19 September 2006
Come over, Rover
When Ford bought Land Rover from BMW in 2000, the Germans retained the rights to the unlanded "Rover" name, though Ford was offered first place in line when and if BMW decided to let it go. And BMW didn't let it go, even though the Chinese automaker SAIC subsequently bought up the remnants of Rover's actual product line.
Now Ford has exercised its option and taken over rights to the Rover badge, reportedly for a payment of £6 million. Initial speculation was that Ford simply wanted to keep Rover and Land Rover together for trademark-protection purposes, but now a new notion is being floated: Ford might want to assign Rover to Mazda for use as a luxury marque.
Seeing the success of their Japanese competitors' high-end labels Lexus, Acura, Infiniti Mazda in the early 1990s sought to set up a brand of its own, and came up with both a name (Amati) and a car (the Millenia). Mazda's ongoing financial problems woes killed off the plan, though the Millenia was eventually offered with a Mazda badge for eight model years (1995-2002). But Mazda is on a roll, or a zoom, these days, and Ford, having financial problems of its own, knows perfectly well that the markup on luxury brands is way more than they can hope for on Fusions or Foci.
I have my doubts that this will ever come off. To me, it makes more sense to have Rover become to Jaguar what Mercury is to Lincoln: a way to catch people at the dealerships without forcing the fancier label downmarket. But given Lincoln's abandonment of the high-end car market their flagship is now the Navigator, fercryingoutloud it's hard to imagine Ford having this much sense.Posted at 9:36 AM to Driver's Seat