Is it me, or did Rover predict the future here?
In this day and age, every car manufacturer seems to be taking on the idea of crossover SUV’s, Bentley, Jaguar, even Rolls Royce are considering the concept. But way, way before any of these even thought of making an SUV version of their regular saloon cars, Rover almost beat them to the punch way back in 2000!
Following the split of the Rover Group my parent company BMW in May 2000, the newly formed MG Rover was laboured with a company stripped of its most profitable assets and left with cars that, while fairly popular, were not selling in the same way competitors such as BMW, Mercedes and Ford were. As such, the company had to adopt a radical new strategy to keep the fleet fresh and to try and shake off the brand’s grandfather image.
In response, MG Rover decided that it would aim for the younger generation. As MG garnered a lot of focus and financial backing to make an increased range of sporty motors such as the X-Power SV and updated versions of the MG TF, Rover put its creative juices into the design of a crossover SUV which would attempt to take on the likes of the Range Rover, the TCV.
Unveiled at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, the TCV (Tourer Concept Vehicle), was essentially a Rover 75 but with an increased ride-height, four-wheel-drive, a five-door hatchback design with a very clever boot shape for ease of access and the ability to store just about anything. In fact, at the Motor Show, Rover gave a very tongue-in-cheek demonstration by having a Washing Machine sat comfortably upright in the back and not touching a single surface other than the floor!
The design was penned by Peter Stevens‘ team at Longbridge, the TCV marked a new direction for Rover styling. Gone were the “retro” styling cues, and in was a sharp and contemporary look, the grille moved away from the Auntie shape as developed in later years on the 600 and 75 – and towards an entirely new interpretation of the theme.
The prime intention of the TCV was to replace the mid-size Rover 45 saloon, this instead becoming a five-door hatchback known as the RDX60 concept, which fell into the same styling programme as the TCV and was also based on the chassis of the 75. With both cars being displayed, hopes were high for Rover, which appeared to be shedding itself of its older generation style in favour of appealing to the youth as it had always wanted to.
However, let’s not forget that Rover was a descendent of British Leyland, trouble was never too far away!
The TCV was the company’s first major alteration to the styling since the R-17 facelift of 1990, with all models since then bearing the same general aesthetic as the Rover 800 that pioneered the range. As such, the somewhat inexperienced team found it difficult to get the cosmetic look of the car to line up properly.
Though the grille was updated in a way that largely harked back to the T-Shaped look of 1949’s Rover P4, the vertical, angular headlights and feature line that runs along the side of the coachwork were considered a point of contention, with many motoring critics believing these design choices were done very late in the design process as they didn’t sit well with the rest of the car’s styling. The feature line was singled out specifically as a way of making the car look contemporary and in-line with its opponents such as the Audi A4 or the Open Signum, rather than a more traditional line shape like that on the Rover 75, P5, P4 and even the SD1, the line being more understated and blending with the contours of the profile (I’ve got my artsy hat on today!)
The next problem to befall the TCV was the general idea of a crossover SUV. At the time there were very few, and confidence in such a concept was not particularly high. In the period following the somewhat scandalous Ford Excursion of 2000, many motoring brands attempted to shy away from further developments into SUV technology, continuing the previous models with facelifts rather than exploring additional possibilities. As such, the market was more or less clear cut between SUV’s and Saloon cars, with very little market for something in between.
Perhaps the most damning problem that sunk the TCV concept was the fact that Rover’s image was not suitable for such a car without causing massive damage to the company’s sales. The Rover brand, especially in the 1990’s, had always been considered rather geriatric. Rather than hip, 25 year old aspiring businessmen and women buying up their cars, the customer base mainly consisted of the older generation, middle-aged business owners and retired couples. In order for the TCV to appeal to the younger generation, it had to shed itself of its grandfather look, but this is something it found impossible to do. Rover, no matter how hard it tried, had its elderly reputation sealed in concrete, and by solely appealing to an uninterested younger customer base, the older generation would not have bought it and thus it would have become a monumental flop.
As such, Rover, presented with this multitude of problems, decided to scrap this major overhaul of the company in 2003, with both the TCV and the RDX60 going to the wall.
It truly is a shame that the TCV never got to the production stage, a truly innovative idea which, if considered today, would have probably made it incredibly competitive against its contemporaries. But as is, the then uncertain considerations for crossover SUV’s combined with a reputation set in concrete meant that Rover simply had not the money to take such a daring risk. It would have been interesting to see the new face of rover in the form of the TCV and RDX60, but sadly this is one road we unfortunately didn’t venture down.