26 August 2012

The Rover 200: 1996-99

This is one of four articles about the Rover 200/25 model.

The final version of the 200 series (R3) was the most British of them all. It was the best looking in my opinion, but not the best packaged. By the time it was released the sad divorce between Honda and Rover was complete. BMW was the new owner and Honda didn’t want to remain in the alliance if that was the case. It was a reasonable decision by Honda, but effectively was the beginning of the end for Rover.

Below are production figures for the R3. The figure in brackets includes the previous/next model:

1995 3,500 (95,900)
1996 108,900
1997 144,000
1998 145,000
1999 72,200 (91,400)

R3 production climbed as BMW pushed sales, but profits didn’t follow and in 1999, you can see BMW was giving up on Rover. Losing any cost savings that the Honda tie up had brought, nor any other partner sought by BMW, increasing losses were inevitable. The R3 needed replacing, but nothing was in the pipeline. The only option was a facelift and soldier on, not a decision with any future.

PS. Sales for the 200 in selected markets. The sales push of the late 90’s had done well in countries such as Italy, but the critical UK market was down on the previous model:

Year UK Italy Germany France Nederl Denm
1996 53,600 10,475 ? 11,700 1250 180
1997 62,400 31,500 ? 10,000 1500 330
1998 64,900 24,600 13000 10,000 1750 180
1999 45,700 15,900 10,100 11,700 1450 170

Pics: www.rover-forum.thersr.co.uk & en.wikipedia.org


  1. Essentially the 1989-95 200 was replaced by a combination of the smaller 200 and the larger 400. Once again, Rover tried to straddle 2 market segments (as it attempted with the 600) and failed. The 400 was particularly disappointing because the styling was awful...apparently Rover was presented with a fait accompli by Honda, and there was very little they could do to make it look better. The story of the post-95 Rover models is the big missed opportunity of British car manufacture. The 200 was still selling strongly and with the larger versions of the K-series engine about to arrive, Rover could have soldiered on with the 200 for a couple of years longer and tried to develop a replacement independent of Honda. Then maybe they could have had something that looked better and didn't mean half the profits going to another manufacturer. But they didn't have the confidence to do that, so the goodwill generated by the excellent second-gen 200 was squandered.

    Chris G

  2. Hi Chris. I think the problem was Rover never had the money to develop a car independently of Honda. Then the royalties that they had to pay to Honda mean they never would.
    BMW came along and though they had the money, found the volumes too low to recoup costs. Platform sharing was the way forward with BMW, but that only happened with the 75, because BMW had a platform they had developed and never used.
    Simply put, MGR wasn't big enough. It needed to share costs with its cars and BMW tried to replace the 45 with MGR carrying the cost alone. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work and BMW then walked away taking the new 45 plans with them. Game over for MGR.

  3. True, though at the time Rover was owned by BAe - a company big enough to have invested in new models if it had chosen to. Unfortunately they seemed to regard Rover as a hindrance, rather than an opportunity. At the time, Rover had a competitive engine range, good styling, and a brand with a lot of good will, following the success of the 200. Surely it would have been worth trying to do something different to the disastrous 400? Tata's current success with Jaguar seems to show that even with low volumes you can still create good products at a profit.

  4. You are right about BAe. they bought the company off the government for a very good price with a clause they had to keep it for so many years. They did just enough to raise its value and when the time was up, tried to sell it to Honda.
    Honda was concerned that taking full control would put British buyers off the brand, so simply offered to up their stake. BAe then approached BMW.
    The difference with Jaguar and MGR is the former competes in a segment with margins that are vastly higher than MGR's was. All premium brands currently make money, most everyday brands in Europe are losing money.