When BMW bought the Rover Group back in 1994, the deal included such brands as Triumph, Austin, Morris and Riley. BMW sold Rover in 2000, but it kept the rights to the Triumph and Riley brands.
Twelve years later, Autocar says that BMW has applied for a European trademark on the Triumph “wreath” badge, as used on its ill-fated TR7 and underrated TR8 models. The application, filed last October but published in December, covers the use of the badge on autobiles, jewelry, watches, books, leather goods, luggage, cleaning materials, textiles, and Christmas decorations.
That may seem like an eclectic mix, but it isn’t really, since most of those items are used for promotional purposes related to the car business. While the move doesn’t mean that BMW will revive the brand, it’s a necessary first step if they’re giving it serious consideration.
Prior to BMW’s sale of Rover, there were rumors of a Triumph or Austin-Healey revival (A-H is Banquo's Ghost for the motor industry), and Autocar says that BMW even engineered a low-cost, four-cylinder version of its Z4 roadster for the project. But the idea never moved forward.
In 2005, BMW’s Designworks studio in California proposed bringing the new Mini Roadster to market as a Triumph brand, but the idea was rejected by Mini dealers, who didn't want to sell a second legacy brand.
So much for the story so far—but let's see where Triumph would fit into BMW's future plans. BMW's purchase of Saab would seem to make more sense; there's a new Saab FWD platform waiting in the wings that might suit BMW quite well, and Saab has a dedicated following, rather like Britain's League of Empire Loyalists, warming themselves by the fires of past glories.
Triumph owners are a more morose group, especially if they're still stuck with the pathologically unrepairable TR7, or trying to squeeze their aging bodies into cramped TR4s and TR6s. The idea of a lower-priced sports car from a company that could actually make one work is attractive, from an enthusiast's standpoint, but it's hard to justify financially: The cheaper the car, the less unit profit. Besides, doesn't BMW alread have the Z4 for the mid-to-upper end, and the Mini Roadster as a premium entry-level offering?
What market would you go for—Mazda Miata? It's been around for twenty years, so you could argue that maybe pent-up demand has been satisfied by the 500,000 or so that have been built. In any case, Mazda sold just 5,674 Miatas in the U.S. last year; that's a depressing figure for what's agreed to be a segment leader. The wretched Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky illustrate what happens when you get it wrong.
Gazing into our crystal ball, we'd have to say that a market for a new Triumph would need to be provoked externally, by sexy, affordable competition that would rev up the sports-car market. A new, small Jaguar roadster would fit the bill, something powered by an alloy twin-cam six-cylinder engine and with a six-speed manual transmission. Speaking of a company that has lost its way, they might sell more of those than the miserable 12,276 Jaguar 5 Series and Z4 wannabes sold in total last year in the U.S.
And rumors still persist of a Z2—a smaller sort-of-Z4 built on the 1 Series platform. For now, let's just say BMW is keeping its powder dry and its options open.––Paul Duchene
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