Essay : Honda and Rover – what if?

Mike Humble

How would a Roverised version of the Civic have fared if both companies had continued their once fruitful partnership?
How would a Roverised version of the Civic have fared if both companies had continued their once fruitful partnership?

I’ve just spent a little time smoking around in a pair of British-built Honda’s for my own site– a Civic 1.8 petrol and a diesel CR-V. Both lead me to ponder a question that some people think of now and again… Rover and Honda: what if?

Negativity towards our eastern friends is a thing of the past and even when the Acclaim was introduced, it was seen as a good thing for BL. Customers were switching off from laughably poorly made British cars some years before Michael Edwardes firmly shook the hand of Mr Kyoshi Kawashima from Honda. Datsun and Toyota were steadily picking off disgruntled customers, whose primary demand was for a car that could be delivered on time and was almost guaranteed to start first time, every time, when you flicked the key. The decision to join forces with Honda was not only seen as a huge morale boost for BL, but equally importantly, and not so well documented, it showed that Honda had confidence in Great Britain and her workers.

Right up to the dying twitches of MG Rover, a fair proportion of the volume-selling range were reliant on a Honda-based car – namely the 45/ZS models. Even the 25/ZR, despite being based on the Rover-engineered ‘bubble” 200 series, contained a fair chunk of Honda ingredients such as the heater system, upper steering column, pedal box arrangement and so on. No one doubts that the fruits born from the engineering alliance between Honda and Rover were the best times of our now departed BLARG – with cars like the Acclaim, SD3, R8 and 6/800 ranges to name but a few.

Rover were left to go it alone from 1994 and the 25 & 45 series slowly became embarrassingly outmoded and outclassed to the point it almost induced tears - Imagine the possibility of Rover styling and presentation with Honda engineering and reliability.
Rover were left to go it alone with BMW from 1994 and the 25 and 45 series slowly became embarrassingly outmoded and outclassed to the point it almost induced tears. Imagine the possibility of Rover styling and presentation with Honda engineering and reliability

So… what could have happened if Honda had increased their interest with the Rover Group when BAe was looking to move it on at the end of the five year clause? As we all know, the 75 came into light during BMW’s incumbency, but who knows what engineering prowess the car would have possessed with a range of Anglo-Japanese power units. Equally, imagine how well the car would have sold into the Japanese market – even to this day, most things related to Blighty sell like face masks in downtown Tokyo, be it cars, Dr Marten footwear or other great British brands.

Over 60 per cent of all Mini production went east, as did a vast proportion of the MG RV8 production. This was not a passing trend – to this day, England sells in foreign lands and it saddens me that that the only people who don’t seem to relate to this in the developed world are the English. I wonder how a seriously quick, mid-mounted car with NSX underpinnings and an MG badge would have fared on a global scale – would it have banished the straggly beard and bobble hat image and turned MG into a fighting force for affordable fun? We’ll never know, I guess.

Engine-wise, how good does the best of V-TEC and VVC sound in an engine that probably wouldn’t emulate a Burco tea urn with little warning? We know the transmissions were pretty solid, the Honda-designed PG1 only gave cause for concern at the very highest power ratings and no doubt, under Honda’s watch, the problem of differential bearings exploding like landmines would have never been allowed to happen. The possibility of powertrains could have been almost endless had BAe not gone for a quick buck from BMW back in 1994. The initially dreadful KV6 unit just would not have happened, or if it had, it would have worked right first time no doubt.

It’s a known fact that the 45 Series was at best an old model that was kept on life support for way too long. If the Rover 45 was a family pet, MG Rover would have received a custodial sentence for animal cruelty, but in Honda’s world, maybe the current Civic would have become the platform for a new range of medium sized family vehicles. The current Sports Tourer would cater for the family that travels and the hatchback Civic in a “Rover-ised” guise would offer all the space efficiency that even Alec Issigonis would be proud of – but would the brand have worked in such a wild body shape?

Following the dismal interest in the City-Rover and Streetwise, The R40 range became the only models to stand proud despite a reputation for mechanical fragility - Would a continued Honda-Rover alliance have still produced something as pretty, and if so, just imagine how well proven and engineered it would have been.
Following the dismal interest in the CityRover and Streetwise, the R40 range became the only models to stand proud despite a reputation for mechanical fragility. Would a continued Honda-Rover alliance have still produced something as pretty, and if so, just imagine how well proven and engineered it would have been?

In a nutshell… Yes! You see, Rover sold their wares into a similar market audience as Honda for many years – the mature driver with a few bob spare in the purse or back pocket. Forget about the volume market of selling millions of vehicles into every market sector, Rover had already realised that the future lay with a premium market many years ago. The public were happy with an Anglo-Asian partnership and Honda learnt a lot more from Rover than you would ever have imagined, especially when it came to packaging the interior for European tastes – look at the difference between the interior of a Concerto to the one in a 200 series… The Concerto looks awful in comparison.

Just think of the potential: Rover styling and interior presentation allied to power unit, chassis and production engineering with Honda know how. The current Civic hatch may not have had such a bold style in a continued Honda/Rover partnership but, equally so, the HH-R platform would not have been drawn out so painfully long as it was with MG Rover. Would the Jazz have become a more suitable CityRover or a new 100 Series, or maybe the CR-V could have been a reliable Freelander that worked straight from the box – the potential products with engineering supremacy can only be imagined, not just for Rover cars but the whole Rover Group including Land Rover – oh, we would still have Mini too of which more than half produced headed to Asia!

Whatever your thoughts may be, the period from 1981 to 1994 brought together some of the very best talents of the global motor industry – our ability to dress and package a car and their ability to engineer them. Let’s look at the latest Civic Sports Tourer estate for example, breathtakingly clever and practical yet designed, engineered and fully assembled right here in the UK with many of the Engineers being time-served, ex-Rover employees – and that’s a fact too. Which brings me back to the wonderfully engineered and British-built Civic I have been driving around in…

What if?

Mike Humble


  1. I’m certain a Rover 75 based on the 98′ Accord platform would have been a winner, and a ZT sharing the tyre R technology equally so.
    I also believe Honda needed Rover as much as vice versa, a more sane civic would sell many more units for the company.
    Rover would have been a stabilising partner; look at it this way- ‘Auntie’ knows best young man!

  2. Rover could have stabilised/focussed Honda, at least in the European marketplace. Sometimes Honda seems to have lost touch with its market and there’s a big admission by Honda UK that the current range on sale in the UK has too many holes/missed niches hence sales overall are nowhere near what they should be. Rover was often admitted to be better at styling than Honda. However, a senior manager at Swindon once told me that Honda’s long term plan did not include Rover. Nevertheless both Honda and Rover could be excellent, even if a little eccentric, engineers.

    I have recently been reading an insider article of how a bunch of ex-Ford men ruined British Leyland when they moved there in the 1970’s, around the time of the Marina, adopting a corporate culture which did not fit and drove the sales force to despair. Maybe Ford PAG’s sale of JLR to Tata some decades later also released an unrecognised management talent within JLR?

    A lot of the company’s conventional history is that other better vehicle manufacturers took them over but I think these companies were not as good/appropriate as is generally thought – the same can also be said of BMW.

    PS consider what could have replaced the MGF/Honda Beat. And what about an MG equivalent to the S2000?

  3. I think on balance the Honda relationship was a very good thing for AR/Rover that was struggling to finance and produce sellable cars on its own.

    I owned an dual colour R8 on a K plate that was well built, nicely packaged, reliable, nice to drive (if a bit noisy with the K16 engine) and probably the best thing to come out of the joint development. Also the last BL/Rover car to (almost) sell a million, so something was done right.

    Unfortunately, the same mistake was made as the replacement of the top selling 1100/1300 with the worthy but inferior Allegro, the top selling R8 was replaced with the mechanically pretty similar, but lets face it, rather dull looking HH-R.

  4. I think the Honda-Rover relationship was already starting to show signs of being strained in the early 1990s as Honda realised what Rover Cars was capable of if left to its own devices and given a great collaborative project such as the R8 generation 200/400 to develop further. R8 was a brilliant opportunity that Rover Cars seized with real confidence and success; something Honda was probably not that pleased about in reality.

    The licensing agreement for the 600 Series clearly reflected that Honda wanted to limit Rover’s freedom to further develop the 600 Series into additional variants such as a useful estate to compete with the Accord Aerodeck. Honda put plenty of clauses into that agreement which Rover had to adhere to, if it was to get its hands on this very important programme. In addition, with HHR, Rover had even less freedom to develop the model further and transform an uninspiring Japanese design into something that would be worthy of charging a premium price. Rover’s designers did their best with HHR although many people felt that Rover had been dealt a very short straw, while Honda became more ruthless in its ambitions for the Civic. Only under BMW ownership did we see some of the blandness of the original HHR glossed over with the facelift, namely the Rover 45 in 1999. But it had come rather too late on in the day.

    There is no doubt that Rover’s ability to develop the sort of cars its customers wanted would have become increasingly more constrained, while Honda would still deny Rover access to some of its ‘halo’ engines, namely the VTEC units. At the same time, with heavy investment being needed for the more profitable Land Rover business, Rover would have become even more reliant on licensing agreements and collaborative projects, rather than developing new models unaided. This is turn would have resulted in an even greater proportion of its production costs being royalty payments payable to Honda.

    Rover Cars would have probably survived, but the ability to distinguish a Rover from a Honda and deliver models that could rightly justify a premium price because there was sufficient differentiation from its Swindon counterpart, would have become even more superficial, and ultimately an uphill struggle. We certainly would not have got a car as convincing or as emotive as the Rover 75.

    The only model that might have given Rover Cars some success in a less image conscious sector of the market would have been a new supermini derived from the Honda Logo, which did not sell particularly well in the UK. That might have provided a much needed and convincing replacement for the Rover 100 Series (nee Metro).

    • What was Honda’s reason for partnering with Rover? Was the idea to make easy money from selling technology while using license agreements to ensure that Rover would not become a threat?

      • The main divorce of Honda and Rover came about when BMW bought Rover off BAE. Honda pretty much shut their doors to Rover overnight…or so the storey goes. Japanese are apparently not very forgiving.

  5. With all the constraints and clauses Rover was obviously benefiting less from the relationship by the time of HHR and 600. Surely though if Honda had allowed an R8 type freedom both sides would have gained. More Rover variants equals more Rover sales and more royalty payments to Honda for the base car.

    Why did Honda decide to impose so many constraints on Rover and effectively curtail the relationship?

      • Honda are “nowhere” here I suppose but the Accord, Civic and CRV are all in the top 10 in the US, with the Accord the best selling, proper (non-pickup) car. Also big sellers in China and in their home market. Its a big world out there.

        • It is important to note, though, that the Accord sold in the US has been a completely different car to that sold in Europe for the past several generations. They may share a few similarities, but most of the parts are not interchangeable. Interestingly, the European model shares much with the Japanese home market version, many of which are made in Ohio and exported to Japan!

          • They briefly sold the Accord coupe in the UK, which was a 2 door version of the Maryville, US built saloon.

            A totally different proposition to the Swindon Accord, the coupe was much more American in nature (and MPG) and so was a slow seller.

            Sad that the EU model is no more, survived by the HRV and the Civic tourer.

        • It’s a MASSIVE world out there. If you’re Honda, why bother with the UK, with its rigidly defined hierarchy of brand status, taxation-obsessed customers and insistence on having the steering wheel on the right, when you can flog 300,000 of EACH of Accord, Civic and CR-V in the States?

          • I guess once you have a resonable foothold in enough European markets & a British based plant, it seems daft not to sell there when the position of the steering wheel is almost the only change to make, as EU regulations mean that the spec has to be the same as all other member states.

          • That’s a very good point. Given the drain Europe is on Ford and GM I do wonder why they don’t pack up and focus on their home markets and the developing world.

  6. At best, Rover under Honda could have become a better executed more historied version of the Acura marque in the US with MG playing a role not too different to SEAT under Volkswagen or Alfa Romeo under Fiat though it is likelier that Honda would have probably mistreated both Rover and MG in a similar manner to Lancia under Fiat.

    Had Honda given Rover a free-hand then its possible that a properly sorted HHR could justify its premium aspirations via an earlier 45/ZS, perhaps what eventually became the new Mini in real-life (under BMW though Rover did much of the work) would have ended up becoming the basis for a new Metro with an alternate new Mini being pretty much a Retro-styled Kei Car featuring 1.0-Plus 3/4-pot engines for non-Japanese markets.

    The post-2003 Accords never seemed to capture the same interest as before, perhaps Rover might have added some magic or replace it with something more appealing.

      • I can understand Alfa being unprofitable, but Seat seems to sell reasonably well, so what have VW been doing to not make money?

        (Look in every car park and there are always Ibizas and Leons a plenty!)

  7. Mike, this was a very well written piece. One interesting point is the body styles. Certainly in the 1980s and 1990s, it would be less cost-effective to make the bodies too different, but had the partnership continued, I can imagine there would be less difficulty giving a Honda Civic-based Rover 400 its own distinct look in the 21st century. The Ascot Innova-based Accord and Rover 600 show how the thinking was beginning to progress, and few outside car enthusiasts would know that the doors, windscreen and roof are identical. Now extend that to the following generations. Honda still sells a huge variety of models on the home market, many of which are not seen abroad, and even has unique models in China, though it has reduced the number of platforms, as other manufacturers have, so any one of them could be the starting point for a Rover. Acura, too, has distinct bodies on Honda platforms in some cases (e.g. the former TL and current TLX sedans).

    I have a feeling in this alternative reality that a Rover might share platform, engines and wheelbase, but it could look vastly different from its Honda cousin. Honda would be able to retain the whacky Civics, while Rover would appeal to the premium, more conservative buyer.

  8. I have long pondered this, one of the great ‘What Ifs’ of the Rover story.

    My own experience, the sadly missed Accord coupe, I reckon Honda learnt a lot from Rover on interior ambience. Leather, wood (albeit fake), comfort, gadgets.

    Honda could’ve used Rover as a premium European badge for the Acura range.

    The unloved and soon to be axed Accord may have thrived under a Rover badge, as may the Legend with a proper engine range (Rover 85 anyone?).

    As PSA and VAG have shown, with a common set of platforms and engines but with differentiation in styling, whole ranges of seperate marques aimed at different market segments can be derived with relatively little cost.

    As mentioned, MG could’ve been a type-R equivalent for the Roverised models.
    The CRZ may have sold better, and indeed Honda could’ve taken more risks on sports/convertible models. The Honda Beat would’ve been a new Midget.

    Unfortunately now it feels like pining over an old ex.

    The real question is – are Tata / JLR planning on doing anything with Rover?

    • @ Will M:

      Quote: “The real question is – are Tata / JLR planning on doing anything with Rover?”

      The answer is more than likely to be No. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) are currently working flat out to deliver new models, particularly for the Jaguar marque, and this will surely take up much of their time over the next 4 – 5 years. Land Rover is doing very well although again, there is considerable new product activity planned over the next four years. Therefore any plans for introducing another marque (i.e. Rover) and all the associated logistics of which dealers to sell it from, not to mention Brand and Marketing models to raise awareness of the model and generate sales, would be a long term aspiration.

      Then there is the big question of where would a Rover model be built? I am guessing that any new model – whether heavily reliant on Jaguar or Land Rover technology – would need to be built on an existing assembly line. Does JLR have any spare capacity at the moment, not to mention the ability to produce what would likely be a high volume model, offered in numerous bodystyles, in one of their current assembly plants?

      Again, it would have to be a long term aspiration, given the current activity within the company.

  9. Great piece Mike, and a topic I too have thought about. Look at Renault-Nissan for an enduring successful east-west auto partnership (notwithstanding Renault’s specific troubles in the UK, but remembering that those Dacia’s are hardly gathering dust(er) in the showrooms).

    The current generation Civic hatch is a bit of an ugly duckling, but imagine the previous generation as the 2005 replacement for the MG ZR.

  10. It seems weirdly short-sighted of both Honda and BMW to not see the true opportunities of both the Rover and MG (particularly MG) brands and instead impose restrictions one way or another. Managed correctly, they could have made all the ‘hidden component’ savings that VAG manage across their range but done under the skin of very different cars with very different brand values and appeals. I think they’d have made a better job of it than VAG – Honda and BMW’s engineering prowess is easily a match for VAG’s and Honda/Rover/MG for example left to their own devices over styling and interiors would I’d imagine be much more distinct than Skoda/SEAT/VW/Audi (VAG are very successful and make some evidently desirable motors but they all seem a bit too similar to each other). Instead, Honda and BMW seem to have been excessively concerned about denting sales of their own brands instead of seeing the potential overall increase in sales and return on investment. I doubt the relationship with Honda would have lasted given the restrictions it placed on Rover’s development contribution (a rather childish response to the success of the R8 compared to the Concerto) and BMW just didn’t seem to get that marketing a car in an unfashionable sector (comfort over sport) as a distinguishing measure was unlikely to have a happy outcome.

    nb., I think the impression that Honda are unpopular must be a southern thing. In VW/Audi-obsessed London they seem rare but Civics and Jazzes in particular are everywhere further north. Mind you, the latest Civics and Accords are noticeably fewer.

  11. Platform sharing has come a long, long way since the days of badge-engineering that took place in the 80s and 90s. Cars on the same platform have different body shells and can be longer or taller then others on the same platform. Yes, a lot of components are shared but also a lot can be different.

    VW seem to be the masters of this, have look at what they can do with the Volkswagen Group MQB platform –

  12. My family owned three Honda engined Rover SD3s, and even though they were heading towards banger territory were still totally reliable and extremely competent on the road( something that couldn’t be said of their Austin stablemates). Honda saved Austin Rover and no doubt an alliance now would have meant Rover was still around.

  13. I think the real tragedy isn’t that the Honda relationship ended; its that BMW sold out. The Rover 75, MINI, Range Rover and Discovery3 were all developed under BMW, with a unique British character and mostly British engineering. Much preferable to a world of 45s, or even 800s and 600s. What a promising range that would have turned into.

    • Sorry to correct you, but the Land Rover Discovery 3 was developed under Ford’s ownership of Land Rover Group. Thoughts of bringing out a new Discovery replacement started within the first week of Ford officially taking ownership of the company, in July 2000.

      The 3rd generation (L322) Range Rover was developed during the BMW ownership period of Land Rover, however, and was unveiled in November 2001.

    • The problem BMW had was as a small manufacturer they simply lacked the managers to put into Rover until it was too late. The result was that Rover were given too much of a free hand to do their own thing and the result was the 75, which was going to clash directly with the BMW range so BMW had to neuter it into a pensioner special.

      People may whinge at this, but BMW 3 and 5 series paid the bills and it would have been utter lunacy to blow a massive amount of money building a competitor to the company’s cash cows.

      With hindsight the logical thing would have been to put the focus on MG brand, which had with the MGR V8 and up and coming F type more focus on it than the dying Mini brand. Sporty MG hatchback aimed at Golf / A3 and a MGD on same platform to compete with the Audi TT would have sat very nicely as a satellite brand to BMW range.

  14. @ Jonathan, I will admit the BMW Mini has been a huge success and probably saved the Cowley works, but they weren’t the best partner for Rover, seeing the 75 as a threat to the 5 series and the smaller models as an irrelevance. A continuing relationship with Honda would have been far better as the models brought out in the early nineties were genuinely good cars.

  15. Problem is Honda had gone cold on the idea or Rover “personalising” its cars a la Rover 600 and had dictated that the HHR was just a Concerto with a Grill. The Rover/Honda alliance worked well when Rover had some latitude or had the upper hand in the development process as in the case of the R8/Europeanised 89 Concerto. The HHR bombed because it looked and felt too much like a Honda, although it was a pretty poor car as well. That approach didn’t auger well for any future 600/800 replacement programme. Rover may have had a way out re-engineering older Honda designs as it did with the R3, but I doubt that would have been a strategy for the long term.

    • Yes a continued Rover/Honda alliance would only have worked well if Rover kept an R8 type freedom of hand. Before the BMW acquisition in ’94 things had taken a downward turn for Rover. Honda limiting Rover’s freedom was the end of the success started with 800, R8 200. The 600 was a great restyle but even here I think Honda were preventing other body styles, spin offs. Initially, the HHR 400 wasn’t so disappointing I thought. Certainly not the 4dr. It fitted well as a smaller 600. It was Honda not allowing other body styles, versions which really made it seem dull. With other, more exciting, versions HHR would probably have sold perfectly OK over a five year model life.

      • I may have been a little harsh on the HHR. Its cause wasn’t helped by Rover trying to sell this Escort class car as a Mondeo competitor. Fact is though it was far less appealing as a product than the R8 was 6 years earlier.

  16. Yes, I often wonder if a continued Rover Honda tie up or ownership would have worked. I once had an Accord company car (R600 style)and it was great at the time. I still preferred the look of the 600 though. Perhaps Rover versions of Hondas later and more recent Accord’s would have been a success.

    Also an estate version of the 400/45 would have found a niche market? after all Honda saw fit to produce their Aerodeck version of the Civic

  17. The modern Honda is an interesting one. The Jazz continues to sell well due to its excellent reliability record and good resale, but the Civic is a bit too left field for many buyers even if it’s an excellent drive and stands out from the crowd, while the poor old Accord has been left to wither away as a low volume import ( a shame as this has Mercedes like quality and is a refined drive) and I rarely see an Insight hybrid. Perhaps this mixture of radical models like the Civic and a fairly conservative line up isn’t working too well.
    It does seem, though, that as Kia and Hyundai close the gap on the Japanese for quality and offer longer warranties and better deals, the reason for buying Japanese might not be as valid as it was in the eighties and nineties. Nissan might be bucking the trend with a genuinely interesting range of cars, but the other manufacturers are also rans now.

    • The Accord & Civic were the original trailblazers for Honda in the UK in 1970’s. My brother had a MK1 Accord Hatchback (lovely car). A pity it isn’t available in Britain now.

      • A pity indeed. Had an Accord coupe, wonderful car though it was based on the US model so thirsty and didn’t have the stiff suspension that drivers this side of the pond demand.

        Sadly the last Accord got too large and too expensive, and the market for large mainstream saloons is dying as SUV is the fashion. I reckon that’s why they made the Civic bigger and more of a fastback profile, to try to mop up some of what was left of that market.

  18. In spite of the excellent reliabilty record, top of the list according to one recent warranty company survey, sales of the Jazz are hard work due to a perception of high price.
    According to an inside source, a multi-franchised dealer with a foot in many camps, who I cannot reveal, consumers are entranced by marques with German associations and pay a premium for them, ie 60 mpg diesels and a hint of prestige in the badge, it was also revealed that German cars have a warranty claim record slightly worse than French cars, it would seem that for many, the badge is more important that the quality of the car

  19. @Glenn Aylett I think Nissan make anything but interesting cars, I worked for Nissan in the late 80s early 90s and it really was an exciting era, New Sunny, Primera, 100NX, 200SX, 300ZX, Maxima and of course the Prairie were all launched within 18 months of each other, the cars were solid, good looking and modern. Since then, Nissan have made cars that are no where near as well built and have none of the technology they used to have. Nissan cars nowadays to me are just ugly, renault based boxes and are about as well made (i.e not very)… Shame that Honda and Toyota and Madze still make good cars but are sinking under the weight of all the over rated German rubbish that everyone seems so obsessed with nowadays…

  20. I think there is a little confusion in this thread in some of the posts above, and any change in the Honda attitude to the partnership came after the 1993 BMW takeover of Rover Group.

    The problem of Honda control of IP and lack of product line development of the 600 and HHR ranges was due to the BMW takeover, and the bitter sense of disppointment and betrayal felt by Honda management caused by the sale to BMW. What a completely dishonourable act to a company who had taken a big risk in 1981 and over the years given a lot more than had been received. Remember, the 600 launched in 1993 and the HHR in 1995. Rover Group was sold to BMW in Autumn 1993.

    Honda had upped its stake in Rover Group from 25% to 35% in 1992 (and Rover Group had received an increase stake in Honda UK). However, it wasn’t prepared to take a controlling interest, as Japanese car firms then did not take over foreign car firms.

    I don’t recall at any time prior to the BMW sale of talk in the motoring press about a Honda reluctance to allow the full development of joint models.

    As for missed opportunities, the Honda Odyssey (from 2004) was a fantastic looking people carrier, and could have given us the Rover 700 or 900 series.In black with gold alloys as a standard Honda factory car it looked fabulous, so a Rover version would have been a sensation.

    BMW of course were after 4×4 tech primarily (they tried to buy LR only), but BMW UK must have been pleased to see the 600 series reigned in. The 75 of course as we all know was given a hellish start by the Burned Pee Streaker, and the Vitesse version and estate were held back until the enthusiast management of MGR let them loose.

    Incidentally, the fantastic 2001 Range Rover was launched under Ford but it had been developed entirely by BMW before the sale.

    • “BMW of course were after 4×4 tech primarily”

      This is an utter myth. The only thing BMW took from LR was hill-descent.

      • This very true, the X5 had been fully signed off when they bought ARG.

        Also important to note that the Range Rover that was developed under BMW, owed much more to BMW products than any Range Rover product the preceded it.

      • Of course it’s a myth. Who on earth thinks BMW couldn’t come up with their own 4WD system? Or for that matter, who thinks Land Rover’s was actually that great? All those live axles and leaf springs…

  21. I think Honda have tried to go upmarket and failed. Meanwhile the Koreans have been busy making their cars better and taking the market Honda gave left behind. I had a 2.o 12 valve accord I loved it. But I’ve looked at later Hondas and basically the accord is to bring and busy and the civic is surprisingly noisy inside. I dont like either of them now. The rover 25 on the other hand…was still a very good alrounder – style comfort handling and performance … apart from its flakey engine. Alex

    • Honda have not succeeded with an upmarket brand such as Lexus, how ever I coonsider Honda to be upmarket in their own way, Honda are a high tech supplier, they even build their own aircraft, a twin engined 12 seater corporate jet.
      Honda make some fine engines, reliable fuel efficient units which seem to go on and on for years, reliabilty and warranty claims are low too, customer service is strong and plenty of “Goodwill” when something does not meet expectations

      • It’s interesting that they have never tried introducing the Acura brand in Europe, considering Nissan eventually launched Infiniti this side of the pond.

        • Acura still has quite a way to go before it is ready to be launched in Europe as its range is currently too catered for the American market and like Honda at the moment does not appear to have cars people actually care about, mainly lacking sporty performance orientated cars as well as halo or flagship models.

        • I think the accura brand came about because Honda were in danger of exceeding the number of cars they were allowed to sell in the US. I’m not sure about that though it’s only a rumor.

  22. Okay back to the topic, Honda have their Greenfield Swindon empire, which is ideally suited to supply the whole of the European market for Honda cars, I do not see how Longbridge and Cowley etc could have survived under the culture of the Japanese just-in-time methods, note how both Toyota and Nissan chose to site their plants away from traditional car making areas. As if they wanted to start from scratch with a workforce who could be accept the Japanese ways of working and above all thinking and values, ie not just being a robot on the line but actually being involved in continual improvement in the manufacturing process.
    In short I do not think Cowley etc would have been saved by Honda.

    • Toyota and Nissan built their UK plants where they did as a result of massive financial subsidies paid to them by the UK government.

      The working practices of which you speak of as “Japanese ways of working and above all thinking and values….” are, contrary to popular belief, not Japanese at all. They originated in the US, based on the work of Dr Deeming amongst others. GEC and Ford were the first to employ them, and Toyota followed after.

      • Yes Dr Deming was an American, sent over to assist the rebuild of post WW2 wreckage of an economy that was Japan, in his words, “they listened” whereas the USA simply forgot, the USA success was fuelled by the post war boom of pent up demand giving the USA management a false sense of confidence. Today we see long-term success story of the likes of Toyota etc, & the relative failure of Ford GM Chrysler etc, …. the American take the money and run philosophy. I spent 10 years as an employee of a deceased American computer Co, I have experienced American methods a at first hand. . Read the book Riding the Runaway Horse for a first rate account of snatching defeat from the Jaws of Victory

        • The entire history of Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries was one of “listening”, and watching. They listened and watched very carefully and assimilated all the lessons the West had to teach them, without ever compromising their essential Japanese-ness. This is what turned them from an East Asian backwater into an industrial titan in just a few short decades, able to tackle the West head-on; first in warfare; then in industrial might.

  23. 2014 Honda Civic estate 1.6 diesel £27k? Any wonder they have tanked here.

    Before being called “a little Englander” funnily enough that’s where I live, the UK like any consumer economy customer is king and Honda should take note.

    As well as dear to buy they are not as reliable as made out, weak gearboxes to name one.

  24. Honda had the opportunity to buy ARG, BAe would have snapped their hands off, but I guess they had plenty of time to look in cupboard, and had taken what they had lacked such as ARG packaging skills in return for access to some very good cars.

    But after that ARG had nothing to offer, they simply did not sell enough cars with a big enough margin to generate the cash fund development with Honda, which is why the cars had become little more than a badge and some colour trim and may be an ARG engine and gearbox.

    Honda also does not appear to have a “multi brand” strategy, for example better brands with better fit have come and gone on the market. Volvo cars for example has been twice, its FWD model mix and brand values would sit nicely alongside a more “Sports” focussed Honda brand, but with no interest from Honda.

    A Rover owned by Honda would have fallen into the same trap as Rover did with BMW, in fact more so because there would be a bigger clash between products than with BMW. Honda with all its motorsport branding etc, would not have tolerated “sporty” Rovers which would have pushed Rover even further down the “Retro” road than BMW did.

    Of course “Retro” has its market in Japan, but let’s also remember than a few thousand hand built (BMC) Mini’s and MGR V8 is not going to impress Honda in terms of their volume planning.

    If Honda had taken Rover they had no need for the volume car brand of Rover, nor MG as Honda has its own small Sports car history and race heritage to call on.

    I am sure a Jazz based Mini range could have worked for them, more Fiat 500 than BMW Mini. Also the Land Rover and Range Rover brands would have sat nicely alongside the Honda range, which is of course pretty much what was left after BMW fiasco with ARG.

    • You could argue that the BMW “fiasco” was actually the saviour of British car industry. It seperated the wheat from the chaff, setting in train the transformation that now sees combined MINI and JLR output exceeding that of the whole of British Leyland at its peak. Without the kick up the backside that BMW provided there would be no MINI and Landrover would have been left to rot and by now probably be dead as part of the Rover Group. Without the Landrover relationship Jaguar would have probably also been unviable and killed off by Ford long before Tata came on the scene.

  25. While Honda had the Civic and Integra Type R models, could they have developed V6 versions of the 5th/6th generation Civic (related models including the Domani and Series 3 Integra, etc) like Rover did with the Rover 45 2.0 V6 / MG ZS 2.5 V6?

    The KV6 being a 90-degree V6 would suggest such a car would likely use the Honda C engine (if it even fits into the 5th/6th generation Civics), yet there was also the 60-degree Honda J engine which was introduced in the mid-90s.

  26. If anything, Honda moved from being another Japanese car manufacturer to a producer of desirable cars due to the tie up with Rover, and many Hondas were British made after 1992. I still consider the 1995-2001 Civic to be the best Honda ever made, with the Accord of this era coming a close second, better looking than the Rover 400 of this era, where it had some styling similarities, immaculately built and totally reliable, and an excellent car to drive. Similarly, the Swindon built Accord developed a reputation for being a faultless motorway cruiser.

  27. I had a company 1996 Accord 2.0S between 1999 – and 2001 and it was a great car for performance but with decent fuel economy… comfortable too. I also had use of a colleagues 1997 Civic 1.6 for a few months and that delivered reliable performance as well.

    These experiences led me to buy a similar Rover 414 in 2001 when I went freelance, albeit with the K series engine

    • The Accord of this era was known as an ultra reliable motorway car, and it was made in Britain, which gained it patriotic support. Also the Civic from 1995 to 2001 was such a classy looking car, far better than the dull replacement in 2001 and the controversial current model, which has taken the radical design of the 2006 Civic to the extreme.

  28. I agree Glenn – the 2001 Civic lacked the style of the previous version and more recent Civic’s look more like dodgem cars at a fairground. I don’t doubt they are well built though…

  29. I was working inside Honda R & D as well as their factories from 1986 to 1999 mostly as Honda Liaison Manager. It was an interesting experience seeing how both sides worked. I will write a book about it sometime.

  30. Have read that Honda was caught off-guard by the truck and SUV boom of the 1990s, which took a tool of the profitability of the company to the point where Honda during around 1992-1993 was said to be at serious risk of an unwanted and hostile takeover by Mitsubishi Motors, which at the time was a larger automaker by volume and was flush with profits from its successful Pajero and other models.

    Would the above help partially explain why Honda did not allow Rover to have the same leeway with the Rover 600 or HH-R 400 (nor allow Rover to produce a mk2 Legend-based Rover 800) as it did with the R8 200/400?

  31. One version of the Austin-Rover/Honda tie-up worth further exploring would have been a scenario where Rover were able to get Bravo and Broadside into production. Since the product maps for both at around 1987 was dependent on the future possible opportunity of developing a new car in collaboration with Honda, with Austin Rover having more leeway in terms of time compared to what actually occurred earlier in the decade.

    That would have potentially meant a Bravo successor using the underpinnings of the mk2 Legend and maybe even a smaller D-Segment model loosely based on the Inspire & Rafaga. The longitudinal FWD layout providing the possibility of not only an Ajax/R75-like FWD-to-RWD conversion of the Alt-800 (R17/R18) & Alt-AR16/CCV, but also a prospective basis for both a Broadside successor above the later S2000 as well as a smaller Honda-based MX5-type sportscar years before the MGF.

    There is a question however of how the co-operation between Austin-Rover & Honda would have evolved in the event the former were able to get AR6 (with either an AR6-based Mini-replacement or a re-purposed R6/RX6/Minki), AR7 and AR5/AR9 into production and were generally in a more confident position. Without an urgent need for AR8 later R8 to take over from the AR7 and AR5/AR9.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.