Monday, November 27, 2006

Flog the sleeping dog

Those with an interest in the extraordinary journey of MG Rover's temporal remains and intellectual property have been puzzled and perplexed by SAIC's new website for their 'Roewe' brand to be found at

The video shows the car, a mildly facelifted long-wheelbase Rover 75, being driven through a surreal vision of a British landscape. My interest was excited by the introduction, showing a Viking longship appearing out of a misty sea. SAIC don't own the Rover name so the longship reference loses its point immediately. The badge adopted for "Roewe" is an Olde English capital 'R' in a cod-heraldic shield of the type one might find on a pompous idiot's personal letterhead, and which, ever so conveniently, fits the space left by the Rover badge.

It could be that the video was made when SAIC believed that BMW would accept their offer, or is it possible that SAIC think that the Rover name will still come their way? Export plans are on hold for at least two years, so there's time for negotiation.

If a Financial Times article of 18th November is to be believed the Viking Longship's berth at Solihull is but temporary, and it will soon weigh anchor for a long voyage east.

I prefer to think better of Ford than to imagine that they paid BMW £6 milion for the Rover badge in order to sell it on for a quick buck, but there is some logic to selling it on once their legal people have protected any compound names, such as Trail-Rover, Track-Rover or even Street-Rover, which could be identified with Land-Rover.

Solihull to Shanghai by way of the Grand Union Canal anybody?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

...and get down with the young folks

It occurs to me that Ford may be better served by establishing a youth and fashion orientated brand on the lines of Toyota's Scion and BMW's Mini.

In 1999 the Marc Newson designed 021C concept was launched in a 'mosh-pit' (whatever that is!). At the same time there were indications that Ford would expand the Ka range as a sub-brand - the Puma, StreetKa and SportKa suggested that this was the company's next major marketing direction.

Somehow the idea withered and died in the years which followed, along with the delightful Puma, and, more happily, the StreetKa. At this moment, at least in Europe, Ford's inexpensive small car offering comprises the worthy but ancient Ka, and the current Fiesta, more an item of street furniture than an object of desire. PSA, Renault, Seat, and even GM do far better. Look worldwide and the Ford cupboard is full of possibilities:

  • Ford do Brasil's EcoSport - Appalling name, but who'd have thought a Ford Fusion could look so sexy?
  • The South African Ford Bantam pick-up. Based in the old Fiesta, but could be sold very cheaply, with lots of customisation options.
  • The 2006 Reflex prototype. Drop the hybrid powertrain and silly doors and sell it at Puma money. A convertible would be nice too...
  • And how about a surfer-orientated Transit Connect? Give it a surfwear designer label connection and some cool Microbus-inspired visuals and open a new market sector at almost no cost.

Apart from the Reflex it's all ready and waiting, and could be an easier route to profit than the PAG brands.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Inspired and Informed

The Toyota Porte and the Peugeot 1007. Two solutions to the 'high supermini with electrically operated sliding doors' brief. Didn't coming up with answers to questions nobody asked used to be Suzuki's job?

Both cars were launched in 2004. Did Toyota and Peugeot collaborate on the car as a side project to the development of the 1007 and Aygo? The Porte uses a Yaris platform, the Peugeot is based on 206 / Citroen C3 underpinnings. That two such similar products could appear in the same year seems stranger even than the cars themselves.

And if you had the choice? Well, the Peugeot has the gutsiest engines, but the Toyota shares its title with the Holy Roman Emperors. No contest then!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Y Indeed!

Could there be a hidden message of despair in the registration of this X-Type, appearing in Jaguar's current publicity material?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Commercial Break

For the last decade the Japanese home market has been gripped by the cult of 'Utilitarian Chic'. Boxy and unashamedly practical vehicles such as the Suzuki Wagon R, Nissan Cube, and Honda Element have been consistent best sellers and the inspiration for dozen of imitators.

The 'Utilitarian Chic' class, in all its permutations of size and form, is imbued with a sense of knowing high fashion which could be characterised as post-modern irony or inverse snobbery.

It is surprising, therefore, to find that the real workhorses in Japan are possibly the most style-free vehicles made anywhere on the planet. Described as 'vans', the ground rules are; five-door estate car at least appearing to be based on a very old small saloon, 1.5 to 1.8 litre petrol engines, a conspicuous absence of brightwork or colour-keyed frippery, and, curiously and invariably a 4WD option.
The four above are the Toyota Probox, the Nissan AD van (the name sounding rather Citroen-ish...), its Mazda doppelganger the Familia Wagon, and the Honda Partner. The first, and youngest, breaks ranks by looking a little er, arch in the company...

Just about every manufacturer offers something in the class, even if they don't make it in their own factory - the Mazda is a re-badged Nissan AD.

I can only conclude that either Japan's plumbers, photocopier repairers and couriers are the world's stingiest and most conservative car-choosers, or else there's some sort of tax break based around a rigidly set specification. Our most basic Kangoos, Doblos, Caddies and Transit Connects look like motor show concepts by comparison.

5ivegears has an enduring fascination for the unpretentious Japanese transport tools which rarely reach our shores; Land Cruiser Troop Carriers, Nissan Crew taxis, and pick-up trucks devoid of the egregious designer-label vulgarity of the UK export offerings.

Something in my Calvinist soul takes a guiltless delight in mid-grey plastic interiors and instrument clusters and control stalks unchanged since Hirohito was a lad. Am I alone in this, or is the western world, ridden with meretricious boutique cars and German status-insecurity symbols, ready for an influx of Japanese anti-fashion, off the shelf, retro anti-chic?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Inspired and informed

Rover's 'Spiritual' concept was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 1997, almost exactly forty years after BMW launched their 600 uber-bubblecar. No more than a stop-gap until the the 'proper-car' 700 was ready, the BMW 600 combined a stretched Isetta platform with a horizontally opposed motorcycle engine, with styling ameliorated by Michelotti.

Remarkably, the 1997 concept originated within Rover as a proposal for a new Mini and had already been rejected by BMW two years before.

Could stylist Oliver Le Grice's apparent homage to BMW's 1957 proto-monospace pehaps be a polemic against the faithful, but sometimes uncomprehending Issigonis pastiche which the German parent approved for production?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hansa-man Vibrations (1)

5ivegears could not have made this up...

Christian Borgward, grandson of Carl Borgward is seeking venture capital to support the revival of his grandfather's marque, dormant in Europe since the company, based in Sebaldsbruck, Bremen collapsed in 1961.

The plan involves the introduction of a 'prestige compact' car in two bodystyles priced between the Mondeo and Vectra bracket and its intended competitors, the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes -Benz C-Class and Audi A4.
Other details:
  • Body design by a first-rank Italian styling house, Bertone and Pininfarina being the names mentioned
  • Production sub-contracted to an established specialist such as Magna-Steyr or Karmann
  • Production volume 10,000 per annum

Taken at face value, the business plan might be kindly described as audacious.

Herr Borgward intends to enter a market sector where the market leaders are manufactured in volumes approaching 500,000 per annum, are backed by huge R&D budgets, and are widely recognised to be "the best cars in the real world".

Recent history reminds us that the BMW / Mercedes-Benz / Audi hegemony is near-unbreakable. Consider the collapse of MG Rover, GM's tribulations with Saab, and the Jaguar X-Type debacle.

That's the half-empty glass view. Reading a little further, I discover the project has interest from a number of potential Far Eastern backers. Its best hope would be to have a proper carmaker as component provider and underwriter.

There are already several Chinese manufacturers who would fit the frame, and then there's Hyundai who were reputedly interested in Jaguar when Ford hinted it may be for sale. Hyundai Kia Borgward. Could just work...

My favourite potential partner for neue-Borgward would be Subaru. The Impreza and Legacy could provide a pair of platforms Carl Borgward would have admired and would return a favour in the process. (Of which more later...)

If the re-launch of Borgward really does happen it's not going to change the landscape of the global motor industry, but what's not to like about the return of an old name, and the possibility of righting a historical wrong. The best of all possible luck to Christian Borgward.