Pininfarina’s BLUECAR : Rover reinvented?

Clive Goldthorp

Pininfarina BLUECAR - the real CityRover replacement?

Pininfarina's BLUECAR - the real CityRover replacement?

Italy’s two most famous, but currently troubled, Automotive Design companies, Bertone Group and Pininfarina S.p.A., have both been in the news during the last week or so: Fiat S.p.A’s. bid for the Bertone Group’s dormant Contract Manufacturing unit, Carrozzerio Bertone S.p.A., was approved by Italian Industry Minister, Claudio Scajola, on the 6th August, 2009 – see ‘Fiat approved to buy Bertone coachbuilding unit’ Automotive News Europe, 6th August, 2009 – while the Pininfarina family, which controls Pininfarina S.p.A., has reportedly hired Italy’s Banca Leonardo to sell their majority stake in the company – see ‘Pininfarina hires bank to sell family stake’ Automotive News Europe, 7th August, 2009.

AROnline readers will note from the latter Automotive News Europe report that Tata Motors Limited, which already has a Joint Venture company with Fiat S.p.A. in India, may well be planning to acquire all or part of the Pininfarina family company’s 50.7 per cent stake in Pininfarina S.p.A.. Tata Motors’ interest in Pininfarina was first reported by The Times back in April, 2008 – see ‘Tata buys a stake in Italian Pininfarina’ The Times, 26th April, 2008 – and might possibly have been prompted by the latter company’s lead role in the development of the Pininfarina BLUECAR – the forthcoming product of a Joint Venture company owned by Pininfarina and France’s Bollore Group called Vehicules Electriques Pininfarina Bollore (VEPB).

VEPB was set up as a 50-50 Joint Venture at the beginning of 2008 with the purpose of designing, developing, manufacturing and distributing an electic car with ‘revolutionary technical features and formal qualities.’ The first production versions of the BLUECAR will roll off the assembly line at Pininfarina in Italy next year. However, full-scale production will run from 2011 to 2017 with the forecast output in 2015 being about 60,000 units per annum.

VEPB does not, as yet, appear to have any distribution channels in place for the BLUECAR. However, if Tata Motors did take a stake in Pininfarina, then the existing Jaguar and/or Land Rover Dealer Networks would clearly be able to provide ready-made distribution channels in America, Britain, Europe and elsewhere.”

Pininfarina describes the BLUECAR as an ‘elegant compact’ four-seater, five-door MPV powered by LMP (Lithium Metal Polymer) batteries which, when combined with supercapicitors and an automatic transmission, should provide a range of 250kms and can be recharged at an ordinary mains socket.

The BLUECAR’s performance ‘is in line with that of internal combustion vehicles in the same segment (B/C)’ while the location of the battery beneath the floorpan ‘responds to specific dynamic and passive safety criteria.’ However, a quick glance through the BLUECAR’s online brochure reveals that the car’s dimensions are: L: 3.65m W: 1.72m H: 1.60m – smaller than, say, the A-segment/City car Suzuki Splash/Vauxhall Agila – and that the model will be pitched as a Premium town car.

VEPB does not, as yet, appear to have any distribution channels in place for the BLUECAR. However, if Tata Motors did take a stake in Pininfarina, then the existing Jaguar and/or Land Rover Dealer Networks would clearly be able to provide ready-made distribution channels in America, Britain, Europe and elsewhere.

AROnline still regards Rover as a Premium/Luxury marque and reckons that a Rover-badged BLUECAR derivative would not only compliment the current and projected Jaguar and Land Rover product portfolios but would also provide serious competition for the likes of the Aston Martin Cygnet.

Hopefully, someone at either Tata Motors and/or Jaguar Land Rover will already be thinking along the same lines…

Clive Goldthorp

About the Author:

Clive claims that his interest in the BMC>MG story dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when the family’s garage premises were leased to a tenant with an Austin agency. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s, his grandmother was one of the country’s first female Garage Proprietors so cars probably run in his genes! Admits to affairs with Alfa Romeos, but has more recently owned an 06/06 MG TF 135 and then a 15/64 MG3 Style… Clive, who was AROnline’s News Editor for nearly four years, stood down from that role in order to devote more time to various Motor Racing projects but still contributes articles on as regular basis as his other commitments permit.

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  1. David says:

    An interesting concept that may or not pave the way forward for the return of the Rover name. However, such a proposition will only be likely to suceed if it has a high level of build quality, quality trim and materials, modern engine designs, driving refinement and a competitive retail price – something neither the CityRover nor Tata’s own models can boast about.

    Such a proposition, if taken forward, has to capture the essence of timeless, elegant design and be seen as aspirational not mainstream in its appeal. It is high time the medium market sector offered something more individual than the clinical Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf and something better made and more honestly priced than the Mercedes Benz A-Class.

  2. Eamonn says:

    I just hope that a car like this wearing a Rover badge does not in any way undermine the potential for a medium-size premium Rover (A4/3 Series territory) to potentially take over from the X-TYPE.

    I reckon that one way round this might be to introduce a new “CityRover” badge. This is logical as “Land Rover” is the off-road marque.

  3. @Eamonn
    I think that the re-introduction of the “CityRover” badge might evoke unfortunate memories of the over-priced Tata Indica V2-based CityRover. A name such as “EcoRover” or “UrbanRover” might be more marketable…

  4. RamseyMGR says:

    Please don’t do it Tata!

    Rover means comfortable, well appointed and reasonably powerful to me – not an electric powered copy of the (un)Smart car. The BLUECAR will be a city runabout at best and not a luxury/premium model at all.

    For pity’s sake give us a decent saloon/hatchback based on Land Rover bits.

  5. John says:

    Don’t do it. It looks rubbish to be honest and I don’t think it will have much chance of succeeding in the market place.

    As for using the CityRover name… well, it evokes too many bad memories of the TATA ShittyRover!

    Please make good Fiesta and Focus sized cars and a replacement for the 75 – then go niche if you must!

  6. Alex Scott says:

    I think two cars – a small car (as shown above – shades of the Mini Spiritual concepts don’t you think?) and a medium car (like the X-TYPE or Triumph Vitesse/Dolomite Sprint) – with a Rover badge would sell well.

    I can’t see the point of a Jaguar XF-sized or a Rover 827-sized Rover. I think My XJ40 is too big – a slightly smaller car would be desirable both new and second hand. Alex.

  7. Alex Scott says:

    I really like the overall look of the above “RoverFarina” (think Austin Farina) car but am not so keen on the headlights – they look like the tail lights from the new XJ 🙁 Alex.

  8. Jon T Pierce says:

    The Chinese offered £50 million to BMW for the Rover marque and, as I have previously stated many times before, it would therefore make sense to either sell the Rover name, with guarantees similar to those which BMW and Ford had with MG Rover not to make vehicles that would rival Land Rover, or to relaunch the brand. Rover had key markets in France, Germany, Holland and Spain. A few words sum it up (as a Rover 25 owner): IT’S NOT OVER, ROVER!

  9. Antonio Parisi says:

    TATA is preparing a new range of cars for several segments like the TATA Pr1ma Concept. I think that those new TATA models should be badged ROVER if and when launched in Europe, mah…?! I certainly hope so! Regards, Antonio.

  10. Paul says:

    A nice thought, but I can’t see what advantage the Rover brand would provide here. Rover is almost forgotten in the UK, die-hard enthusiasts excepted. Elsewhere, it might as well have not existed. By the way, why are cars that are well made, reliable and efficient considered “clinical”?

  11. Graham Ariss says:

    I like the idea of a City Rover badge to add to the off-road luxury Range Rover and more functional Land Rover badges. I don’t think the City Rover car impacts on this – it was only a UK model and, apart from the few of us who cared about MG Rover, nobody else noticed the car because of its silly pricing and zero advertising.

    A City Rover-badged version of the BLUECAR would fit in well with the brand along with a couple of MPVs based on the Grande Punto and Bravo platforms and targeted at those buyers in the “School Run market” looking to step into something cheaper and greener than their current SUVs.

  12. Yann Cherruault says:

    Would be great if made in Britain, but a Rover made in Italy… no way! In France, we already know Spanish and Latvian Renaults. Absolutely no soul in these poorly built cars.

  13. Eamonn says:

    If the CityRover badge is a marketing problem, how about MetroRover?

  14. @Eamonn
    I reckon that’s a pretty clever idea…

  15. Yann Cherruault says:

    @Eamonn
    You should register this name! It’s a winner!

  16. David says:

    Neither name appeals. CityRover is a constant reminder of Tata’s inability to recognise and deliver the quality standards and equipment levels that MG Rover wanted for the CityRover. MetroRover reminds me of an ageing supermini whose DNA started off as an Austin but, ten years down the line, featured modern Rover technology, refinement and quality in place of a much needed all-new class-leader.

    If Tata has to build a model in the supermini sector that wears the Rover badge, give it a new identity such as Spiritual (aka the clever 1997 Mini concept). This way it gives the creative marketing and brand image bods the opportunity to have more freedom in producing an inspiring promotion that will enable it to sell on both sides of the pond rather than just to loyal ex-Rover customers here in Blighty.

  17. Ric says:

    Let Rover die. They were great, we loved them, but they’re gone. There’s too much associated baggage and SAIC’s difficulties shifting MGs and their slow actions at introducing new metal in the West illustrate the point well.

    The new MGs and Roewes have precious little to do with the UK Automotive Industry’s heritage. What makes you so excited at the prospect of this Tata-financed (im)possible Rover re-emergence having anything at all to do with that heritage?

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