Will Curse of Rover Come Back to Haunt the Chinese?
By Andy Bannister
There’s a clue in that odd name, however – Roewe is the mangled form of Rover, that ill-used but once proud British marque. The new moniker was invented by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) after it made off with a cupboard full of bankrupt British company’s designs, but not the Rover name.
At the time rights to the title belonged to Ford, and it is now the property of Tata, thanks to its recent purchase of Land Rover.
SAIC already makes the big Roewe 750, a facelifted version of the much-underrated Rover 75 executive saloon, transported lock, stock and barrel to China . Since SAIC took over Nanjing (which originally got the rights to the MG half of the old UK company) it now has in-house competition in the shape of the 75-derived MG 7.
In its last desperate years the old MG Rover company lacked a decent mid-sized car to compete with the likes of the Focus and Golf in Europe. Their entry, the feeble 45, was a Rover-grilled version of a fairly ordinary Honda from the early 1990s. With the new 550, Roewe has effectively introduced its version of the car Rover couldn‘t afford to put into production.
Based on a cut-down version of the BMW-developed Rover 75 platform , the 550 was being planned before MG Rover collapsed in 2005 and that work has carried on with the help of British consultancy, Ricardo. The initial 550 has a 1.8-litre turbo engine, with other ex-Rover power units to follow.
The largely British-designed 550, then, looks modern although lacks any real character, as you might expect from its strange Anglo-Chinese parentage. It is a mish-mash of styling cues from makers around the globe, but is not going to turn many heads.
A sportier MG version is likely to follow in close order, and could be the car which finally brings that name back to Europe. Certainly, although tarnished it in recent times, it is still a much more exportable and familiar marque that Roewe.
Despite endless false dawns, the Chinese persist in encouraging journalists to believe, even now, that large-scale MG production of some kind will one day restart at the mothballed old MG Rover plant in Longbridge, Birmingham.
This still seems highly unlikely – would a British-assembled Chinese kit make financial sense, and, more importantly, why would anyone want to buy one?
SAIC must have poured a fortune into this project as well as the purchase of Nanjing, and so far the results have been modest to say the least. The cars’ sales are miles behind Chinese competitors like Chery and Geely – in 2007 Roewe shifted just over 16,500 of its 750 model in China, and the MG7 sold little more than 3,000.
Over many years, despite some promising designs, Rover persistently failed to make profits or persuade enough customers to buy its cars. If things are to turn around for the Chinese who now have inherited the company’s mantle and heritage, the 550 and its forthcoming MG twin need to lay the ghost of past failures once and for all.
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