SUV proposals, but they must have been discussed at a high level within the companies. With the body data for CB40 Honda now knew an awful lot more…

Honda’s gift from Rover?

The CB40 team were aware of this disclosure and were stunned when the Honda CR-V was released a whole year ahead of their product because it was exactly the same product. Same size, same package, same configuration – even down to the side-hinged tailgate with spare wheel. It was as if Honda had copied CB40.

The rest, as they say is history. The Honda CR-V is the world’s best-selling SUV and is one of that company’s most successful products.

It is possible that this was Rover’s biggest contribution to Honda. We will never know…

23 Comments

  1. In the U.K., Honda tried to borrow a Freelander from Land Rover for ‘product evaluation’ at launch – they offered a CR-V, already available in Japan, in exchange, only to be told “don’t worry, we’ve had two on our test fleet for a year.” Rover learned as much as Honda about the compact SUV in those early days.

    • All manufacturers do this all of the time. Its called benchmarking. Once something is in the public domain it is freely available.
      No aspect of CB40 was related to CR-V or any other Honda product.

      • Agree there is little in common between the CRV and the CB40 Freelander. Honda had been making the 4WD Civic Shuttle for several years beforehand, and the first generation CRV was mechanically similar to the late 90s Civic Aerodeck (estate).

        What did Honda get from Rover? Not much apart from some nicer interior fabrics, walnut veneers, and front radiator grilles.

  2. I’d like to know a lot more about what (if anything) both Honda and BMW took from Rover that then appeared in their own models or working practices. I think it’d make a fascinating article – although, maybe a very short one, I don’t know.

    • Certainly BMW took absolutely nothing from Rover/Land Rover. They had nothing to take. The only thing BMW got out of the deal was hill-descent, and that wasn’t Land Rover’s anyway – it was owned by a supplier.

  3. The original Freelander was based on bits of old Maestro. Doubt the CRV was. Just as the BMW 1 series shared some of its style with the R30, this does not mean the cars are in anyway related. They just share the style of that time. Look at the Toyota RAV4 another very similar looking soft roader from late 90s. Was that related just because it looked the same?

    • You are missing the point. It’s not the engineering basis or the technical aspects. The possible “giveaway” was the vehicle package and dimensions and architecture. CR-V has an uncanny similarity to CB40 and this aspect of vehicle design takes a huge amount of development. I can’t recall any maestro content in CB40 but I may be wrong about this…. People are often confused because the mules were maestro vans but these were just van body’s over the top of the CB40 underframe and it is common practice to make mules like this with an anonymous upper structure.

  4. It was Toyota who created this segment with the RAV4, so I’m not so sure Honda needed Rover to come up with the idea.

    • Even that observation is not strictly true, as Toyota merely nicked the design for themselves of the original 3-door short wheelbase RAV-4 from Daihatsu when it was presented to them for approval.
      An open secret within the Toyota empire that both companies have for years refused to confirm – or deny.

      Speculation that Daihatsu had in turn taken key dimensions and copied tech from the mightily-selling FIAT Panda 4×4 of the time is less certain…

    • When CB40 started its long concept development as project “lifestyle” the only comparator vehicle was Matra Rancho, if I remember it was said ” a bit like a Rancho but not a Rancho” all in one breath!
      The fact that there was not a market sector was a real problem……..
      The marketing consultants can only present data that they have – existing vehicles with sales history. If there are no existing vehicles they are quite clear and will not express an opinion on the proposed vehicle for example; likely sales volumes, target customers, selling price. This must have been an interesting discussion with the British Aerospace board. And may explain the lack of early progress.
      Nick Stephenson was really enthusiastic about the project and allowed unauthorised work to continue when the project was postponed on a regular basis……..

  5. I’m not sure about that. My wife bought a CRV in 1997. It was written off last year while parked outside her sister’s house having given 19 years faithful service. I don’t think anybody would expect that length of service from a Freelander.

  6. The Japanese have never had an original idea. They are, generally speaking, very literal thinkers which makes them terrific in taking an existing design and productionising it to the nth degree, very “groupthink”. In the late 80s when Rover engineers worked in Japan with Honda, the Japanese would reject a British design only to present it the next day redrawn by one of their own team!

  7. The Honda CRV is the biggest load of cr*p currently available on the market. It shares that quality with virtually the entire Honda model range . The brutal fact is that Honda’s original success was based on one product, and one product alone : the Honda 50 . Since no-one wants such little jewels any more, Honda has been going steadily downhill, and its ability to survive in the current cut-throat market must be severely in question

  8. Honda got loads more from Rover. Just look where Honda’s European sales are now, languishing at just about 1% market share. Their current designs are just awful, unattractive, and in no way reflect the technical excellence of their products. Rover helped with styling, interior ambience, packaging, presentation, marketing, and in the case of the Freelander, all new market segments. Honda must really miss their friends at Rover, and the days when Honda sold in excess of a quarter of a million cars a year in Europe

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