This car is 'rather roomy', but how it would love to lose all the baggage

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Where are you on Rover? I feel I've lost the plot. I've known it for ages – since it was called British Leyland, since there was Red Robbo, since God was a boy.

Where are you on Rover? I feel I've lost the plot. I've known it for ages – since it was called British Leyland, since there was Red Robbo, since God was a boy.

It was a huge chunk of UK industrial and cultural history, from Mr Austin and Mr Morris through to that great post-war stable of badge-engineered brands. (An exercise for any young person: write the "brand vision" statement for, say, Wolseley or Riley. Do it for 1957, attempt it for 2003. That'll tell you how the world's changed.) And then there was Donald Stokes, king of lorries, and his "plain man" inventions. The British Motor Corporation – did it secretly want to be General Motors? – became British Leyland. Then came the rise of the marketeers, which meant calling the company and its mainstream products Rover because it was the most respected brand they owned at the time. (They'd pretty much killed off the reality of independent, innovative Rover by then.) A lot of un-Roverish cars were renamed.

Then on to the witching hour when Rover met BMW – all documented in that BBC programme that showed the wild culture shock when Hans and Dieter went to clanking and rusting factories and were met with bunting and fancy cakes (would we have done that if the War had gone their way?).

Then the humiliating decision that they'd made a terrible mistake: we were clogging up the German balance sheet and the stakeholders' audit. Then the sense of a residual bit of Rover being passed around the City as a play for venture capitalists.

And then what happened? Is it still there? I mean really there, for the long haul? Not just to turn out 75s (rather a nice car) and 25s, but to design new models and launch them? Car making is such a pressured business now, with such huge over-capacity (and Ford and Fiat humbled), you can't really imagine how it can do that as a poor little residual Brit manufacturer.

So any Rover ad has to contend with a lot of baggage and a lot of questions before any particular message has a hope of getting through. As it happens, they're perfectly all right, if understandably unambitious on the branding front. Rover is selling its smaller car, the 25, using a vaguely Sixties crime caper movie sort of style and music. And the story is space: "The rather roomy Rover 25 feels bigger than it is."

In a linked commercial, they're offering you free petrol until 2004 when you buy any Rover or MG – "Make incredible savings with our unique offer". But what it is doing is shouting so loud, I can't hear a thing it's saying.

peter@sru.co.uk

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