The Spun Bearing: If Not Saab, Triumph?!

triumph 630x500

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 …

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 And, based on the latest information from the good folks at Saabsunited, it would appear that BMW has withdrawn whatever its offer was for Saab.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.

So it’s time for a poll, click on a choice and let the chips fall where they may!!

[poll id=”104″]

23 responses to “The Spun Bearing: If Not Saab, Triumph?!”

  1. Scott says:

    I didn’t see anythign about BMW withdrawing their bid… Brightwell Holdings (BW) has….

    • Hugo Becker says:

      You are very much right – I misread the BW as BMW.  Thanks for catching that!

      If we want to really throw a curveball rumor out there – another vehicle manufacturer based in Munich is MAN. What if it was MAN that bid and not BMW? ;-)

      • Harold says:

        Dude, you need to be a whole lot more careful with your posts.  You really get Brightwell mistaken for BMW?  Now this continued bullshit in the comments section.    You do know that MAN is owned by Volkswagen, right?  No, of course you don’t.  Auto journalists, the idiots of this age. :(

      • Scott says:

        That’s a good point — although the Sweedish did say they were interested in an “established automobile” manufacturer and referenced the one in Munchen. 

        I understand the Phoenix chassis was already slated to use BMW engines and other components — thus engineering well underway. I think it could be a great fit, BMW has the structure and experience Saab needs in improving negative quarks and the bottom line.

        That said, a clean divorce from GM will be the best thing for Saab in two decades.


        • Hugo Becker says:

          Actually the MAN reference was a bit of a joke – and if VW wanted Saab wouldn’t a stalking horse be the way to bid? (more joking – and VW doesn’t own MAN outright – they only own about 60% – stock shares in MAN are traded on European exchanges. I mean these are RUMORs, aren’t they – and if we can’t start our own, how much fun can that be then. ;-)

          Here’s my take on the reuse of Trollhatten, are the Tier 1 suppliers BMW uses in the ‘production park’; how much would it cost to reconfigure the facility to do BMW production processes – and how long would that take.

          BMW uses what some folks have called a ‘platform matrix’, , they could feasibly build a 3 series sized FWD car from that platform. They will build the A & B class small cars on that platform.

          I spent some time talking to a drivetrain engineer at Frankfurt and it would seem that BMW doesn’t want to build a mid-size FWD offering – with a BMW badge. But the one thing that sits out there is that they could build a mid-size FWD chassis using their L7 matrix with another badge on the nose (and certainly different styling).

          It would be a way of spreading costs of drivetrain, electronics (and associated software – a huge cost component), and other fixed costs. It would mean adding fixed costs (the existing facility), the cost to refurb (maybe a better way of saying that is to BMWize the facility), and whatever transport and labor costs above and beyond what they’ve currently planned for.

          The current business cycle would seem to mitigate against adding capacity, but the smart companies are looking towards being positioned for the next expansion. So who knows.

          Thanks for the kind reply Scott – much appreciated!!


  2. LaMa says:

    saab=bad deal
    triumph – we are talking about a piece of paper here. There is no such thing as triumph car and hasn’t been in a while. If they create a new one, that’s fine but I don’t see a point of it.
    if they create a small sports car like a real Z3 was and call it Triumph, thats all good and nice, but it will take sales off of the Z4 and the upcoming Z2.

  3. Hugo Becker says:

    The Saab folks will have seen this post – but the BMW fans will find this a good read too:

  4. David Mills says:

    Saab would be very good for BMW.  It would fit nicely between the Mini and a BMW.  It is FWD not RWD and BMW could keep its RWD heritage. Saab is more of an all weather car and would compete with Audi with a few upgrades. 

    In fact, the now defunct 9-5 competes very well with Audi now and has the interior space of a 7 series and a larger trunk.  It got rave reviews from the automotive press before Saab’s demise.  Saab was too far gone financially before the car really got produced.  The 9-5 is a GM licensed product and it would require getting a GM licensure before production.  But GM might do a deal with BMW when they wouldn’t with others.  And a wagon version of the 9-5 was nearly ready to go before Saab production stopped.

    And the new Phoenix platform was almost complete and not far from production for a new 9-3.  With a bit more cash, Saab was on the verge of being a world player, whereas Triumph is not known by anyone who is a not a geezer.  And Triumph, sporty as it was, was synonymous with break downs for those of us who remember it.

    Saab has a very loyal following.  Saab is a far better choice for BMW.

    Plus there are people who just won’t buy a BMW and why turn those customers away? 

    • Hugo Becker says:

      David, do you happen to have any links to where I can get an education on the Phoenix platform and possibly what pressing tools Saab was using at Trollhattan? Thanks!!


      • Arild says:

        Here’s some facts about the Phoenix platform compiled from different available sources:

        And a bit on the 9-3 replacement which Saab planned to build on Phoenix:

        • Hugo Becker says:

          The Phoenix platform front suspension looks similar to the R56 Mini front geometry – interesting. The e-AAM is intriguing and it was nice to see they were thinking of modular platforms – which is how a small scale manufacturer can offer multiple models w/o breaking the bank in R & D costs.

          The question is – how much of that does GM claim is ‘theirs’?

          • Arild says:

            Swedish media has reported that less than ten percent of the components in the next Saab 9-3 (which would be built on the Phoenix platform) were based on GM technology. Furthermore, these components are off the shelf components and should be replaceable. In other words, GM should have no say regarding the Phoenix platform.

            The e-AAM hybrid drive line system has unfortunately been sold by the bankruptcy administrators to American Axle & Manufacturing. Even now that Saab is bankrupt, it costs a lot of money to keep the estate in a decent condition and therefore the administrators need incomes.

          • Hugo Becker says:

            Thanks for the information Arlid! That’s unfortunateabout the e-AAM – intellectual property has the potential to be the biggest value.

            One of the problems with buying a ‘used’ car company is reconciling the plant/equipment to the new owners way of building cars. Often it can be just as expensive to reuse/re-purpose an existing facility as to build new.

            The other piece I’m not completely aware of is, what happens to Saab’s debt? Is that washed away in the bankruptcy with what remains to be purchased? Or does the buyer purchase the debt too?

  5. David Mills says:

    Hugo:  I really don’t know much about the PhoeniX platform.  There are a number of guys on SaabsUnited that could tell you I am sure.  Some posters there have actually worked on the project.  

    Here’s Top Gear’s take on the concept car at Geneva last year:

  6. Aguaha says:

    i dont agree that the platform BMW would extend is the Mini…..I think it would be the Z4 platform, a niche car with limited appeal that has become more disconnected with the advent of the “even numbered”sports models.  this strategy would allow BMW to stray from the Z4 market without abandoning it.

    • Hugo Becker says:

      Aguaha – a platform is the starting point from which multiple models can be built from. The current Z4 uses the same base platform (we believe) as the E8x 1 series, E9x 3 series.

      Also if you look at the differences in the suspension components between the Mini and BMW offerings you’ll get an idea of where the cost comes into play for a BMW. See this Edmunds Inside Line article on the current F30 suspension:

      • Aguaha says:

        Hugo, i understand the platform issue…my comment is focused on the marketing side of the decision. 
        The key marketing decision by BMW has to do with how to position a Triumph brand vs. a Saab brand.  
        i believe that BMW would be adverse to creating a front-drive platform beyond the Mini, a brand they took from small-cheap to small-high-end.  
        i believe that BMW’s corporate strategy is more suited to developing Triumph as a rear-drive high-end sport line (as opposed to what Triumph was… drive-poorly made….. in fact similar to what Mini was)…than taking Saab and turning it into a front-drive competitor to its key segment……the entry level luxury segment (3 series…E9x, F3x)
        to confirm this corporate focus, look at the new i series, it is front-drive focused for the urban/economy/family segment, rear-drive for the sport models

        • Hugo Becker says:

          Actually the i3 is rear engined, rear drive. BMW will put the BMW badge on A & B class cars, the first of which seems to be the 1er GT.

          The problem BMW has is how to take an existing brnad and making it premium. Can they do that with Saab – can they take a FWD version of the 3er for instance, make it a 9-3 and charge 3 series prices for it? That’s the key to either a Saab or a Triumph redo.

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