The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 September 2006

Come over, Rover

Rover badgeWhen 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

I recently spotted a new Lincoln Zephyr on the street. It's a grand old name, and the car looked worthy of it, but their marketing is so lackluster that I had no idea they are making them.

Posted by: triticale at 9:40 PM on 19 September 2006

"Lackluster" is putting it mildly. Lincoln hasn't had any memorable advertising since — well, I don't remember any.

The Zephyr is a luxed-up Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan. Not that I'd complain, inasmuch as what I drive these days — an Infiniti I30 — is basically a Nissan Maxima with an overlay of glitz. What Lincoln needs, I think, is a proper successor to the Town Car that can compete in the over-$50k class; they have the 30s and 40s more or less covered.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:48 PM on 19 September 2006

Their only excuse for axing the Continental, in my opinion, is that they've gotten tired of waiting for flying cars.

They were planning on their first model being the Intercontinental. Alas, it was not to be.

Posted by: McGehee at 11:25 AM on 20 September 2006

Word is out today that the Town Car will be spared for at least one more model year, but there still isn't a proper successor.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:34 AM on 20 September 2006