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Good grief. The 1990’s were bleak years for the UK car business and the Rover car company in particular. Not that the previous decades had been plain sailing. At times they had fresh designs and completive cars, but the onslaught of cheap, high quality foreign cars left them struggling financially.

They weren’t struggling for ideas, though. They had plenty of them, they just didn’t pick the good ones to go after. Which is a shame, because what they picked was a concept the world didn’t need. Ever.

You see Rover had a range of cars called the 200-series, for example:

In the early 2000’s they introduced the Rover Streetwise and hailed it as an “Urban On-roader.” Really.

Urban on-roader? I don’t know what they had in mind, but it looks like a car to me. I pretty much expect cars to be able to drive ON ROADS and to be able to drive around towns and cities (you know, those URBAN areas). As I think back, I can’t recall a vehicle sold to the public that couldn’t be driven on the road. So basically, “urban on-roader” means a “car.” But Rover weren’t going to give up that easily.

To give the Streetwise, street-cred, they jacked up the suspension (and inch or so) and tacked on big plastic bumpers. Mmmmmm, nice. Cred indeed.

Apparently, Rover thought color coding was for sissys, and no-one who wanted to drive an urban on-roader would want to be called a sissy. So, the Streetwise got plain grey bumpers.

Rover marketed the Streetwise was for young people, dynamic people, people who wanted to tear up the (on-road) urban areas, people who partied all night, people who referred to each other as dude, people who always carried a surf board with them on the off-chance of catching some good waves.

So you’ve got to wonder what possessed them to paint the bloody thing in hearing-aid beige.

Have you ever seen such a nondescript color? All I can think is that they were hoping to make the paint match the bumpers and screwed it up.

I have to admit that I did once own a car in a similar color (my excuse being that I was broke at the time … the fact that I’m still broke is another story). It’s only redeeming feature as a color was that it blended perfectly with road grime. It was like a stealth paint for cars. I only used to have to wash it once a year and even then you couldn’t tell the difference.

As much as I think this idea was completely lame, other car manufacturers didn’t. Several of them produced their own variations, for example

The Volkswagen Polo “Urban On-roader”

The Citroen “Urban On-roader”

And the Audi Allroad (at least they allow for the possibility you’ll use it on roads other the “urban”).

It has to be said that Rover were on a hiding to nothing trying to inject life into Rover 200-series sales. Why? Because of the BBC. When the 213 became synonymous with Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet, of course) in the TV show “Keeping Up Appearances,” Rover might as well have thrown in the towel, there and then.

It’s doubtful that any car company could survive after a product endorsement like that. And it didn’t. In a matter of years, amid a swirling controversy, the last Rover plant closed.

Even though I’d like to blame her for all sorts of things, it wasn’t Hyacinth’s fault. Rover ran into the same problem so many manufacturing companies encounter. They were living in a comfortable world, ignorant (or ignoring) developments around them and, worst of all, they were trying to complete with companies whose workforces are paid pennies on the pound. I mean, how do you do that? Certainly not by slapping ridiculous “urban on-roader” monikers on the commonplace, that’s for sure.

So, I don’t know how to save the manufacturing companies of the world, but maybe you do. Don’t keep it to yourself, the workforces of the world are waiting, fingers crossed.


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