06 September 2013

Missed Opportunities: Austin Princess

British Leyland missed a trick here, which also proved costly.



WHEN the Austin Princess was being developed by British Leyland, it was billed as the replacement for the ageing BMC 1800/2200 range - or the Landcrab it was also known as. It was a fresh and contemporary looking car at the time.

From the beginning on the drawing board, Harris Mann penned the wedge that was intended to be a hatchback. British Leyland's management however, decided that the Princess shouldn't be a hatchback. Why? Because they thought it would have stolen sales from the Maxi. BL management believed that the hatchback tailgate was the Maxi's 'selling point'.

If anything goes by, this was a hasty decision BL made for the Princess not to be a hatchback and it was a daft one. When the Princess came on sale in 1975, the Maxi was getting on a bit, as it had been in production and sale for six years by then. They didn't want it to steal sales from the Maxi because it was a slow seller.

To some extent, the Princess carries some of the Maxi's ethos. A large, front-wheel-drive family car that was spacious and comfortable. It would have been a wiser move for BL making the Princess a replacement for the Maxi as well as the Landcrab. There would have been a lot of time and money saved too from the company.

It appears that Harris Mann knew more than the BL management on what the market wanted. The Princess from the beginning and Mann knew that the Princess should have been a hatchback - and so did the public.

During the Princess' lifespan in production from 1975-1982, there was a market for large family hatchbacks. There was the Chrysler Alpine, the Volkswagen Passat and the Renault 20. If the Princess was a hatchback, it could have potentially been a greater success and given them some stiff competition.

British Leyland finally realised that the Princess should have been a hatchback. It was given a hatchback and the car was re-named and sold as the Ambassador. By 1982, that was too little, too late.

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