Old dog, new tricks

The changing face of the British motor industry has seen many UK brands change hands. Matthew Valentine looks at how BMW-owned Rover plans to re-establish its identity

The pace of change in the UK motor industry has been accelerating hard in recent years.

Famous British marques such as Jaguar, Aston Martin, and more recently Rolls Royce and Bentley, have been acquired by major multinational groups, leaving only specialist manufacturers such as TVR in independent hands.

The biggest, Rover Group, was acquired by BMW in 1994, and is currently facing dramatic change. News headlines have been full of proposed deals to alter working hours, change pay structures and introduce new quality control standards to make the group more competitive. Profitability at Rover has been further hampered by the strength of the pound in relation to the Deutschmark. Increasing the appeal of Rover vehicles through improved branding will form a major element of the group’s recovery strategy.

Encompassing the Mini, MG and Land Rover brands as well as the mainstream Rover-badged vehicles, Rover Group presents a unique challenge for its Bavarian parent. BMW needs to maintain the appeal of the brand, much of it based around Rover’s Britishness, while updating its manufacturing processes and image to make it profitable. BMW, often considered to have written the textbook on effective branding in the motor industry, will not be an easy master to impress.

Rover Group this week announced that it has appointed Basten Greenhill Andrews to the task of standardising the way the group and its four sub-brands are presented both within the company and to the car-buying public.

Lindsay Jenkins, manager of corporate identity and licensing at Rover Group, describes BGA as the new “lead corporate identity consultancy”, for the entire group. It replaces Edward Briscoe Design, with which Rover worked for a number of years. “[BGA is] a fresh pair of eyes. It will be looking at policies we have developed to date,” says Jenkins. “It will be taking an overview to see if there are any areas of weakness.”

Jenkins says Rover attempts to forge long-term relationships with consultancies, and hence went through a detailed tender process before appointing BGA. An initial shortlist of nine contenders was approached, and whittled down to a five-strong starting grid. BGA beat Enterprise IG, Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, SCG and Box Design to pole position in the race to win Rover, she confirms.

Rover Group, and not BMW, is the client for the project, and the corporate identity programme will operate autonomously from the parent group. But BGA will be working in conjunction with BMW’s long-standing branding group, Interbrand Zintzmeyer & Lux, and the in-house corporate identity department to ensure the right message is projected. The consultancies are scheduled to meet in January.

In certain areas around the world BMW and Rover operate from joint dealerships, but there are no plans to use the BMW brand to “endorse” Rover, says BGA joint-founder Tim Greenhill. The consultancy will instead work to “build a consistent worldwide brand”, he says. This will start with internal communications, and extend as far as the signage within dealerships.

The appointment comes as the UK motor industry approaches crossroads which could change the face of car buying. The next millennium is expected to see an end to the practice of allowing car manufacturers a block exemption deal with regard to sales, making cars subject to the same consumer rules as other products. This could mean an end to the traditional dealer structure, allowing dealerships to sell more than one make of car. Supermarkets specialising in new cars are expected.

Manufacturers will need to fight hard to maintain custom at their own dealership networks, and increasingly sophisticated branding and unique selling points are likely to be among the results.

Many manufacturers are preparing themselves now. Lexus, the premium Toyota brand, has announced that it is to launch its own upmarket dealer network across Europe from early next year. Marketplace Design has created a “retail brand experience” for Lexus, which will be applied to up to 55 UK outlets, and up to 300 across Europe. The format concentrates on making the purchase of a Lexus a unique event.

A similar pattern could follow in the mainstream sector of the market. BBC2’s motoring show Top Gear recently exposed the trouble manufacturers are having selling new cars in the current economic climate, and suggested viewers demand a bargain price to make the most of it. The manufacturers are already preparing to work harder for their custom.

Rover at a glance

Rover Group employs around 39 000 staff worldwide

The UK has 350 Rover dealers, which sell the Rover, Mini and MG brands. There are a further 130 UK dealers for the Land Rover brand

The group exports products to more than 130 countries, achieving overseas sales in the region of 3200m. Total annual sales are in the region of 6500m

Major export markets for the group are Europe, Japan, North and South America, Asia, Australia, Asia, South Africa and the Pacific Rim

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