A success story for Rover
When the Rover
Company introduced its 2000 model in October 1963, it took a gamble.
Simultaneously it opted for a new image, new construction techniques, higher
break-even production, all from a new factory. The gamble has paid off
handsomely. Four and a half years later the car (with adaptations) had become
the company´s most successful ever. Considerably more than 100.000 have been
sold and to cope with demand a night shift – Rover´s first – was introduced last
year, pushing production to over 800 a week. And now twin caburettor, automatic
and V8 engine have been introduced.
Even at this
high rate for the luxury market, demand runs ahead of supply, and customers
still have to wait at least two months for their car. In the meantime it has
outsold all its immediate competitors and began to overtake models at the top
end of the “popular” manufacturers´ range.
Company had its origins in 1877 and since that time has increasingly specialized
in quality cars. Broadly speaking, over the postwar period its cars became more
specialized, larger and more expensive, culminating in 1958 with the 3 litre
Coupé which now has a retail selling price of over ₤2000.
The Land Rover,
introduced in 1948, rapidly became as important to the company as its cars and,
as a specialized light commercial vehicle, was a logical development in the
commercial field of the company´s philosophy of automotive specialization. This
philosophy is that the company should aim at sectors of the market that are not
large enough to interest the mass producers of cars but which, nevertheless,
have a wider appeal than the products of, say, Rolls Royce or Aston Martin.
of using relatively costly tooling to give high standards of finish at
reasonable cost has meant in the postwar period that the production life of
Rover cars has had to be relatively long – about 10 years. This, in turn, has
required very advanced engineering design and dateless styling. The horizon of
Rover´s design and planning staff has, therefore, been a long way off.
preliminary thought was being given to a replacement for the P4 models which had
been introduced eight years earlier and which were to be only partly replaced by
the larger 3 litre Saloon, to be announced two years later. The familiar 60, 75,
90 and 100, or P4 models, has had a very good run; indeed over 130.000 were
produced from 1948 to 1963 when the line was discontinued – an exceptionally
high volume for cars retailing, at today´s prices, at about ₤1500.
The 3 litre or
P5 model, to be introduced in 1958, was intended to replace the P4 range in its
higher priced forms. In fact, P5 rapidly established leadership in its class,
but at a production volume of well under 200 units per week. It had clearly
been right to anticipate that the growth of the company´s car business required
a less expensive car to satisfy the existing market for the less expensive
versions of the P4 range. Until the new car was ready, these were to continue to
be sold alongside P5.
Out of this
need grew the concept of P6, as the “2000” was code-named, but it was a concept
that far transcended the need that gave it stimulus. This concept emerged as
that of a light, compact, four seater, semi-sports saloon with outstanding
economy, revoluttionary aesthetic appeal and unique safety features at a retail
price of less than ₤1250.
It required a
production volume of over 500 units a week, far greater than anything the Rover
Company had previously considered in its passenger car business.
It would be
agreeable to be able to write that the concept arouse out of a marketing
research study in depth, but it did not. In fact, Rover´s amrket research
department, although present at and involved in the birth of the Rover 2000, did
not exist, as such, when the idea was first conceived.
The concept of
the Rover 2000 was the fruit of the work of a small team of young engineers in
their thirties and fourties who had noticed that a gap in the market had emerged
under the P4 price bracket – between ₤1000 and ₤1500. This position had, before
the war, been filled by cars like the Wolseley, Riley and MG saloons that used
to compete with Rover. They had disappeared, at least in their individual forms,
as a result of the amalgamations and rationalization of the post-war period.
Rover cars had, in fact, tended to get larger and more elderly in their appeal
while other manufacturers had dropped out of the market.
research, which was begun when work on final prototypes was nearing completion,
confirmed that the ideal car that these young men had in mind corresponded to an
emerging market requirement as well as to a sector of neglect by other
manufacturers. The research also confirmed that Rover was, at that time, in the
unsound position of having a diminishing share of a contracting market. Rising
incomes and changes in income distribution, as well as traffic congestion,
changes in social tastes and the Government´s taxation policies, were all
working towards the development of a potential market for the new car.
appeal of the first prototype dispelled the doubts that remained about the
project and, after a viability study, the board took the decision to invest in
the new model. It was a major decision, involving an investment in tooling, new
factory layouts and new plant equal to about 80 per cent of the company´s
capital employed at the time.
was made especially difficult by the fact that its magnitude necessarily
involved deferring further investment in the Land Rover business which, at that
time, was expanding faster than production capacity. One of the factors in
favour of the decision was a desire to maintain a balance between the company´s
relative dependence on car and commercial vehicle sales.
revolutionary character of the car at that time when it was first conceived in
1956-57 cannot be over-emphasized. Every single part was new and it made no use
whatsoever of existing production and tooling facilities.
It adopted a
four cylinder engine instead of a six, abandoned both chassis and monocoque
construction in favour of a best unit design, embraced safety as a major design
factor and even discarded the traditional walnut fascia de rigeur in
British cars costing over ₤1000 at that time.
numerous technical innovations; it was the first car in the world to be designed
around fabric radial ply tyres and to incorporate a combination chamber in the
pistons instead of in the cylinder head. It reintroduced the de Dion rear axle
and had relatively high gear ratios, hitherto characteristic only of certain
Not the least
of its innovation in a saloon car, it eschewed a rear bench seat for two
individual seats. Eight-and-a-half inches lower than the P4 model it was also to
be the first post-war Rover in which the average owner would not be able to wear
a hat in the driving seat!
outset, the new car was presented as an exciting and fresh approach to motoring.
A conscious attempt was made to modify the Rover image of a producer of large
quality cars for professional persons and to widen this image, to make it more
youthful, more cosmopolitan.
had never been, and is still probably not, a major sales feature was actively
promoted as something that Rover´s sophisticated and thoughtful clientele ought
to want. In some instances the company´s publicity erred on the side of
brashness in an attempt to modify its respectful but somewhat staid early
At the same
time the social appeal of a Rover with its associations of success,
respectability and good taste were fully exploited. This was an exercise in
active marketing. The results of the exercise were very gratifying. The Rover
2000 story does provide a massive justification for the marketing approach.
That is for the
ruthless rejection of the past in favour of the needs of the future, for the
deepest analysis and anticipation of market needs and for the value of combining
a response to chaning market conditions with a bold attempt to influence these
changes in a particular direction.