Blogs : October 2004

28 Oct 2004

Rover 75: is it like the car your grandfather drove?

By JOHN DOE

Following MG Rovers losses announced today, I was disappointed to see that the BBC’s coverage made no mention of the company’s improving loss situation. With a £77million deficit for 2004, the loss amounts to only a tenth of what it was in the last year the company was owned by BMW. The report then went on to ask our friends from Top Gear for an assessment, and all the seemed to be concerned with, was the cockpit of the 75.

Clearly the cockpit/instruments styling package is a cause for debate. I can still hear Nick Stephenson, back in our Canley days, stating that a retro image (i.e., the Sixties) was something that we should aim for when formulating the R40. This idea of retro was a key element in the strategy of appealing to the type of buyer who has made plenty of money, and would like to spend their money on a car with a “classic” image. Although, the designers, thought P6, when they formulated the R40’s instruments, I always felt their style/colours went back to the Thirties.

In fact, the colour always reminds me of a sepia tinted map of Treasure Island…

Our boss said to the Germans that the
initial source of inspiration should
be the Spitfire. Unsurprisingly that
idea was quickly discarded…

Clearly the vehicle went through its various clinic phases, but to me, it never seemed a style suitable for the 21st Century.

Bad TV coverage is not what we want on a vehicle, even if it now some 10-years-old in its engineering and design. It may have been developed from the original ISIS style from the early Nineties, with all of BMW’s financial and engineering help, but the retro brief remains questionable.

The rest of the Rover 75 is great, no doubt, but that facia… ouch!

Cockpit appearance is critical, and normally you have only one chance to get it right. With the demands of air bags, safety/comfort equipment and NCAP to consider, a right first time approach is essential. Yes, the words of Nick Stephenson may have been true about buyer profiles, but these people are now investing in the (contemporary/advanced) products of Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz and not a car is modelled on the one your father or grandfather drove.

Jaguar Cars are currently struggling with an image that has been tailored towards appealing to the more “mature” gentleman buyer. The sort of guy that wears a cloth cap and smokes a pipe. The results have been an unimpressive market share – the Germans have now left Jaguar far behind.

BMW grappled with the idea d that “Britishness” was an essential part of Rover’s make-up, and future cars should have plenty of this quality designed in. History has since shown the folly of this policy.

I remember a team meeting at Canley in the early days of BMW’s ownership of Rover. Wolfgang Reitzle asked a Team of managers to work on finding a solution to this “problem”.

Our boss said that the initial source of inspiration should be the Spitfire. Unsurprisingly that idea was quickly discarded…

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28 Oct 2004

Where are the sports cars?

By MIKE GOY

Let us assume there is going to be a future, and MGR’s plans are solid. Let us assume that the recent appointment of Daniel Ward as PR director is a masterstroke, allowing Jeremy Clarkson and the motoring press to be safely fielded. Let us also assume that MGR has access to money and is able to apply its design and development expertise to sports cars over the coming years.

If all these assumptions are correct, they can look forward with confidence.

In my previous blog (‘Good News at Last‘) I mentioned BMW’s refusal to sanction development of sports cars, meaning MG was put on hold following the Honda owned Rover Group’s development of the ‘F’. (Interestingly, Honda didn’t have a problem with MG, yet they produce sports cars of their own).

A 2+2 sports car designed at Longbridge
from the ground up and incorporating
RD/X60 technology, could be a real
money spinner…

Jon Moulton’s Alchemy bid in 2000 outlined a future as a niche builder, but so far MGR have fallen between two stools; neither a manufacturer of specialist two-seaters, nor a volume producer. The ‘Zed’ versions of the Rover 25, 45 and 75 are worthy and have proved useful sellers, and although they are drivers’ cars, they are not sports cars. Where are the new Midgets and Austin-Healey Sprites? The TF is (presumably) aimed at the 2004 equivalent of the MGB market and the XPower SV at sub-Ferrari buyers. That leaves a huge hole to be filled in the middle of the range. Whither a new TC or TD anyone?

Mazda are an obvious competitor for Longbridge with their MX5 and wonderful rotary-engined RX8 (Zoom-Zoom – quite an original catchphrase). If MG had sports cars competing in these markets, then who knows what could be achieved. But it all takes money – will SEAC offer assistance? This is where a tie up with Proton (owners of Lotus) would have come in handy.

A 2+2 sports car designed at Longbridge from the ground up and incorporating RD/X60 technology, could be a real money spinner. I have no doubt that Kevin Howe and colleagues are working on many potentially profitable plans for the future, but now TVR has access to Russian money, the boys from Blackpool are becoming real competition – with in-house engine design and construction to boot.

The tables have turned.

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27 Oct 2004

Do you want tech stuff here?

Simple one really, and we’re looking for feedback on this: should austin-rover.co.uk carry technical information on the cars? During the lifetime of the cars, BL would issue technical documents to help workshops put cutomers’ car back together. In the dark days of BL, these technical supplements were probably so widely used that they disintegrated through wear and tear (don’t say just like the cars!)

One of the site’s friends, Rene Winters has amassed an absolutely huge collection of BL and Rover literature, and is hoping that we can put this online as a resource for enthusiasts still using the cars today. Most of these documents have disappeared, I am sure that if we can use these in a web format, they should be of use.

However, I need to know whether the hard work needed to get the project off the ground is worthwhile. So if you feel that you will absolutely use these and think that austin-rover.co.uk wil become better as a result, please get in touch and tell us why. The same goes if you are vehemently opposed.

A taster of what we are talking about can be found on Rene’s site, http://www.roversd1.nl, click on the “Dutch Rover SD1 site” link, select “Techtalk” from the top menu and browse away. Obviously, the data we upload will be laid out within the austin-rover.co.uk site layout, and should, therefore, be very easy to navigate, thanks to Declan’s straightforward design.

The first project would be to get the Maestro documents online first, assuming we get permission from MG Rover.

So the question remains: should we bother?

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26 Oct 2004

The brand issue…

By TOM ELLIS, aged 15

What is a Rover? Ever since the Honda tie-up, it has seemed that Rover has become a mass-market maker with wood, leather and a classy grille. However, they have a wide range of cars, from little cars like the 100 and CityRover, to big cars like the 800, so the brand has become somewhat of an unknown entity. I myself feel that Britain need a proper home-grown fleet maker that can prove to journos (and the ever annoying Top Gear crew and their fixation with “dissing” MGR’s products) that we still have a motor industry that doesnt build Japanese boxes, French blobs or badge-engineered Germans, but also builds proper Brit cars.

Thanks to school trips, I have visited many different countries in Europe, and what I have noticed is that the proportion of cars there is usually split between about 80% domestic and 20% foreign products. Whereas in Britain, only about 30% of the cars lining suburbs are domestics (Austins, Rovers, MGs, Acclaims etc) and the rest are “Euroblobs”. On the bright side, I do see many R8s lining the streets every day, so it is encouraging, but what exactly are these cars seen as now? Bangers with a wood and a plastichrome grille?

I think that ever since the launch of the Honda Ballade/Rover 213 and the death of Austin, Rover has been more of a small car maker. I have also been in several discussions discussing the implications of resurrecting the Austin brand and badging the smaller mass-market models this was. The reasoning behind this is that Rover is really a brand for big cars like the 75. If you think back to the days of Austin-Rover, this strategy worked wonders and they sold hundreds of their smaller models (e.g Montegos), which proved difficult to sell under Rover branding. The CityRover, frankly, is a terrible mistake, and I was disappoiinted, maybe angry even, to see how poor the car is and how badly it has been priced. Not only does it stick out from the range in many ways (bad build, stupid name [Rover 15 or Austin Metro really] and asthmatic engine) it is also ludicrously priced (in fact all the range bar the 75 is). Who wants to pay a premium over a Focus or Golf for a design, that underneath the now sharp looks, will be 10 years old next year? (25/45) The MG branding is fine as the range is sporty and looks cool, but Rover is suffering a lack of identity.

I think that, to regain sales figures, Rover should only badge the 75 (and the RD/X60 when/if it finally comes out) and the smaller range should wear an Austin badge and should be renamed, facelifted further(if possible) and priced in the sector below so they givce out a value for money image, as companies like Kia, who are slated by Top Gear but still shift lots of cars, price their cars competitively/for the class below. For example, Rover should drop the CR (it’s a nice-looking car, but doesn’t fit the brand and is damned near unsaleable) and rebadge the 25 as an Austin Metro (or a new name) and put it in the city car class as it is still a smart-looking car with the 2004 facelift and its chassis is OK, and pricing it cheaply will offer City Car buyers with a lot of metal-for-money. This will equal better value. which equals, which equals happy customers, which equals more sales to fund replacements. This should be done with the 45: drop the hatcback is it is frankly silly-looking, rebrand the saloon as an Austin Montego (again, or a new moniker) and sell it in the supermini class. A 4-door saloon for Yaris money? sounds like a bargain doesnt it?

So, you can see what I am trying to get at – Rover should just rebrand their elderly cars and slash prices to sell more. It may work, it may not work, but it should restore the Rover name as upmarket and not second-rate city cars, or old designs, or British Ford with pretentious aspirations.

Here’s the plan:

City Rover: dropped

R25: renamed Austin Metro and sold in City car class (£4.999 etc for a car of that size is good value)

R45: renamed Austin Montego and sold in Jazz class – there is a market in the UK for four-doors and those with less money could afford an £8000 saloon without feeling that thay msut have a hatcback.

RD60: branded Rover 65 and sold in the BMW 3-series class as it is a large car.

R75: don’t change.

So, overall, this could be a strategy to help MGR from extinction (and the jeers of Clarkson) and increase sales figures, so it is possible to try and fund replacements for the ancient 25 and 45.

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25 Oct 2004

Impressions of the NEC…

As always, the NEC International Classic Show was a treat for anyone with even a passing interest in old cars. The show experience always starts off a little on the negative side, thanks to the less than pleasant schlep up the M1/M6/M42, followed by a circumnavigation of the NEC ring road, before being herded into a car park miles away from the hall. There’s also the matter of the £14 entrance fee, topped off by another £6 for parking.

That’s the bad news out of the way, though, because after that, it was all positive. The organizers had managed to put on a cracking show, and this year, they had made great efforts to ensure that all the car club stands there were sited intelligently. The plethora of Vauxhall clubs were situated close to each other, as were the Rover related stands, as were the Fords, as were the Yanks.

So, for three days only, there was a corner of the NEC that was forever British.

The Rover Sport Register had a big stand (unlike last year), which it used to great effect, thanks to the addition of some of the most important cars in the company’s history, such as the P5, P6 and SD1. MG Rover offered its official support by supplying a Rover 75 V8, and its timewarp 2300 with 250 miles on the clock (pictured above), which was bought recently from an RSR member for something around £5000.

The reward was the PAOC’s, as Harris
Mann made a surprise appearance on
the stand on Friday afternoon…

Other clubs also made a big effort.

The P4 club supplied a fantastic replica of JET 1, and a Farina drophead P4 both owned by Canterbury based dentist George Hamill (along with 25 other Rovers). The Princess and Ambassador owners’ club also put on a great display, thanks to four mint Princesses, a couple of BBC Micros and a video screen. The brains behind this, Alex Sebbinger, should be applauded for his ingenuity, and John Capon and Kevin Davis should also be lauded for supplying their two stunning Wedges.

Still, the reward was theirs, as Harris Mann made a surprise appearance on the stand on Friday afternoon…

There were many, many other clubs in attendance, but these ones stood out in the BMC>Rover area of the NEC as being two of the most professionally presented. Of course, MG was well represented, but being as popular as it is, that is no surprise.

The thought struck me again though: why so many separate clubs? Wouldn’t one Rover club be the way forwards? P4, P5, P6, SD1 and the later cars in one happy, big, and most importantly – well financed club. The same could be said for BL’s efforts: I am sure that the Maxi, Marina, Allegro and Princess would all happily co-exist in the same club. Assuming, of course, individual egos could be massaged into submission.

I looked at the Citroen club’s stand wistfully: a DS, SM, GS, CX as well as many other examples of the breed sitting alongside each other. Could you imagine the same for the Rover P6, Jaguar XJ-S, Allegro, SD1 and others on a BMC>Rover stand?

Probably not, but it’s a nice thought…

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22 Oct 2004

Why MGR should be advertising CityRover

By MIKE GOY

Some campaigns stay in the mind, like Guinness’s ‘Horses-in-the-Surf’, recently parodied by the same agency for Guinness Extra Cold. Some are just awful, like the Muller Light ‘Airplane Toilet’. During the mid-Eighties there was a poster campaign for the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi, pointing out it was quicker to 60 than a Golf GTi. The strapline was ‘The Golf GTi will be along in a second…’ Soon afterwards, the regulatory authorities banned 0-60 advertising as they felt it was encouraging reckless driving.

Car advertising on television has a problem. There are so many vehicles on the road already, it is well-nigh impossible to produce commercials involving just your car. Honda’s CR-V campaign earlier this year, unusually, showed streets full of cars. There is normally just an open road, as in Vauxhall Astra’s ‘Go Drive’.

Humour is a big feature. The Toyota Corolla ‘That’s My Car’ advertising currently on our screens seems to typify the genre; also step up please the Peugeot 407. British Leyland’s Princess magazine advertising of the mid-Seventies suggested that everybody else was driving square boxes. Does that sound familiar? Step up once more the Peugeot 407.

So what should the current campaign for MGR contain? No more Matthew Pinsent, that’s for sure. And just what are the MGs doing in the car park playing football? Have a rethink, per-leese!

The current Honda diesel engine
adverts (‘Make Something Better’)
are simply marvellous and the
Volvo ‘For Life’ campaign is
certainly original.

There have been some PhotoShop mock ups on this site advertising the Rover 75 V8 in rather xenophobic terms, but the idea was right – grab their attention with humour. And humour that works. (‘Three is definitely my favourite number…’ no thanks.)

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that MGR sort the CityRover quickly, drop the price and advertise it on TV. Yes I know it’s made in India, but Mitsubishi have been advertising their Colt heavily (with a rather bizarre under-the-sea driving routine) and Fiat’s Panda has had a very good press reception; why not highlight to everyone that Rover is in the same market and see if they can get some people into the showroom? The Tata Indica is a relatively fresh design, unlike the 10-year-old Rover 25 and 45. And people would be able to see that the CityRover has a great deal of interior and boot space. It’s not such a bad car after all, they might say. Especially if the interior fittings don’t fall off anymore.

Television advertising for cars must work because every single commercial break contains one. They are expensive to produce and show at peak times but at least there is a captive audience. God knows how much it must have cost to make and produce the Honda Accord “Cogs” advert, plus the cost of issuing countless DVDs of How the Film Was Made.

In fact Honda and Volvo seem to have the TV market pretty well sussed with a mixture of humour and aspiration. The current Honda diesel engine adverts (‘Make Something Better’) are simply marvellous and the Volvo ‘For Life’ campaign is certainly original.

Some more things for Mr Ward to ponder.

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21 Oct 2004

So what’s so bad about rubber bumpers?

I’ve been pondering this very issue for some time. It seems that a fair number of MG enthusiasts have taken the time and gone to the trouble of removing their rubber bumpers and replacing them with the chrome ones found on the earlier ‘Bs…

I can understand the issue of styling purity and brand values, but did the later ones look that bad? They give the MGB something of a more modern appearance, whilst giving some protection from errant TESCO trolleys. The rubber bumper MGs also seem to have a very integrated style, which is no mean feat given that these bumpers were attached some thirteen years after the original launch.

They give the MGB something of a
more modern appearance, whilst
giving some protection from errant
TESCO trolleys…

Gerry McGovern, I reckon, agrees with me, as his MGF obviously draws on this car for its frontal styling, and not the earlier chrome bumper models. The same with the gorgeous looking MG RV8 – it is a reworking in styling terms, of the Seventies MG. So are the rubber bumpers really that bad?

I suspect that there’s an element of negativity with these cars, which stems from the raised ride height, which interfered with the roadholding of the original. Marque fans blamed all of the MGB’s ills on what happened at the facelift – so much so that the bumpers became a symbol of all that went wrong with the MGB during the “dark” decade.

And that’s a shame, because – as I said – it really does not look too bad at all with these bumpers attached. It could have been a hell of a lot worse – take a look at the Federalized Fiat 124 Spider or Fiat X1/9 to see what I mean about how badly bumpers could be integrated into a design.

So… MG owners: Don’t decry your safety bumpers. Rejoice in them… and if any chrome bumper owning MG owner gives you grief about them, simply challenge them to a car park fight: car on car!

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20 Oct 2004

Why do we do it?

Hands up anyone who can tell us why we put ourselves through it? Classic car ownership, I mean. Don’t get me wrong, I love my SD1, but my God it is frustrating at times.

Took it to work at the end of last week for its annual check-up. You’ll be glad to hear that it passed the MoT after a couple of tiny issues were sorted. So, given that, Richard Gunn and I swapped cars for the weekend – I had his Citroen XM, and he got the Rover. Before you say anything, it was a good deal for me, because one car I have a tremendous admiration for is the XM: it looks good, is massively roomy, and rides and handles supremely well. I like them so much, I’ve had a few in my time.

Anyway, during the weekend, I received SMS messages from Richard telling me how much he loved the SD1. And who can blame him – he’s into BL (probably more than me), especially its products of the 1970s. And as my Rover has a brown interior… he was right at home.

So why the frustation..?

Driving it home from Peterborough, fill it up with fuel – go and pay – try to restart and… nothing. No dashboard lights, nothing. Arrgh. Open the bonnet and take a look, only to find that the battery earth lead has sheared. I can see the Audi owner looking at me from his diesel pump – I bet he was thinking something along the lines of, ‘nice old Rover – broken down again on the poor bastard owner’.

Still, at least it looked like a straightforward repair… And yet, because of where it had snapped, not an easy repair. At least the cable is stiff – it means I can prop it back into position and hope that it doesn’t drop off again.

One stressed journey later and we get home. Maybe not Devon all over again, but another journey with the fear of it cutting out on a busy and inhospitable A14.

So, it begs the question – why on Earth do we put ourselves through this? I mean the SD1 is a great car, and I will defend its honour with great determination, but, well… it does keep letting me down. Perhaps this is what classic car ownership is all about, but standing like a plonker on the hard shoulder of a wet and windy motorway does not seem like my idea of fun. Old cars are there to be enjoyed and I do like to drive mine, so why does it seem to have an aversion to performing this basic function?

Old cars are there to be enjoyed
and I do like to drive mine, so
why does it seem to have an
aversion to performing this
basic function?

Maybe someone who said to me, “I admire your bravery – I enjoy classic cars through other people’s purchases”, has the right idea. SD1s are lovely things to look at as well as drive, but driving someone else’s would give you all of the pleasure without the pain.

We also kid ourselves about the economics of owning our old bangers. People ask me how much I paid for it… and the answer to that is £1700. Today, over two years later, it is worth £1750, so I can rightfully say that I have cheated motoring’s greatest expense: depreciation. However, we tell ourselves and anyone that will listen that they are cheap to run because of this. But how many of us who own such cars can honestly say that they tell everyone the whole story? And the small matter of all those parts we’ve needed to buy – water pump, distributor, whatever – are swept under the carpet, and conveniently forgotten.

Will I ever get rid of it? Nahhh… but on Tuesday night, had someone offered me a fair price for it, I would have ripped their arm off!

Bloody classics…

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19 Oct 2004

Crap cars and why we love them so much.

Thanks to the popularity of last Christmas’s “Crap Towns” book, it was inevitable that someone would produce a petrolhead version to fit into the “Crap” book genre. Thankfully, it wasn’t written by some past-his-prime car bore, but by Mr Sniff Petrol himself, Richard Porter. And as anyone who visits his website will tell you, if you need half an hour’s entertainment, this is the place to be…

So we know he’s a funny writer, but are his car tastes of the top drawer? In a word, yes… to look at the fifty cars he has chosen, it is obvious that here is a man that knows what he is talking about. Take one car that makes it into the top ten: the MGB. In cold, hard, objective terms, the MGB was indeed a crap car – one that has been hyped so much during and after its (overlong) production run, anyone would think it was the motor industry’s answer to velcro. Truth is, it is a dynamic duffer, is crude, draughty and not that fast… yes, it can be fun in the right conditions, but in the same way that listening to the Birdie Song was that very first time you heard it…

So good on you, Mr Porter, for slaying one of the world’s greatest misconceptions.

Most of us that are into the
history of the company know
the cars’ weaknesses…

It comes as no surprise to see that there is a fair sprinkling of BMC>Rover cars in the book, two of which are in the top three. I won’t give too much away as to what they are, but they figured highly in austin-rover.co.uk’s voting for the worst BMC>Rover of all time so I guess you won’t be too surprised. There are many more than these, of course, but again, I’d hate to spoil the surprise for any buyer of the book.

Most of us that are into the history of the company know the cars’ weaknesses and we know that they played a big part in its downfall. Sometimes it is good not to get too depressed about our paradise lost, but to take a more lighthearted look at what it was – exactly – that make our cars such perennial losers. And I speak from personal experience… I currently own two of the cars featured in his book.

Having just looked on amazon.co.uk the book comes in at a not-unreasonable £5.99, so it’s cheap enough for anyone even slightly interested in cars to dip in and buy a copy. There’s no excuse not to buy it. Don’t expect a deep read – do expect a few laughs.

Of course, he’s VERY wrong about the sublime Lancia Montecarlo, but that’s a story for another website…

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18 Oct 2004

Meeting your heroes…

They say that you should never meet your heroes. Well, regular readers of this site will know that I have been in the fortunate position to meet one or two… and so far, I have yet to feel that the experience was anything but positive. Meeting Spen King was one such experience: the man was just how you would expect him to be – concise, entertaining and to the point. You could say, he’s just like his cars…

Well, a little bird tells me that a rather special person could be visiting the Princess and Ambassador Owners’ Club stand at the NEC motor show. Obviously, it should come as no surprise given the picture above, but in case you can’t recognise the scribbler in the photo, it’s Harris Mann, the Wedgemeister. Now, you’ve probably already read Richard Gunn’s brilliant interview on this site (taken, of course, from the pages of CCW), and you should probably have a good idea about what makes him tick, but I make no apologies for returning to the great man’s (sorry…KJA) achievements…

Look beyond the quirky Allegro, and you have the Princess and TR7, both cars that broke the mould in terms of styling… if it weren’t for niggling quality issues and a raft of bad PR stories, these two cars would have cleaned up in the mid-Seventies car market. They were bold, and daring; and if you relieve them of their unfortunate British Leyland baggage, they would be regarded as great cars, to this day. Of course, I might be a little biased, but is it not the case now, that today, companies like Renault, Mazda and Citroen are emerging Phoenix-like (sorry…KJA) from years of styling blandness.

Look at the Renault Megane and Mazda RX8 and tell me that these are two cars, which rejoice in the design freedom granted to their stylists. Well, the Princess and TR7 were just the same, only thirty years earlier. And look at Harris Mann’s trademark swooping beltline, which you see on the Princess and TR7… ahead of their time. Look at the new Mercedes-Benz SLK and A-Class, and you’ll see that same styling trademark.

But what happened to Harris Mann after the cars that defined his career met their makers? Well, he worked on LC10 proposals, created the Ambassador and Ital, before leaving Austin-Rover in 1983 to pursue a freelance career. We heard little from him apart from the odd mention here and there. His rejigging of the previous generation Subaru Impreza to turn it into the current version was a triumph (sorry…KJA), and there has been a return to the fold, acting as a consultant to MG Rover.

So… a great stylist, and one that deserves more popular acclaim (sorry…KJA). Richard Gunn stated that had he been born in Italy instead of London, he would now rank amongst the greats, and I tend to agree. If we think of Allegro as this….

Instead of this…

Then it all begins to make sense.

So if Harris Mann makes an appearance at the NEC, and I manage to grab hold of him, I wonder whether I’ll end up congratulating him for being one of The designers of the 1970s, or will I freeze up and and babble incomprehensively… I’m hoping the former, as I really would love to have an insight into a great mind.

Here’s hoping that our paths shall cross. This is one hero, I can’t wait to meet…

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15 Oct 2004

Good news at last

By MIKE GOY

Yes, MGR is (finally) allocating some attention to PR. The organisation has always been surrounded by bad news. I’m trying hard to think of a time when some positive PR has come out of MGR and its antecedents the Rover Group, ARG, BL, British Leyland, BMC. The only occasion that springs to mind is the 1980 launch of the Austin miniMetro. For a few short months, it seemed as though the running nightmare of the Sixties and Seventies had finally been laid to rest. Patriotic feeling swept the nation, only tempered by the inevitable reality of poor build quality, unprepared dealerships (I’m still waiting for the test drive I booked following the car’s launch), and compromised design. Remember the narrow windscreen and high scuttle hiding the gearbox-in-sump A Series engine? Not to mention the narrow track and tiny wheels, making the vehicle look seriously wrong.

The last four years has seen wave after wave of unremitting bad news. In fact, we have to go back to the Honda days to find anything remotely positive. Between 1989 and 1992 news emanating from Longbridge and Cowley seemed, if not very encouraging, at least benign. This situation soon altered once our German cousins were in charge. BMW decided that the Metro wouldn’t be replaced, and although people knew that something was coming (new MINI) they didn’t see it until a prototype made a fleeting visit at the 1997 Motor Show. Then there was a further long wait until the vehicle’s eventual launch in 2000. With new vehicle development time down to three years or less these days, conspiracy theorists would say that BMW never had any intention of launching this car under the Rover name.

Since that time, it has just been a drip, drip,
drip of bad news, only alleviated by positive
spin surrounding the MG marque’s re-launch.

Moving on, Mr Pischetsrieder had another ace up his sleeve, and in 1998 he chose the Rover 75 launch to completely rubbish the product and the people who built it. The car (and the company) never recovered from that setback.

Then there was the acrimonious divorce in 2000, leading to the final departure of Land Rover and Mini from the parent Rover Group. Again, this seemed almost as if it had been planned from the start. Since that time, it has just been a drip, drip, drip of bad news, only alleviated by positive spin surrounding the MG marque’s re-launch.

Of course, if BMW had allowed the development of MG from the takeover in 1994, branding it differently to their own products as they did with Rover, perhaps the MG TF could have been developed into a proper sports car range. As it is, this vehicle shows what can be done with a limited budget and must remain one of MGR’s finest achievements. No thanks to BMW!

CityRover. Was it this product launch that prompted MGR to shake up their PR department? There would have been many people worried about the prospect of importing a vehicle with such flimsy interior fittings and high price, and management must have been aware of the forthcoming Fiat Panda. Talk of a future fix for the interior brings back memories of so many BL product launches requiring remedial action a few months down the line.

Rover 25. This vehicle celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, with no sign of a replacement. And even at its 1995 launch it was acknowledged that a rummage through the parts bin had been required to get the vehicle up and running.

Rover 45. So, the new RD/X60 won’t be here until 2007. What on earth are they going to do with this car for the next three years? There are only so many times you can relocate the rear number plate.

Rover 75. Without a shadow of a doubt, the jewel in MGR’s crown and still competitive six years after its launch. A proper Rover, solid, well built and with a real presence on the road. Sadly, it is the only innovative design since the Rover SD1 of 1976 and the only well built Rover since the 2000 of 1963. Again, some creative development flair has managed to grow the brand, but it is essentially the same car it was in 1998. Will the new RD/X60 eventually become the donor vehicle for a replacement? Another 12-year model life?

MGTF. With its recently re-engineered suspension finally consigning the Hydragas concept to history, there could be a few more years left in this excellent mid-engined sports car but it will need a further major facelift.

And that is it. The cupboard is bare. Mr Ward has certainly got his work cut out over the coming years.

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14 Oct 2004

Dear MGR…

By IAN WALTON

What does MGR need to communicate?

For starters Rover needs a clear, consistent and appealing image (MG is easy to ID). The 75 is lovely but irrelevant – Rover was never an imitator of Jaguar. Nor should a Rover be an up-market Ford.

The ideal image of a Rover should be as the choice for a long haul journey. Rapid, but not a sports car, functional without being austere, stylish and robust, a modern car which proves a satisfying companion over many years. The P5 is the obvious role model, or for a more recent example, think of the 80s Saab 900 Turbo, a logical choice and desirable to boot.

Part of the problem is that the Rover company still exists, selling cars which are intended to embody traditional Rover strengths such as safety, durability, smart but discreet styling, advanced engineering, these cars still appeal to the same customer as Rovers of old and are employed and respected at all levels of society. Unfortunately they only make 4wd cars, prefixed with “Land”. MG Rover descends from Austin and therein lies the problem.

It has been 40 years since BMC could compete with Ford, is it not time to admit defeat and move on?

The only message coming from Rover nowadays is: “Our cars aren’t worth what we ask for them, so we’ve knocked thousands off the price, we’re that desperate to offload them.” Doesn’t do much for brand equity does it?

Practical suggestions:

List price should reflect average sale price, the product is perceived as good value and retained value figures look better

Get rid of confusing trim levels. The 75 started life with a simple line up, these days even the 45 saloon and hatch have different trim levels. As suggested on austin-rover.co.uk, sell a standard model, to which the buyer adds options (engine, transmission, sports suspension, ICE, etc.). A choice of cloth or leather trim is sensible, but who cares if an SLi has seats with a different swirly pattern to those of an Si? There are no model badges on the cars anyway and the whole ideology of trim levels only existed to exploit the petty hierarchy of company car drivers in their Fords. If you drove Rover it was obvious you had a superior motor – think big. And make the purchase something special – only build to order

Abandon all thoughts of cheesy, sycophantic copywriting. Don’t imply a car can make you captain of the golf club. We’ve heard all the old flannel before, only marketing people and the mugs who employ them believe this tripe. Choose a Rover because it’s a Damn Good Car, sell it on genuine strengths, solid engineering, sound design, all safety kit as standard

For God’s sake sort the dealers out. They have as much enthusiasm for their wares as they would if they were selling carpet remnants. The cars in my local showroom are actually kept locked; do they want any custom? The best dealers, the small family firms, were priced out of business during the BMW era, the big chains treat private customers with contempt

Clear the forecourts of trade-ins. Go to a MINI dealer and all you see is MINIs

Court the press. Who lent Clarkson a duff SV? Who told Top Gear to get lost when they asked to lend a CityRover?!

Ads that make you chortle. They work.

In short, try and break free of traditional car-trade behaviour, remodel a fresh, attractive way of buying a new car.

Stop trying to compete in every class, concentrate on a couple of first class models (RD60 & 75), ditch the rest of the range as soon as possible, build it back up only when you can afford to do the job properly.

Most importantly, get the product right in the first place, give it a genuine, designed-in USP such as a versatile interior.
Don’t skimp on the engineering or on perceived value, MGR only has one chance to get the new mid-size car right, penny pinching never pays off.

Good luck.

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13 Oct 2004

Polish affair continues…

So MGR is still talking to the Polish about getting hold of the ex-GM/Daewoo factory – only this time, it has brought along a Chinese friend to the party in order to gain more leverage during negotiations. It’s definitely an interesting situation, and yet again, it begs the question as to what MG Rover and SAIC could possibly want with an Eastern European facility.

In cold hard terms, Longbrdge has more capacity than it could ever possibly need… The assembly building put aside for the MINI was never used, and stands unused to this day. BMW were thinking in terms of 300,000 cars per annum from this line alone, so it does make you wonder. The lines that are in use are also well below capacity – 25, 45 and 75 sales are all running at levels far removed from ideal, which again screams under-utilization.

We all know that the RD/X60 is never going to be built in massive volumes, so again, what possible use is there for another factory? For a start, wouldn’t SAIC be building the things in China anyway – and as anyone will tell you, labour rates in China are far lower than they are in Poland. So it is a riddle – a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

Especially considering John Towers’ public and passionate commitment to Longbridge.

We all know that the RD/X60 is
never going to be built in massive
volumes, so what possible use is
there for another factory?

One must assume that Eastern European production lines will be producing cheaper cars to slake demand for inexpensive cars in the region – cars to rival Renault-Dacia’s new Logan. But again, how could the company build a cheap car for these markets based on existing models given their Honda underpinnings? SAIC has nothing in its cupboards that isn’t owned by someone else…

So many questions.

Again, one can only make assumptions about why the company wants a presence in Poland, and one such pie-in-the-sky guess may be that Longbridge production may well end up being transferred to Poland piece by piece. Or perhaps it is Powertrain’s intention to move there. Who knows…

Well, John Towers knows, as does Kevin Howe, and no doubt Daniel Ward knows as well. One thing is for sure – if and when MG Rover/SAIC get hold of the Polish factory, we are going to want to know answers pretty damned quickly, otherwise unpleasant questions – the sort that don’t go away – are going to asked about Longbridge all over the media. After all, MG Rover sold the Longbridge site last year, didn’t it…

And as we all know bad press publicity costs sales. So here’s a direct plea to MG Rover management: if you end up buying into Poland, please tell us what your plans are, because right now, a lot of families in the West Midlands as well as a significant number of patriotic car buyers would like to know the answer…

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12 Oct 2004

What we want (and don’t want) in RD/X60

Dear MG Rover, can we have the following, please?

Interior:

1) Please, please, please, no more overt retro, no more fake wood – we want modern and chic, not twee.
2) Plenty of head- and legroom in the front and the rear – and for goodness sake, how about nice slim A-posts, so we can see out…
3) A usable boot with a nice split floor (as shown on TCV).
4) Multi-adjustable seats front and rear, and MPV-style adaptability.
5) Work surfaces for laptop users (but don’t call them picnic trays!), integrated hands-free, Bluetooth networking.
6) Looms pre-installed for in-car video to facilitate retro-fitting of gadgets as and when they are needed.
7) The option for an iDrive-style system (but one that works), as well as touch screen capability on the sat/nav screen.
8) MP3/DVD – no more cassette decks!

Options and trim levels:

1) Do away with the silly trim levels such as Connoisseur, Classic, etc… the Rover RD60 and MG X60 should come in one model only, which is pret a conduire, and it could then be specified (from an extensive options list) to the owner’s requirements. Rover only build in small numbers now, so why not capitalize on an (as yet) untapped demand for “bespoke” cars?
2) No more low powered versions – start the range at 2 litres/1.8-litre turbo (with at least 160PS) and top it with the KV6 in normally aspirated and Sprintex forms.
3) Diesel versions should be offered in the same way VAG’s are: three states of tune for the same engine, with the entry-level model being at least 110PS.
4) Saloon and hatch models marketed in the same way – no trying to market the saloon as an upmarket hatch, please!

Engineering:

1) Chassis settings should be available in three variations, “Optimal”, “Plus” and “Minus”. The former being the default version with a compliant set-up with keen turn-in, with the latter being harder and softer versions. “Minus” – the softest – should be roughly similar to the current 75, with Optimal comparable to the ZT.
2) Shell stiffness should be at least as good as the 75/ZT, and if possible, even better. Please do not design down to a price, but build the quality in. This is not going to be a volume car, so engineer it to match (and beat) the standards set by BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
3) Performance and braking should also exceed the expectations of the class – ensure that even the entry level model (in petrol and diesel form) easily beats 9-seconds for the 0-60 dash and a 120mph maximum speed.

Sounds like a tall order doesn’t it? But remember how the R8 absolutely blitzed the opposition back in 1989 by being able to offer performance, advanced engineering and classy packaging at a price not too far out of reach. Now, with the RD/X60, the company has no real need to meet the demands of the rental market, so why not go for that classy angle again? It is possible, and with this car, it now has the opportunity to build the Rover that Rover needs, and not one to fit in with the corporate plans of another manufacturer (i.e., Honda or BMW).

Rover was considered a bit twee up to the point of the R8’s introduction, and with one competent car, people’s perception of the company changed overnight. The company is in a worse situation than that now, but if it produces a classy, bespoke and advanced car, it is possible to turn things around. So MG Rover, please don’t rush the car, hold your nerve and build a car that is truly worthy of the nameplate. After all, if this is to be the “Last Chance Saloon”, then it needs to be one with masses of style panache and intrigue.

So, please, please, please ditch the retro. But I think we can take that as read…

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11 Oct 2004

No more PR blunders?

As reported in this month’s news, MGR has appointed a new director of PR. Being a former motoring journalist, Daniel Ward is more than likely to be well equipped to deal with the machinations of a hostile UK press. If the reactions of this site’s readers are a barometer, then it can be taken as read that Mr Ward’s appointment is a most welcome one.

Most of those who have expressed an opinion have stated that MGR’s products may be old (in some cases), but they are still more than worthy, and that it is merely fashionable to knock the company, as it has been many times in the past. This may be the case, but the company has given the press much ammunition to play with and if one looks at last October’s Phoenix Four/Pension story, and MGR’s sales since this point, it is easy to see that there is a hard and fast correlation.

Even hard man Graham Day knew the
effects of negative press coverage,
and as a result spent most of his time
schmoozing the press.

Even hard man Graham Day knew the effects of negative press coverage, and as a result spent most of his time schmoozing the press – feeding them as much information as he dare. Of course, the policy today is very much different to Graham Day’s, and very little is heard from the Phoenix Four, leaving the hard pressed executives below to mop up the mess. So, could we be seeing a move towards more openness? Certainly Daniel Ward’s appointment would indicate that MGR is taking PR a lot more seriously than perhaps it should have been. And as he is in charge of PR for the entire Phoenix Group and has the ear of Kevin Howe, one can hope…

So hopefully, we should be seeing some concrete announcements from the company, because there are a lot of disaffected people out there that think that they deserve a little information.

And information is what is needed right now – a little bird tells us that the RD/X60 is now heading for a 2007 launch, the forthcoming re-tooling of the 75 line has been delayed, whilst the upcoming diesel engines (from India) are proving disappointing in development in terms of the elimination of NVH.

Some positive spin is needed. A new, clever and interesting advertising campaign would go a long way (see Sniff Petrol!), as would some new marketing initiatives. Remember when Ford launched its first PCP in the mid-1990s (at a time it had an extremely weak product range), or when MGR launched its free-fuel campaign? Extra sales were the reward. We need something like that now.

I’m sure austin-rover.co.uk could come up with suggestions… how about LPG as standard? That has to be a seller…

We await developments with great interest…

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8 Oct 2004

Lateral thinking…

By PAUL HOPEWELL

MG Rover could have a terrific future, but right now it looks like it is following a well-trodden path of out-sourcing, diluting and eventual disappearance. It doesn’t have to be this way!

They’ve done it once before, so I reckon there’s a good chance that they can pull it off again. No, not rebounding from massive debts and certain death. I’m not referring to launching advanced cars way ahead of their much richer competitors (like the Montego direct injection diesel). Not even their ability to re-work old designs to the point at which they outshine modern, mega-budget alternatives (MG Z-cars). Instead I’m referring to them conceiving a mutually beneficial arrangement with a ‘minor’ Japanese car maker.

When Austin-Rover and Honda got it together in the late 1970s most people in Europe knew Honda only as a motorcyle manufacturer and, maybe, that they also had a sideline building tiny cars. Toyota and Datsun (as Nissan then was) were already household names, but not Honda. How the world has changed! Honda is as well respected as any other marque now, displays great engineering flair and originality and has retained its independence despite seismic shifts in ownership of almost every other major player. From under-dog to top dog in a few decades. Has Rover moved on? Visceral gut reaction is ‘nah’, but that does a huge disservice to the immense strides that Rover’s survivalists have taken, especially since the BMW divorce (“you take the 75, I’m keeping the Mini!!”).

So, who should they pursue? Nissan, Toyota and Honda all have happy domestic arrangements. Mitsubishi is embroiled in controversy over its false accounts and criminally covering up for poor manufacturing and reliability. Part-owners GM have declined to give them more financial support. Better to stay well clear of them!

Have they considered approaching
Subaru? Perhaps they should.

Have they considered approaching Subaru? Perhaps they should. Think about it, Subaru has an excellent range of technically advanced cars (boxer engines, AWD), but simply cannot sell them in sufficient quantities in Europe. It’s not because they’re bad. On the contrary, they are exemplary, reliable, safe, ‘thinking man’s’ cars. In North America, where they can sell them faster than they build them, Subaru have a factory in Indiana. Most of their output goes to the northern states and Canada. Believe me, they work very well in 2ft snow and at temperatures of -30C, better even than ‘real’ 4x4s. They are tough. They have credentials, but, alas, not for the UK buyers. Even though they are thousands of pounds cheaper than Audi quattro or similar contemporaries, they have barely managed to be noticed in the public’s eye. Maybe it’s because they are one of a dwindling band of cars to not have a diesel option. Maybe. Even before the diesel revolution they we hardly sales stars, with only a small band of very loyal owners. Worthy cars, yes. Popular no, with the possible example of the outrageous Impreza WRX.

MG Rover is in need of new models and these must be sufficiently distinct from mainstream competitors to make it worthwhile. It may be said that most MG Rovers are bought only for patriotic reasons. While quaint, this is not a sound basis on which to build a future business (anyone for a Retro-Metro?). MG Rovers need to be distinct and better than alternatives to be credible, given the small size of their market share. Subarus fit the bill. In my opinion MG Rover would be well advised not to go begging to every emerging Chinese and Indian ‘giant’, in the hope of finding salvation in cheap overseas production of yet another commodity product. Instead, I suggest that they should approach Subaru with a solid proposal for co-operation. MG Rover could build Legacy, Forester and Impreza models for the European market; this should benefit Subaru sales. In return, the next generation MG Rovers would be built on developments of Subaru platforms. At a stroke MG Rover would have a range of vehicles that appeal to the head and the heart, the technology hungry and the patriotic. MG Rover are masters at car aesthetics and interiors. Think what wonders they could do with not-notch running gear, rather than aged Honda cast-offs. And if MG Rover and Subaru worked together and conjured up a boxer diesel to power their joint products, well that’s the stuff dreams are made of…….

If they like, I’d even help them to write the proposal! Mr Towers, if you’re reading this, please drop me a line.


Feedback

Paul Hampson:

Too late I’m afraid. Subaru are getting closer to GM. Already Subaru vehicles are being rebranded as Saabs (another GM brand) for the US market. Yet another boat missed by Rover!

Pursuing this theme however, why can’t MG Rover speak nicely to Honda about a future working relationship? MG Rover are still tied to them for the supply of parts for the current 25/45, and the companies best times in recent (30+ !) years in terms of sales performance and profitability was when they were developing vehicles with Honda. Surely it cant be too late to try and patch things up!


Jim Shepherd:

Subaru is already matched up with GM. They are turning Subarus into Saabs for the US market.

It was DaimlerChrysler who declined further financial support for Mitsubishi, not GM.

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7 Oct 2004

Back and still buzzing…

So there you go… a few magical days and it’s all over. Staples2Naples was an absolute blast from start to finish and it just shows that it is still possible to have fun on the roads without the spectre of GATSOs, road rage or aggravation from other drivers. OK, so we had to go to mainland Europe to find that, and only in Italy did we feel free, but you get the idea.

During the course of the four day event, we drove 1500 miles, saw snow at the top of the Alps one day and experienced 26 degree heat at a “holiday resort” near Naples the next. It just shows what diversity Europe has to offer when you know where to look.

I think the thing that struck me most about the event was just how much people out there love their cars, and how much cameraderie there still is between us petrolheads. Sometimes you can forget that when immersed in the UK’s rat race. The Italian police were a good case in point – some of the cars on our event were truly diabolical to look at, and yet they were happy for us to do what we were doing because it was seen as a good cause. I suspect that Italy’s love of the car might have something to do with it, also. Whatever the reason for the police’s tolerence down there, it made for a refreshing change for us Brits…

If you love cars and love driving, you
cannot afford to miss this thing. A few
more years, and events like this simply
won’t be possible. Enjoy it while you can

There were high spirits, but people knew not to cross the line – and that shows just how most of us regulate ourselves perfectly well when left to our own devices. It’s a shame that it is pretty unlikely that this ideology could be rolled out across the rest of us, but well, you know.

I’ll be on the Staples2Naples run next year, hopefully raising more money for charity. Thanks to all those who chose to contribute and help, and thanks to the organizers for staging such a great event. Next year, we’ll attack it with a different mindset, I suspect, and more than likely not bringing anything back with us…

If you love cars and love driving, you cannot afford to miss this thing. A few more years, and events like this simply won’t be possible. Enjoy it while you can.

One thing that Staples2Naples proved was that a well-maintained Rover R8 is a very dependable car indeed. It used no water, no oil and screamed over the Alpine passes when many others suffered from problems (especially with their braking)… Nope, that little Rover is a very nice car indeed, and I hope one day that the company finds a way of rediscovering how to build such popular medium sized cars.

If you agree with me and are on a budget, go out and buy one. In fact, go out and buy ours. It’s on eBay and the proceeds of the sale go to charity. Take a look, make a bid, and if you’re lucky, you could own a 216GTi, which has been raced and rallied!

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5 Oct 2004

Silverstone lost…

By STUART BISHOP

Sterling Moss 1955… Jim Clark, 1962… James Hunt versus John Watson, 1977.. Michael Schumacher’s controversial win in 1998 and his accident in 1999. Silverstone has been host to many memorable races over the years. With Bernie Ecclestone sounding the British Grand Prix’s death knell, 2005 could be a bleak year for the future of British motorsport.

From the 13th of May 1950 onwards, the British Grand Prix became both a legend and a national institution; as quintessential as Wimbledon, the FA Cup final and the Grand National. The pinnacle of motorsport coming to our green and pleasant land has become essential viewing for any self respecting motorsport fan. Yet what we have become accustomed to and taken for granted for over 50 years will shortly become little more than memories of a ramshackle former airfield, a place where heroes were made, if the powers that be reach their expected conclusion; that Silverstone is no longer of the required standard to stage a Grand Prix.

As I write this, Bernie Ecclestone has offered Silverstone’s promoters, the BRDC, a reprieve. All that stands in the way of a potential £30million loss to Northamptonshire and a priceless event to the nation is a £1.5million deficit. Surely there’s a successful business or rich eccentric willing to donate in exchange for becoming a national hero? Offered the keys to Towcester? Or perhaps Richard Branson would like to insert his finger into yet another pie? Silverstone is staring down the barrel of a loaded gun with 2004 in line to be remembered as the final year the cream of racing came to what’s regarded by many as the home of motorsport.

2004 has all the hallmarks of going
down in history as the Doomsday
year for Formula 1…

With Ford’s intention to withdraw from Formula 1 having a knock on effect for three teams, leaving two without an engine supply and one facing it’s demise, 2004 has all the hallmarks of going down in history as the Doomsday year for Formula 1.

The UK has long been regarded as the “home of motorsport” with many racing teams choosing to site their bases in the UK, thanks to the excellent reputation this country has gained in the field of race engineering. With the loss of this country’s place on the F1 calendar in the most important racing series worldwide and the potential loss of 3 teams with strong links in the UK, what will stop the remaining teams moving to countries offering huge amounts of money for businesses to relocate, the finest testing facilities and far more interested governments?

Having visited Silverstone on a number of occasions, it’s clear to see that the circuit is left wanting and would require astronomical sums of money to become a venue to be proud of. Many people who only come in contact with the circuit on television, one weekend in July really cannot appreciate the rather dog-eared appearance of the non-track areas not shown to the millions. If the promoters of the event are having such difficulties finding £1.5million, what chance does Silverstone have of becoming a venue capable of standing up next to the modern high-tech super-circuits of the Far East?

Hopefully, Silverstone will receive a last minute reprieve, keeping much needed business in this country and a traditional circuit in the public eye. Bernie Ecclestone is a businessman; F1 is his lucrative business which has made him billions. Unfortunately, sport is not a romantic fairytale where tradition prevails over profit. The call of the veritable gold mine that is the Far East grows ever louder.

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4 Oct 2004

SOS MGR!

By DYLAN JONES

Watching the final of the British Touring Car Championships the other week, I was encouraged to see the 2 MG ZSes finishing in respectable places, not too far behind the Vauxhalls and the SEATs. I’ve no doubt that it is events like this that are providing a lifeline to MGR, showing that actually the cars do have an ounce of life left in them, despite having had the automotive equivalent of collagen, lipo and eyebag removal. I have to say though, that the current ads asking what will shift the cars quicker (a £1500 discount) smacks of a little desperation. Could MGR not capitalise on the sporting events the cars do so well in, focusing on the positives?

I seem to remember SD1s in Touring Car racing a few years back- is that class still there, and if so, can’t we shove a few V8s round the track to get some publicity and trophies?

I am a lifelong Rover fan, and as I comment on my My Baby & I page, my parents still run a Rover. Had there been a suitable model for me to buy when I sold my ’91 214SLi 2 years ago, I would have jumped at the chance. But I felt the 45 wasn’t far enough ahead of the game – I knew exactly where its origins lay. While brand loyalty would have played a huge part, I couldn’t bring myself to spend £12-13k on something that would have tipped most of that money down the drain the second I drove it out of the showroom. But I desperately wanted to buy a Rover – the 75 was a tad too big for what I needed at the time – and I hope that in 2 years, MGR will have something suitable for me to spend my money on.

I currently run a SEAT Leon and with the exception of a slightly rattling seat which was fixed under warranty, I just can’t fault it. Solid as a rock!

…driving through a suburban estate,
the number of MGR products sitting
on driveways was astronomical…

As has been commented elsewhere, MGR just doesn’t have the brand loyalty at the moment- too many scare stories, and people’s perceptions of what the cars mean have put too many people off.

I have just returned from a trip to the Midlands, and driving through a suburban estate, the number of MGR products sitting on driveways compared to everything else was astronomical. Now I know a lot of this could be down to company cars and staff purchases, but it shows that with a little enthusiasm and encouragement people’s minds can be changed. I believe there is another factor which sways people’s cars purchases. If one person buys an MGR, and a few other locals follow, the trend can soon be changed.

Maybe MGR are putting their eggs in too many baskets There are far superior cars to the CityRover – could MGR not pull out of the city market as it doesn’t appear to be very lucrative for them at the moment. More a case of “everyone else has a car in this segment, so I suppose we should too”. Could this money not be better spend on speeding up the 45 replacement? It won’t be long before 45 signifies the number of years it’s been in production…

Rover was always known for building large, statesman-like cars, could it not go back to that and forge a reputation for building decent, large classy cars? They are most of the way there with the 75 now! Rover have shown they can build a classy medium saloon though- the booted version of the ’96 400 is one of the classiest 4-door saloons I have seen in a long time, and looks so much better than the 5-door version. Credit is due to Rover for building this version of the 400.

I really really hope the replacement for the 45 shakes up the market like the 75 did when it first appeared, and gives MGR a decent foothold in the market once again. I for one want to be proud to drive an MGR, not feel I have to out of desperation for the company.

Come on guys, you can do it! The cheque books are at the ready….

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2 Oct 2004

Promoting MGR

By MIKE GOY

There has already been some discussion here about the lack of promotion for the UK’s one remaining domestic car manufacturer. Commercial breaks on ITV or Channel 4 always contain a car advertisement. Some, like those for the Peugeot 407, are clever, eye-catching and original. Vauxhall’s Meriva and Zafira promotion uses the other successful approach – humour. Ford’s run-out campaign for the Focus is relentless, BMW’s adverts for their new 1 Series are certainly different, but what about MGR? Well, it is obvious that cash is extremely short because you will only see a TV commercial during weekend motor racing. Low advertising rates, but very few viewers. And there are only adverts for MGs, presumably because of the sporting links with the cars racing in the BTCC championship. This would be a clever move if there was a corresponding uplift in vehicles sold, but sadly the age of the range and its subsequent lack of appeal to the BMW generation mean that sales continued to slide.

What about Rover? No advertising at all. Zero, zilch. Now I know that there are basically two types – above the line, and below the line. Above the line are visible (TV, radio, magazines, posters) and below the line are not quite so transparent (competitions, coupons, product tie-ins). Presumably, there is some below the line activity connected to the BTCC championship. I don’t know, because I don’t go. But it has been four years since any Rover featured on the television – remember the Rover 25 parking on the roulette wheel? Why on earth don’t Rover advertise the 75, reminding people that it is still in production and promoting its many fine features? It has to be their most profitable vehicle. I can only assume that advertising the smaller cars in the range is designed to generate some showroom traffic, but this cannot be working as sales are now in freefall.

What about Rover?
No advertising at all.
Zero, zilch.

So, what to do? The BTCC championship is now over for 2004 and MGs are looking more tired as each day passes. Surely some new exposure for the main Rover range is overdue. How about a TV commercial during Midsomer Murders on ITV, as John Nettles (Inspector Barnaby) drives a Rover 45 and used to drive a 75. How about getting some more people on television to drive Rovers – product tie-ins again. And are Downing Street still interested in the V8? Of course, TV exposure can work the other way as typified by Alan Partridge a few years ago with his Rover 800.

Any budding copywriters out there? Perhaps the readers of this site can come to the rescue.

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1 Oct 2004

Sent to Coventry, via Munich

By MIKE GOY

Much soul-searching and questioning of motives has followed the announcement that Ford are to cease Jaguar manufacturing at Browns Lane. But this is what happens when ultimate control rests in Detroit – the Americans don’t really care where Jaguars are made, especially when BMW have a manufacturing plant in the US. Jaguar is supposed to be quintessentially English, but the days of Mark 2 Jaguars and E-Types are long gone.

The motor industry is very fickle – a period of profit and full employment is usually followed by financial instability and job losses. Jaguar’s current problems are firmly rooted in the exchange rate fluctuations as American customers are paying in dollars whilst the product is costed in pounds sterling. In addition, the cars just don’t have the reputation accorded to their natural competitors BMW. The Jaguar model selection doesn’t flow naturally in the same way as our German cousins’. With the launch of the 1 Series, BMW have finally got all the bases covered. From MINI to Rolls-Royce via soft roaders and sports cars they are now the complete car company. Who would have thought it 40 years ago? Then it was Jaguar riding high as a fabulous and unique range of motorcars emanated from Browns Lane. And I still think that the E-Type Jaguar is easily the best looking car ever produced. If Jaguar could only replace it properly! They have tried so many times and failed (remember the F-Type fiasco of a few years ago – first it was coming, then it was cancelled, then it was on again etc etc).

It must be very frustrating if
you are in any position of
authority at Jaguar in the UK.

It must be very frustrating if you are in any position of authority at Jaguar in the UK. They can see BMW walking all over them and are powerless to act, as all the moneymaking decisions are now made in the US. And where is the natural progression? X-Type, S-Type, XJ. It doesn’t make sense, and they don’t have that ‘family’ look that BMW seem to manage so effortlessly.

Incredibly, Great Britain is still listed as the fourth largest economy in the industrialised world. But our decline as a manufacturing nation seems to be unstoppable. Back in 1851 when the Great Exhibition opened at Crystal Palace, we were the envy of the entire world. The halls were filled with examples of British manufacturing expertise from around the Empire. Having built up a head start as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, Britain looked unstoppable. Unfortunately, the next 100 years would see two World Wars (arguably the same contest in parts one and two) and the loss of an Empire – the Wars emptied the coffers, and the loss of the Empire removed the natural British market for manufactured goods. The last 50 years has just been the endgame, as globalisation has taken hold and, whilst motor vehicles and a vast selection of other consumer goods are still manufactured in this country, profits are taken back to the boardrooms, be they in Japan, Korea, the US or Germany.

And the future for Jaguar? I can’t predict it, but I’ll bet that it is not good news. Our motor industry is gradually disappearing.

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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