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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Nice cars, shame about the name
Rover 75 launch
The 75's launch was spectacular - sales were not
Across Europe, in Japan and the Middle East, the Rover 75 has been feted and admired.

It has won 10 international motor industry awards, including one in Germany, home of its disgruntled parent, BMW.

But despite the accolades, people have been reluctant to buy the car.

The Rover 75 was the first new car produced under BMW's control - so much was riding on it.

Sales below target

Some had called it the "last chance saloon".

But last year, just 25,000 were sold, well below target figures.

Overall, Rover sales were down 26% in 1999, with only 143,000 cars bought. The company's market share has fallen to 6.25%.

It is perplexing for Rover. The 75, with its elegant retro look, has been described as classy, stylish and refined.

But it is the marque, rather than the car itself, which seems to be holding back sales.
Rover 25 launch
The Rover 25 is another of the marque's new range
There is a certain perception about Rover. Jeremy Clarkson is not the most moderate of critics, but perhaps he accurately summed up the feelings of the motoring public towards the brand.

"It's just about the least cool badge in the business," he wrote.

"At best it is associated with tweedy doctors in Harrogate and at its worst, it conjures up visions of Red Robbo.

"Rover, the name, is a dog."

Harsh maybe, but the sales figures speak for themselves.

Even the latest bounce in sales figures is of little comfort. A closer look at the numbers shows that the buyers are bargain hunters who flock to the showrooms only in response to extraordinary discounts.

This is a blip, not a trend.

Symbol of decline

Observers suggest British motorists do not wish to be identified with a company so often under the media spotlight, a living symbol of the UK motor industry's decline.

"The Rover 75 was the turning point. It was supposed to be the car that set the seal on Rover's renaissance," said Jay Nagley of the Spyder consultancy.

"The Rover 75 is a good car, but the problem with Rover is the image. People in that market sector didn't necessarily want the Rover image no matter how good a car it was attached to."
The Rover Group also includes MG
There is also a feeling that Rover turned away prospective buyers by overpricing some of its previous models.

So no matter how good a car the 75 is, or how sexy the sports version to be launched later this year, it still carries the Rover name.

Two smaller models, the 25 and 45, were launched late last year, and have had a slightly better reception from buyers.

But Rover has a lot of ground to make up to keep BMW - or a new owner - happy.

Its problems have not been helped by the decision to cut back on the number of Rover dealerships.

Analysts believe the company should have been expanding its network to push its new cars into the market.

Rebranding suggested

But half of the 50,000 Rover 75s so far produced are still in a car park waiting for buyers.

There are other marques in the Rover Group portfolio - Landrover, Mini, MG. Ford has snapped up Landrover, BMW wants to retain the Mini, the MG brand could go to the new owners.

But the question must be - who would buy the Rover name?

Critics have suggested it should be scrapped and rebranded as Triumph.

But if the baggage from the British Leyland days can still have an effect, it must be wondered whether the company, let alone the name, can survive.

The BBC's Ian Pollock
"Their challenge is to sell the car's profitably"
Motor consultant Jay Nagley
"The problem is the brand rather than the cars"
See also:

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