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

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

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

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

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

Formal became informal

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

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

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

Honda’s gift from Rover?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    • That’s because it is the LR Discovery with a Honda. During their partnership, both companies rebadged each other cars to plug gaps in their range to suit local markets.

    • Rover Japan sold an awful lot of ‘Land Rover’ and ‘Discovery’ badges for a couple of years. And that’s no joke! 😉

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

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

      • Hill Descent Control was patented by Land Rover/Rover Group employees. See –

        With them being BMW-employees at the time, BMW were able to take it with them when they left, leaving Land Rover a licence to use it.

        It was included in the ABS/TC supplier’s control logic software but wasn’t theirs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • What an utterly ridiculous comment! Honda sold 1.6 million cars in the US last year with the CRV being the top seller – you don’t get that many sales from being a “load of cr*p”.

      The brutal fact is the Freelander was a comparative load of rubbish – although fine in concept it was perhaps the single most unreliable vehicle on the market (Though it may have to share that dubious honour with the Laguna II).

      The best Rovers were the ones with Honda input, and certainly the models with Honda engines and gearboxes. It’s a crying shame that BMW ever got their hands on the company – they would have been much better off collaborating with Honda in the long term.

    • Well, it’s 2020 and they’re still growing strong…

      I’m not a Honda fan but saying they’re all crappy is ridiculous.

    • If you are referring to the Honda 50 as “no-one wants these jewels anymore” you should check the sales history, 70 million since year 2000, numbers produced exceeded 100 million units in 2017 / 18, they are probably at around the 110 million mark now, The higher number for motor vehicle production in history

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

  9. Did the Rover Freelander have a foldable table in the boot ?

    The original Honda CRV did: it was the large plastic cover underneath the carpet and it had fold out metal legs.

    Hondas maybe crap and boring. But they tend to hide cute little eastereggs in their cars.

  10. Honda partners with Rover and Isuzu and with in 10 years, they have one of the best selling little SUV and spawned the Pilot, RIdgeline, RDX, MDX and put them in the SUV game. Now they have torque vectoring SH-AWD. That is a big gap from B16 FWD civics.

  11. One is constantly amazed at all the best selling and wholly sales successful cars that people ‘rubbish’ on these forums. Surely not liking a or not appreciating a car does not warrant calling it cr*p – especially if thousands of the things have been made. Personally I detest all Japanese cars and although I’ve owned over a hundred cars I have never had and never will have a Japanese one. But I would be foolhardy to say they all rubbish (or worse). In fact, I appreciate their strengths and outstanding qualities. Let’s be honest – there are no ‘bad’ cars – just cars we don’t like!

    • Very true, except there are bad cars. My 2005 MG ZT 190 face lift model was a truly bad car. In fact it was so bad it was beyond just bad, and is the most awful car I have ever owned. 1970s FIATs were more reliable. Pretty though.

  12. But have you actually been in a recent Honda – any of them ? If you did so, and experienced the truly awful – teeth rattling — ride which one has to put up with ( and the Jazz which is about the only acceptable Honda product is one of the worst offenders ) maybe you would see what I mean . As someone else has observed, Honda’s market share has just about evaporated in Europe . There is a reason for this

  13. What I liked most about the original CR-V was that the glass sunroof was over the back seat – not the front seat. Talk about quirky! I seem to remember that the electric window switches were on the console, not the door; which is one of my pet hates.
    But the Japanese learn from their mistakes (like the spare wheel mounted under the pickup bed in the original Ridgeline, so you had to remove the load to change a wheel), and correct them; which European OEMs don’t always do.
    On the plus side, the 2-litre petrol engine was more up to the job than the 1.8 K-series in the Freelander; and may have been a smidgeon more reliable, despite Honda’s well deserved reputation for premature and expensive demise of distributors. I sold my 216 engine and gearbox in running order with 208,000 miles on the clock.
    I heard from an ex-Rover staffer that when Honda received the CB40 data, they said “we have no interest in making a car like this”. They must have changed their minds..

  14. Could the 1995 Honda Civic be one of the best cars of the nineties. Due to the Rover connection, it looked far more upmarket than previous Civics and the VTEC engines were BMW like in their refinement and performance, while reliability and quality were peerless in their class. I always found ones in that metallic dark red shade to look especially classy.

    • I had use of a ’97 Civic 1.6 LS company car for a few months in 2000. It had a nice engine with good performance. So, I selected a Civic 1.5 Sport VTEC as its replacement, but my employer closed down. Redundancy followed, so I bought my own HHR Rover 414 Si. Nearest I got to owning a Civic!

  15. Honda have rather lost the plot in terms of Europe. Not sure that can be entirely blamed on not having Rover as a partner, as they sold loads of Civics and Accords well before they started working with Rover, and even during that period many of their cars were still independently developed anyway (e.g. the other Civic versions like the 3 door, Prelude, CRV etc)

    I’ve got no idea what Honda stands for anymore. Previously they produced sophisticated engineering – free revving engines, double wishbone suspension – with top reliability packaged in conservative bodywork, which appealed to lots of mature drivers. Since then the cars became less sophisticated under the skin (e.g. torsion beam rear suspension on the Civic) while also becoming weirder looking…

    • I think the issue for Honda is America. Its biggest market I think they aim their cars for over there. Volkswagen have done the same, with the US getting their own Passat for a while which was less sophisticated. America is a Conservative country, even when it comes to engineering, and Honda have gone from their innovative side technically to just designing cars that are “innovative” in their styling. It doesn’t cut the mustard here in Europe, hence large drop off in sales.

    • The Jazz is still a good car, but the Civic has lost the plot and has become an oversized and ugly car with a hefty price tag that seems to be flopping across Europe, hence the decision to close Swindon. Had Honda not made the Civic too radical and too expensive, no doubt it would have still been selling in decent numbers and Swindon would have been saved.

    • Hear Hear Maestrowolf. My brother, Father and I have all owned 1970s to 1990s Accords in hatch and saloon form and found them to be good looking cars, well built with good engines. The latest Civic is probably the worst design I’ve seen. it must be at least as big or bigger than my 1996 Accord was

      • The Accord was to me the best Honda ever made. It evolved from a decent enough liftback and saloon that fitted between the Escort and Cortina into a fine 2 litre medium/large car that was well loved by its owners and looked upmarket. In America the Accord was the best selling car for many years and it was ideal for Americans who had moved down from traditional Detroit iron, but didn’t want a European sized supermini.

  16. I had a fantasy kind of idea when BMW bought Rover that maybe they intended to keep the Honda relationships at least up to the B class. Honda could become the fed platform supplier to the BMW group, just as Renault now supply MB. Honda maintains sales of Honda based cars throughout Europe, BMW gets a like minded partner that won’t swallow it – win win.

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