SHREWSBURY, United Kingdom - Can two facelifted cars help save a troubled brand?
Rover's parent company, BMW AG, hopes 'The New Face of Rover' rebranding strategy will pay off with the two midmarket cars.
Along with the flagship Rover 75, the new Rover 25 and 45, formerly known as the 200 and 400, will have to carry Rover until replacement models come along in 2002. The most distinctive aspects of the facelifts are the new deeper grille and hooded headlights, which echo the Rover 75.
With the two cars, Rover is backing away from its much-criticized premium pricing strategy of the past few years.
The 25, which went on sale at the end of November, will be priced to compete with superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo.
The 45, on sale in January, will battle lower-medium cars such as the Vauxhall/Opel Astra and Ford Focus. Before the repositioning, the 200 competed against Astra and the 400 against Mondeo. The Rover cars were seen as too expensive. Now 'value for the money' has become a Rover mantra.
'This is exactly where they should have been priced four years ago' when they were launched, said Charlie Moss, an analyst for J.D. Power-LMC in Oxford, England. 'It's incredibly painful to do that now. These are not new models.'
SOME CUSTOMERS UPSET
While the strategy makes sense, it also angers customers who paid higher earlier prices, Moss said. The two cars are being launched in more than 100 markets around the world. Rover is fighting to reverse a chronic decline in sales and restake a claim for itself as a relevant brand.
Last spring, Rover held a sale on the old 200 and 400 models to clear stock for their facelifted replacements. Prices went down, and sales went up, said Jim Lynch, director of sales for Rover's United Kingdom operations.
Rover depends heavily on its United Kingdom home market. About 45 percent of 200 and 400 sales were in the United Kingdom. Rover wants that number to drop to 30 percent, following the lead of the Rover 75. In September, Rover's market share exceeded 6 percent for the first time in a long while.
Rover hopes to get an additional boost from the 25, 45 and the newly launched Classic version of the 75 flagship sedan.
130 MARKETS WORLDWIDE
Rover is selling in about 130 markets around the world. Rover in particular wants to increase its share of Europe's largest market, Germany.
Werner Samann, Rover chairman, said BMW remains committed to Rover. He predicted Rover would break even by the end of 2002.
Rover dealers have spent 250 million, or about $399 million, upgrading their dealerships in the past three years in the United Kingdom alone.
BMW and Rover officials deny reports the 75 is selling poorly and point to the fact that the 75 Classic, the volume edition of the car designated for fleets, is just now being introduced in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They say 75 sales are meeting their expectations.