Rover: the rise of the terrible teens (but should we save the temper tantrums?)

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Rover 25

How many teenage Rovers are on the roads? More than you may think, thanks to an eye-opening quirk caused by the drama of the BMW bailout.

Back in 2000, Rover sales had been flatlining at under 6 per cent market share. Way below the 10 per cent BMW reckoned would make it a viable company in the UK. Recorded in ample detail is the sale of Rover (and the release of BMW) to Phoenix. Indeed, books on this subject are what I’m reading right now.

An eye-catching stat in ‘We Ain’t Going Away: The Battle for Longbridge’ (p.109) caught my eye, though. In April 2000, Rover took 13.48 per cent of the UK new car market.

Yes, that’s more than today’s UK number 2, Vauxhall. It’s less than 1 per cent shy of the current leader, Ford.

In that month back in 2000, sales more than doubled. Rover was the UK’s number two car maker, behind only Ford and beating Vauxhall.

The Rover 25 was actually the best-selling car in the country.

Rover: did it still have it?

Lest we forget the potential the firm still had to be a headline player in Britain, then. Oh, sure, it was highly circumstantial. BMW was running a big price cut at the time (admitting the Rover 75 had been priced too high, tacitly admitting facelifted Rover 25 and 45 were on the way).

But also, the national frustration at BMW’s handling of Rover, and the fear of either seriously downsizing or closing altogether the last remaining British car maker, also played its part.

So people bought British.

Rover 75

Was there a lesson there? Duly rallied, could people indeed be patriotic and buy homegrown cars over patently superior foreign alternatives? For a few months in 2000, they did. John Towers clearly noted this: hence the appearance of Union Jack badges on Phoenix-produced Rovers. Backing the British Olympic team in Sydney. Lots of other flag-waving activities.

Thing is, the downfall of Phoenix provides the truth. Some people will willingly buy British. But there aren’t enough of them.

Phoenix started well but as the cars aged, so the buyers fell away. Superior alternatives were more compelling than any sway provided by patriotism. Rivals gave more, consumed less, sold for more once they were finished with. Really, could you ever compare a Rover 45 with a Ford Focus? Patriotism can go only so far and, by 2005, Phoenix had exhausted it.

Today: terrible or terrific?

What’s the anecdotal legacy, though? Are there really now disproportionate amount of 13 year old Rovers on the road? Has the mass rally of 2000 led to rich pickings for those seeking a pre-CO2 VED car? Are all the 1.4-litre 25s and 45s, costing £140 a year to tax instead of the £225 of cars 1549cc and above, really sought after?

Throwing it out there, Rover Group fans. Is the patriotic 2000 sales rally still being felt today? Is a teenage Rover now something of a treat? Let me know your thoughts on this historical quirk…

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