Blog : Dacia proves that MG Rover missed a trick

Keith Adams

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Six months ago, I blogged about how the arrival of Dacia in the UK, and the Sandero’s killer entry-level list price was going to prove, one way or another, that Rover’s decision to import the CityRover could have been the genius decision of the decade.

The budget Romanian brand, underpinned by an ambitious Renault and its Clio-based B-Zero platform has spun-out an interesting range of products – the Logan and the Sandero – sold almost exclusively in Western markets on their image for low-cost and ruggedness. In 2003, MG Rover could have found itself in the same position.

At the time of my original blog, the jury was still out – Dacia’s sales weren’t up to speed and I’d only just taken delivery of my £5995 Access, the most basic model, equipped with little more than four wheels, seats and a roof. As discussed in the original blog, MG Rover’s original plan for the CityRover looked remarkably Dacia-like, with a proposed entry-price of £4995 (about £5995 in today’s money), and the product itself was rugged, thanks to the needs of the Tata Indica’s home market.

However, as we know, that never happened – and the CityRover was given a mainstream price, which rightly raised buyers’ expectations. That, of course, inevitably meant failure…

That doesn’t, of course, quite answer the original question posed in July 2013 – does the Dacia Sandero prove that Rover missed a trick with the CityRover? Well, in my honest opinion, I think it does. Okay, so the UK’s economy wasn’t quite the issue on everyone’s lips that it is now and the reality of falling wages, lowering living standards and fewer workers’ rights had yet to come to the fore so maybe the idea of buying a car that celebrates its low list price might not have caught on in 2004 in quite the same way it would prove in 2013 – but one thing that never changes is that everyone loves a bargain. True now. True then.

What might have been...

What might have been…

That’s why, at the bargain price first touted, I’ve no doubts that the CityRover would have flown out of MG Rover’s showrooms. The 25 was getting on and the quality was constantly being removed from it, thanks to Project Drive, and something new and fresh, at a bargain price, might have re-engaged those ex-Rover 100 buyers, who didn’t fancy a 25. Ten years on, and consider this – in its first year since its re-launch in Janaury 2013, 17,000 Dacias found new homes in the UK.

You can read more about the Sandero itself, should you want to, at Honest John. However, consider this – after six months and a little more than 5000 miles of mixed motoring, I’m going to miss my Sandero and really wouldn’t have a problem recommending it to other people – in fact, I already have. It’s an honest, enjoyable hatchback that, in the six months it’s been in my care, hasn’t missed a beat.

Okay, so there may have been times during my ownership when I talked about the near-complete lack of equipment, but rarely did I moan – that’s because, ultimately, what you get is a full-sized family hatchback for £5995. Do you think it would have been in the same a decade ago, forgiving the CityRover for its lousy seat trim or exploding hubcaps, given a suitably marked down price? I think I probably would have – in fact, I am sure many other buyers would have done so, too.

Without getting too sentimental about my gutsy little Sandero, it’s easy to conclude that what we have here is a Citroen 2CV or Renault 4 for our times – a car with minimal power and performance, but which makes the absolute most of it. In comparison, my memories of the CityRovers I drove when they were still new were that it had plenty of performance, but sounded rough and unwilling. The potential was there but, my goodness, not at the same money as a base-level Fiesta.

A final thought: it’s interesting to see now that MG Motor UK’s new baby, the MG3, has adopted a great real-world pricing strategy and, ironically, is now one of the top-level Sandero’s sternest rivals for the hearts and minds of budget buyers. This time around, it seems that those in Longbridge have learned some important lessons about pricing – but did they learn them, I wonder, from the CityRover or the Sandero?

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Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


34 Responses

  1. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion - February 18, 2014

    Perhaps if they called it a Morris and kept the low prices things may have been different? they could of even built onto this with further joint ventures (as they did with Honda) To think that Tata are making waves with Jag/Landy The Phoenix 4 were on the right tracks but sadly the Marriage never went any further..

    Then again, if Tata bought/absorbed Rover what would have happened to Jaguar, Land Rover ? Would one of them have to Die?

  2. Hilton D - February 18, 2014

    I always wanted to see the CityRover as a proper Metro replacement but could not get away with it. I remember some CityRover’s being sold off cheap by a remaining MG Rover dealer just after the collapse… probably a good buy as a runabout but you hardly see any on UK roads now.

    For anyone wanting a “New” car willing to accept basic spec and steel wheels/solid paint etc. the Sandero seems to tick the right boxes, as Keith says.

  3. Mike Bushell - February 18, 2014

    I remember the top of the range Cityrover was £10K ten years ago. Totally unbelieveable!

    Dacia seem to be going well from the amount I see in Birmingham. However I would comment that having just had a week on Lanzarote (where there are plenty of new hire cars), the older Logans are looking very tatty and unpleasant. I alao saw a larger range of vehicles, including Berlingo-type vans and MPVs which I think would go down really well here. A van, after all, is a van.

  4. JagBoy - February 18, 2014

    Shame, there are loads of CR’s around here, and they all seems to be in good condition, there was nothing wrong with the car at all, it was the pricing that caused the issues.

  5. Chris C - February 18, 2014

    The difference might be that Dacias are based on proven and fairly recent Renault components/systems – the City Rover was new/unproven apart from a thirsty old Peugeot engine. Maybe it does show how different segments/price levels need different brands, underlining why MG may eventually want a local equivalent to Roewe (Rovers as were) and Austin or similar as a budget/basic brand.

    There does seem to be a load of low mileage/ex demo Dacias being sold at significant discounts by dealers despite the overall sales success.

    Whilst in many respects they were a lot better and should have been released like that in the first place, I could never understand why the Mark 2/post receivership City Rovers came with dull black interiors

    Ironically the Tata Nanos are being updated (good grief, power steering even) and look like modern 2CV’s.

    BTW, anyone spotted that the new JLR engine plant will later be producing small 3 pot engines – wonder what they’re going in?

  6. Geoff - February 18, 2014

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with your thoughts here Keith.

    I remember back in 2004 when I took my new MG in for it’s first service, the dealer gave me a City Rover as a courtesy car for the day. Quite honestly it was the biggest heap of junk I’d ever driven, I just couldn’t understand why Rover wanted to go down this route of offering this car to the public (later events that happened you could see why), it’s quality build was poor, the handling left a lot to be desired and the Peugeot power unit was way past it’s use by date. I remember thinking the only good thing about it was the Sony CD unit!

    Today’s bargain basement Dacia is far better fare.

  7. David Boardman - February 18, 2014

    CityR certainly makes sense at the right price. Bought a delivery mileage (40 miles)one two years ago for my daughter for £1,400 on Ebay. 11,000 miles later still excellent – beats a new Fiesta 1.25 on space & power – more important to a student driving over the hills to Uni than the ultimate ride/handling balance etc.

  8. francis brett francis brett - February 18, 2014

    As one industry analyst said ” I knew it was the end of Rover when they introduced that car”

    That was the trouble, it was a rebadged car- stolen from TATA they was that cheap.

  9. jeff - February 18, 2014

    In South Africa RENAULT Sandero’s are everywhere. I guess they are cheap there too. Interesting that they are prepared to badge them as Renaults in certain places.
    They are right hand drive too.
    I wonder if that could happen here, as no one could deny that the Renault name and reputation in the UK is in tatters – anyone who has owned one made within the last 10 years will know why. I was lucky enough to sell my 2006 Scenic before it bankrupted me.
    Diversifying down market might be the answer.

  10. Colm - February 18, 2014

    They just needed to sell them as Tatas. Tata had about as much relevance to buyers back then as Morris had.
    Nobody wants a tarted-up cheap car with some familiar badges stuck on.

  11. Nate - February 19, 2014

    They should have badged it as a Morris or allowed it to be sold as a Tata, while selling it at a much lower price than they did.

    Given that MG Rover at one point considered using the Fiat Stilo as a possibly replacement for the 45 / ZS, wouldn’t they have been better off investigating the idea of developing a city car derived from the mk2 Fiat Panda / mk2 Ford Ka?

  12. RichardS - February 19, 2014

    CRs problem was badge and price. Selling a bargain basement car with as a Rover and charging too much was pure stupidity. Had they given it a low price and badged it appropriately – whether as a Tata, Morris, Austin or something else – that didn’t raise unrealistic expectations it might have done well.

  13. Kevin Steele - February 19, 2014

    I saw an MG3 on the road yesterday – it’s the first SIAC MG I’ve actually seen in the flesh!!

  14. Bruce - February 19, 2014

    I think the problem of the price of the CityRover was caused by Phoenix Group actually doing the deal with Tata and creaming off all the profit forcing MG Rover to charge more to make money on the sales.
    Anyone remember the grossly overpriced Tata 4×4 that came over at the same time and generated hardly any sales at all?
    You can see Tata badged CityRovers in Spain and the estate version in India is called a Marina!

  15. Dave P - February 19, 2014

    Keith you are 100% correct on this one. The only people who didn’t see the obvious at the time were the greedy idiots who set the retail price for the Cityrover too high.

  16. Hilton D - February 19, 2014

    @11 Nate… I never heard that MGRover considered the Fiat Stilo as a replacement for the R45 – very interesting. I couldn’t picture a Stilo with a Viking badge!

  17. Steve G - February 19, 2014

    @8 – Surely every Rover from the 200 that replaced the Triumph Acclaim right through to the 600 was a rebadged Honda (admittedly with some “tarting up”)? And they were the cars that put Rover through its best spell post-BL.

  18. dzt103 darren,lancs - February 19, 2014

    Although, I agree that the pricing was ridiculous, I think there’s more to it than that.
    Using the Rover name on the this car was also a huge mistake.
    Selling it as “Rover” just re-enforced some people’s perception of a high cost, poor quality across the the whole Rover range. Effectively damaging the brand still further.
    Perhaps if they had named the car under a new “Budget type” brand in addition to low pricing it may have helped.

    The whole “Dacia brand” is based on selling low cost,low spec cars. You get what you pay for, good old value for money.

  19. LOL - February 21, 2014

    Motoring journalist euphemisms #1,000,001: “Honest” = cheap and nasty.

    17,000 annual sales is a good total for Dacia, although admittedly that is the total for the Sandero and Duster combined. Lets say the Sandero sold 10,000. Good result for them, but meanwhile Ford sold 100,000+ Fiestas and the Polo, Corsa, 208, Clio and even the Audi A1 all beat the Sandero in the sales charts, while selling for much higher prices.

    In the UK at least, people want luxury and the latest technology. They don’t mind PCP’ing themselves up to the eyeballs to get it. The Sandero will probably continue to sell approx 10,000 units a year, but will only ever be a niche product for luddites and cheapskates.

  20. Will M - February 21, 2014

    @LOL

    Ah, but have you noticed an increase in Clios and Captures vs. last gen Clios and Koleos?

    I suspect that the joint Dacia and Renault dealers are a masterstroke. People nip in to nosey at a Sandero or Duster, and are ‘upsold’ a Clio or Koleos.

    Rover could’ve played this game. Want a cheap CityRover? Why not look at the 25 or 45, the interiors are much nicer sir….

  21. Will M - February 21, 2014

    ^^ second reference to Koleos should be Capture.

    Need to get the hang of SUV nomenclature

  22. Pedro the parrot - February 21, 2014

    Perhaps Dacia will become the new Skoda, under the wing of Renault as Skoda is part of VAG. Perhaps not. One of Dacia’s earlier French collaborations the ‘Denem’ springs to mind!

  23. Pedro the parrot - February 21, 2014

    @3. A van is very often more than a van. Every time a Sprinter blasts past you at 90-100mph on the motorway proves that. Drive a Sherpa or a J4 and it will remind you just how refined modern vans are.

  24. g scoth - February 21, 2014

    6 years ago I needed a fresh second hand cars choice between a Ryton made peugeut 206 estate 1400 or a rover 25 ,I had the estate ,Why they did not make a small allegro replacement estate I’LL never know. plus the rep of the K head gaskit problem,

  25. g scoth - February 21, 2014

    if we had tit for Tat import duties the same as the Indians the city rover would have been to expensive making it worth making a new metro replacement .Plus the Jappanies would not be selling there indan made cars here

  26. Colm - February 22, 2014

    @22
    The only way dacia will become the new Skoda is if Renault become the new VW.

  27. Paul pig - February 22, 2014

    Chap near me who sells used cars got a CityRover on the cheap at some auctions. He got it back to the car lot to resell then it refused to start. He had to patch it up Arthur Daley style. What a heap of junk.

  28. Tony Evans - February 22, 2014

    The CR was a total unmitigated disaster that simply followed on the heels of the overpriced original Rover 200 which was sold at a premium price that no-one in their right mind would pay. So, first we had the move upmarket, scrapping the old Austin/Morris names and badging the cars as upmarket Rovers. Then the step down in quality buying in a nasty Tata and sticking some Rover badges on it and then trying to sell it for twice what it was worth. Basically, a few Rover badges added at a cost of about £1,000 each.

    There are a couple of CRs still in use round here (mid-Cheshire) mostly used as basic cheap runabouts. They should have been sold as basic cheap Metro replacements (and fitted with K-series engines). That might have been acceptable but I remember the howls of laughter at the original CR pricetag and the utter lack of any quality compared to the opposition.

    As for the Dacia Sandero, I too have seen some very tatty ones that are not that old. I await to see how long they will last after bring in the hire car fleets. I am fine with the basic concept of a cheap basic car, but doing 25,000 miles a year I want a bit more than basic personally. But if you do mainly for short journeys all you need is aircon and a half decent stereo.

    Personally, I think Dacias are all pretty ugly, the pillars are way too thick and the windows too small. As for the quality and durability of French mechanicals built by Romanians …. LOL

  29. Dave Dawson - February 22, 2014

    I didn’t know that MG Rover had initially planned a budget price for the CityRover. If priced from circa £5000 it could well have sold well. An awful lot can be forgiven for a low price and at the end of the day there were no grave shortcomings and the car did look quite smart.

    As I’ve commented before, you can understand a cash strapped MGR trying to get away with a higher price. I think, however, the CityRover still had to offer a notable price advantage over superior rivals in order to sell in decent numbers. Crank up the price, ok, but not to a point where the resultant fall in sales numbers loses more than the higher margin gains.

    Perhaps MGR thought marketing the CityRover as ‘buget’ would damage the Rover image even more, BUT how about CityAustin or Austin City ? Instead of trying to pretend CityRover was something it wasn’t sell it as a budget Austin distanced from the 75 in particular.

  30. Glenn Aylett - February 23, 2014

    I did have a look at the Dacia Sandero at Benfields last year, and for all it seemed quite a substantial car for the money, would you really want a car with no stereo and electric windows, and also the trade in for my Fiesta was poor? Also using Renault technology, not known for being reliable, wasn’t a good idea. Ideally a Dacia powered by a Honda engine and coming fully loaded for just over six grand would be the best solution.

  31. francis brett francis brett - February 23, 2014

    Should the Dacia be lauded and heralded as it has been recently?

    Running costs over a three year cycle are nothing to write home about. Don’t kid yourself parts prices will be a reflection of the sticker price of the car either.

    Them 3 year old Fiestas look all the more appealing.

  32. Dave Dawson - February 23, 2014

    Saw a Sandero and a CityRover parked a few spaces apart in an otherwise empty car park earlier. I didn’t really compare the two but thought “just what the hell were they doing badging it a Rover? Didn’t MGR still own names such as Austin, Morris? The City bit was good ( Metro, Maestro City) but Rover??!!

  33. Dave Dawson - February 23, 2014

    Tony @ 28

    I don’t think the move to Rover and ditching of Austin which happened in the late eighties, early nineties should be criticised. After all, for an all to brief time it worked. People bought into “Above all, it’s a Rover” and you just couldn’t imagine this line of marketing having possibly worked just a few years earlier. “Above all, it’s an Allegro?!” – I think not!!

    “Rover” and “CityRover” was another league! A complete blunder. I suppose, however, the thought was “well, there was an outcry when we first put the Rover badge on a Honda”.

  34. g scoth - February 23, 2014

    why was there not a out cry when Honda and co started importing there Indian sauced cars here.

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