Motoring: A new car that dares not speak its name: Rover Mondeo 600

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS MONTH Rover launches its important new 600 model. It is a Mondeo-sized car that not only takes on the new Ford, but also challenges cheaper BMWs and Audis.

'Scoop' shots published in the specialist press show it to be a handsome and elegant car that is bound to increase Rover's market share. It is also further evidence that the nation's car-maker, once associated more with the hard shoulder than the fast lane, is well on the way to achieving its objective: to become a profitable manufacturer of high quality yet reasonably big volume luxury cars. A sort of British BMW.

What all the media advertising set to explode this month will not reveal, however, is that the new 600 is really a Honda. There is nothing new about Rovers being part-Honda, of course. Every Rover car, apart from the Metro and the antediluvian Montego and Maestro, is technically more Japanese than British. What is different about the 600 is that it is pure Honda, the bodywork, dashboard adornments and country of assembly notwithstanding.

Without Honda, Rover would probably be dead. Years ago, the Japanese maker gave Rover a technical lifeline when it was bereft of money and, as a nationalised company, blighted by uncertainty. It continues to rely more and more on Honda because it is cheaper and easier to rely on an advanced car-maker such as Honda than to do the work yourself - in the short term, at least. And it yields better cars.

Long-term, this is not such a good idea. Should Honda ever choose to cut the lifeline, Rover would be like a healthy tree suddenly denied water. It is now incapable of developing a range of modern vehicles on its own. Its last new all-British car was the Montego of 1984. It also costs more, in the long term, to buy in parts from another manufacturer than to make them yourself.

For Honda, of course, the deal is ideal. Rover, once renowned for its own technical prowess, gave the Japanese a valuable insight into European engineering skills, principally suspension suppleness and cabin packaging. Rover buys Honda parts at high prices. Rover also helped Honda to set up shop in its own backyard: the 600's sister car, the Accord, is now built in Swindon.

While it is true that Britain is starting to assemble more cars, it is equally true that there are fewer British engineers involved in their development. Of the big manufacturers building cars in the UK - Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Rover, Toyota, Nissan and Honda - only Ford has a large local research and engineering facility (and there are rumours, persistently denied by Ford, that this is about to close or be reduced in size). Just as British brains once used to engineer products that foreign hands would make, so the opposite is now true.

ABOUT once a month, a car alarm goes off in my street. It is usually at night and therefore wakes me. And if it does not wake me, it wakes my three-year-old son, which amounts to the same thing. It is nearly always a false alarm (although I say that uncertainly for, as with most city dwellers, I no longer pay much attention when I hear an alarm).

Car alarms are a public nuisance. They disturb people, disrupt lives and - because they usually cry wolf - they are becoming ineffective as a deterrent to theft. Instead of encouraging their proliferation, as politicians, the police, insurance companies and car companies do, they should be banned.

More alarms are being put on cars, which means there will be more false ones. This will be particularly true in three or four years, when the poor-quality alarms now being fitted will start to malfunction. Our streets will sound like carnival time - but without the spectacle - every night of the week.

It is relatively simple to deter car thieves. It is easy to fit ignition immobilisers to new cars, which prevent electrical contact and so prevent cars being unlawfully driven away (fitting them to all cars would stop joyriding tomorrow). Coded radios are also a better deterrent to car radio thefts than under-bonnet squawking. Finally, good door-locks - which some car-makers, notably Vauxhall, are starting to use - should further dissuade casual crooks. These simple measures would render noisy car alarms redundant and enable us all to have a good night's sleep.

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