09 October 2014

You can't dictate meaning

Why Rover got it wrong with the new 200 and 400 range in the mid 1990s...

ROVER got it terribly wrong when they launched the new 200 (R3) and 400 (HH-R) range in 1995.

The bosses and marketing men at Rover got too far ahead of themselves. They got cocky, and were convinced that Rover has moved back its way upmarket and established themselves as a premium brand – like they used to be.

In truth, Rover was seen as a cut above the likes of Ford and Vauxhall in the 1990s. But did the public perceive Rover as a car brand on par with BMW and Mercedes-Benz – that they aspired to be and believed they were? Definitely not!

Realistically, they were probably on par with the likes of Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen. It’s a pity that Rover’s bosses and marketing men, were oblivious to the public’s brand perception of Rover.

The 200 was a Fiesta-sized hatchback that had an Escort price tag. The 400 was a similar size to an Escort, but cost roughly the same as a Mondeo. Rover commanded a higher price of their cars, because they liked to believe they were a cut above the rest, thus justify the premium.

In fairness, the new 200 and 400 weren’t bad cars at all. They were far from it, but they were horrendously overpriced. Some buyers weren't convinced they were getting their money's worth, and it cost them sales. Rover’s new pair weren’t exactly motoring muck ups like an Austin Allegro, but they weren’t chart toppers either.

Looking in hindsight, if Rover had priced the 200 on par with a Volkswagen Polo; 400 with a Golf. They would have stood a much stronger chance of being a big seller that their R8 predecessors were. Also, it leaves me baffled on why Rover didn’t make the 200 and 400 as direct replacements for the old Metro and Maestro. They would have been more than worthy successors to both cars. In fact, they could have been potential class leaders in the segments they should have been pitched in.

Rover did realise that they made a costly cock up when it came to pricing the 200 and 400 pair. They rectified this error when they updated and heavily revised the cars in 1999, when they were renamed as the 25 and the 45. They were re-positioned in the markets they should have competed in the first place. But it was too little too late. Sadly, that's what had contributed to MG Rover going bust in 2005.

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