If Not Saab, Triumph?!

The Spun Bearing: If Not Saab, Triumph?!

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water comes reports that BMW is thinking of reviving the Triumph brand. To those of you who haven’t quite reached ‘old fogy’ status yet, Triumph made cars and motorcycles. There are still Triumph motorcycles being made (including a reincarnation of the ‘Bonneville’), but the cars reached the end of the road in 1984.

However, they made a number of really fun cars. The Triumph Dolomite Sprint was a challenger to the BMW 2002, and worth a read is Jamie Kitman’s piece on the Dolomite Sprint vs 2002 in Automobile Magazine.

Then there were the sports cars, which sold well in the US, the TR3, TR4, TR250, TR6, GT6, and Spitfire. There was that mobile doorstop known as a TR7 (and it could be equipped with a cracking V8 in TR8 guise). In the US Triumph was known primarily for sports cars, not as much their sporting saloons.

BMW acquired the rights to the name in the deal with Rover and insisted on retaining the rights to the name afterwards. But the rumor mill has exclaimed the revival of Triumph before. It surfaced in 2007 by Auto Express in the UK and then just recently, within the last week, it has resurfaced in a report by Autocar.

So is there any more validity to the rumors this go around? And, based on the latest information from the good folks at Saabsunited, it would appear that BMW has withdrawn whatever its offer was for Saab. 

Correction: BW (Brightwell) was the company that pulled out of the deal

The first assumption would be that Trollhatten was sought for a ready-made modern facility to startup production of a new car line. And some may go, aha!, BMW was just going to buy the plant to build more Minis and Triumphs (does kinda make sense though). But unfortunately, if you think Saab would be a hard sell, Triumph may be even harder.

The Saab brand is so much fresher than the Triumph brand. Ask a millennial to tell you what a Triumph is and if they’re not true car geeks, they’ll not know. And probably not care. And that’s the problem when you try to resurrect an older brand. How do you re-establish a relevant brand image?!

Mini was a no-brainer, it had all the right cachet and it gave BMW a foothold in a market segment they weren’t competing in. And it turns out to have been good for BMW and Britain. But why resurrect Triumph?

One of the reasons BMWs are premium priced is that BMW can’t afford to compete at a lower price point (entry level premium/mid-ranged, if you will) because of it’s size. BMW does not have the economies of scale to build a Ford Fusion/Toyota Camry/Saab 9-3. It has to sell a premium product even if it hits the magic two million in sales (which BMW believes will ensure its independence). That’s one of the big reasons taking Saab under its wing was a non-starter from my perspective.

But Triumph? Here’s the big ‘what-if’ with the Triumph name, suppose marketing analysis reveals that there is sufficient goodwill and brand recognition. Why would it make sense to revive Triumph? The only possible thing I can think of is that they can build a niche, a Miata fighter for example, a sports car (and maybe use the production capacity for gas four cylinders they had slotted for the Saab deal).

But it would have to come in on an existing platform – this isn’t something you’d hock the farm to do – it won’t sell in the kind of numbers to pay the mortgage off.

They’d get into it to extend the life of an existing platform, and the first platform that comes to mind is the R56 platform the Mini is built on. The question is it flexible enough to do RWD? Hmm . . .

The R56 uses a strut front, multi-link rear suspension setup. There’s no reason you couldn’t do rear wheel drive with the suspension components. But is the firewall location flexible enough to allow for RWD on the R56? That’s probably not likely. So a FWD Triumph sports car? Ugh, please let’s not go there again.


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