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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
It's all Rover now
By Claire Heald
BBC News Website

Rover badge and scrapheap
Rover's fallen fortunes
Rover. Ah, stately brown cars smelling of walnut panelling and pipe smoke. Now Ford has bought the right to make Rovers, are the classic British car names due a comeback?

Rover is a name associated with a very British motor, but also with automotive business failure. Little wonder that Ford, the maker of the luxury 4x4s Land Rover and Range Rover, should be first in the queue when the rights to make Rovers came to be sold.

The American automotive giant has now paid up on a long-held agreement with BMW for first refusal on the name.

Is it the signal for nostalgia-lovers, who hark back to the joy of driving other classic names like the Vanden Plas, Triumph or Morris, to anticipate their return?

No, say industry insiders. Rather this case is a canny move by Ford to protect the reputation of its own Rovers. The firm is likely to consign its new acquisition to the scrapheap, says Ian Henry, of consultants Autoanalysis.

"Ford owns Land Rover and has the Range Rover car. It sees the word Rover as integral to the value of the brands. It doesn't really want somebody else using that word on cars which are not 4x4s and are not luxury cars."

On the shelf

Buying - and shelving - a brand is common in marketing and in cars. BMW has the rights to a string of old car names, including the Maxi. As makers of the new Mini Cooper, it's in the firm's interest to own the rights to a car name that could dent the market, says Mr Henry.

Triumph Dolomite
Some names have not come back - despite their original popularity
The legal intellectual property of the name Rover is worth millions to Ford. The company is reported to be expecting a loss of $9bn this year, so spending 6m on protecting a brand is corporate peanuts.

Michael Wynn-Williams, an automotive analyst for Trend Tracker Ltd, says manufacturers like to protect their brands: "This deal makes Land Rover easier to sell because it tidies up uncertainty over the Chinese owning the name."

When MG Rover collapsed, the Longbridge factory, machinery and rights to make many other car names - the Wolseley, Sprite and Vanden Plas - went through the administrators to Chinese car company Nanjing Automobile.

These names conjure up a golden time of motoring, of empty trunk roads, cheaper fuel, freedom. Might they be revived?

Policewomen driving and MGB in 1963
Nanjing markets MG as a desirable slice of Britishness
Unlikely. Models marred by business or mechanical failure, or indeed irredeemable naffness, look set to stay shelved.

And naming a car is a tricky business, upon which multi-million pound advertising campaigns rest. Each firm has its own naming convention, so throwing a Midget or Wasp - two other names Nanjing is thought to own - into the mix just isn't going to happen.

Ford, for instance, starts its car names in the US with F - Fusion, Focus - and its off-roaders suggest excitement with names starting with "EX" - Excursion, Expedition. Mercedes uses letters - from the basic A Class to the Slk. At BMW, car models are given numbers.

A bit of British

Even strong sales can't guarantee a model's longevity. The world's best-selling car, the Toyota Corolla, is reported to be due to make way for a new car in its class.

There is one road of opportunity for the car names of the past, says Mr Henry. Car makers could cash in on the cachet of selling something particularly British in the Asian markets.

"A couple of the names - Kensington, Connoisseur, Sterling, Wolseley - with their sense of old England may return. Those are names that could conjure up an air of past Britain, glory days of the Empire."

MG seems the most likely candidate. Nanjing have already started to promote it, not as the MG of Morris Garages, but the "Modern Gentleman", a possessor of "grace and style".

But whether the name lives on depends on one thing. In an age of hi-tech engineering, computerised vehicles and sophisticated advertising, that the car does what it should, and well.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

My first car was a Hillman Hunter, bright blue, I think it was from the UK. My brothercalled it a 'bucket of bolts' and I have to admit I needed to carry extra brake fluid, extra oil, and a few other things to keep it afloat. I only had one car after that, that was even worse, Japanese, Honda Civic, had to pay via the weekly trader for someone to take it away!
Cate, Oz

Those of us who are a bit older still associate Rover with large, fast, luxury saloon cars. Something that is sadly lacking from the Ford stable. Something on the style of the 1960s Rover 3ltr and 3.5ltr saloon and coupe, but with modern mechanics and efficiency would fill a large gap in the Ford stable.
Steve, Maldon, Essex. UK

Remember the Allegro? Gas bag suspension, square steering wheel, the horrible Princess, Maestro, Maxi, 1100, 1300, Marina, no wonder the British car industry died. And I am a classic car fan.
Mick Ward, East Grinstead, England

Ford should use the Rover brand to try to compete with BMW. Their attempt to use the Jag brand was doomed to failure as Jag has always been more upmarket whereas Rover and BMW used to be rivals (back in the 60's).
S Jenkinson, Kidderminster

I can see the brand Triumph coming back - ever popular, especially in America. As for the rest, could you ever imagine anyone wanting a car called, Marina, Allegro, Maxi, Metro, Maestro, Princess. With the connections to those appalling lumps of pre-rusted junk?
Jeff, Eastbourne, E.Sussex

Old car model names can certainly be successfully revived. A case in point is the Toledo. Once a British Leyland/BMC owned name in the early 1970s attached to a small, mediocre and boxey Triumph saloon it is now used on SEAT's highly desirable and versatile large executive saloon. A Phoenix risen from the ashes no less!
Simon W. Ladd, Enfield, United Kingdom

It is a shame that such a great British institution like the Rover has come to the point of being shelved and potentially forgotten. Although from a techie point of view the car could not stand up firmly to its rivals, I believe Rover has been a British symbol for the simple and effective automobile in an era where our demands grow continuously.
Sam, Southampton

I have the Rover 200 BRM. It's a fun little car, it drives like a go-cart. I had a MG metro and a 2.0 TD Montego for site work. They were all good fun to drive. I used to upset Audi and BMW drivers when that Diesel roared past. No one has ever remained behind me after going around a corner in the MG metro or the BRM. It's a shame to see Rover go.
Mark, London

Interestingly, when BMW sold off its Rover holdings, as well as retaining (and reviving) the Mini brand it also retained the Triumph brand name. So, while MG is now a Chinese brand, the old rival, Triumph, remains a little closer to our shores.
Paul, Fleet, UK

I have a City Rover, just 2 years old and it is rubbish, bits are loose and worn, and the value has been cut by a third for resale. Its a terrible shame, but I can see why it failed.
Pauline, Sussex, UK

I have a British Racing Green Rover 211ie and I adore my car and she is so reliable. I have had her from new and she is now 6 years old and has just passed her MOT with flying colours. How often have we driven past brand new models of cars on the hard shoulder of a motorway because something has failed causing them to break down!
Sue, Waltham Abbey

Nostalgia for a come back? I drive a 1969 Morris Minor that never went away. Everytime I walk towards it across a car park crowded with clone-cars and euro-boxes I smile at her utter style.
G Fincham, Norfolk

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