Last week, Autocar received a tip-off that BMW had quietly re-applied for European Trademark status for the old Triumph ‘laurel wreath’ badge. Indeed, the application was published just before Christmas, which is always a good time to keep things quiet.
The possible applications of the badge are much wider than cars. From the filing it seems that BMW is covering itself for the potential use of the Triumph badge on the widest possible range of consumer items. It would be easy to get carried away and write banner headlines declaring that Triumph is back from the dead and coming soon to a showroom near you.
At the other extreme, this is just BMW getting involved in a bit of back-office admin and keeping things up to date. After all, it has owned the rights to the brand since it bought Rover in 1994. Back then, BMW inherited a number of ‘heritage’ brands, including Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley and Triumph. MW held on to Triumph and Riley when it broke-up and sold off Rover in 2000. Riley was a particular favourite of then BMW boss Berndt Pischetsrieder (who, bizarrely, was also great-nephew of Sir Alex Issigonis).
Rover Group bought the numberplate R1 LEY and there is said to be a full-size model of a proposed, Rover 75-based, Riley coupe in BMW’s Munich basement.
However, Triumph was felt to be the closest auto brand to BMW. In its heyday, it built straight-six powered, rear-drive, Michelotti-styled executive cars, just like BMW. The wonderful Triumph 2000 estate was said to have been the inspiration for the first 5-series Touring. However, Triumph also built some neat front-drive cars as well as showroom full of sports cars.
Indeed, the TR sports cars outsold MG in the US and BMW’s own research suggested that Triumph had far more global traction than MG, which is why it let the MG badge be sold off. All of which suggests Triumph could leverage BMW technology very neatly.
The first time I heard a rumour that Triumph might be revived was in 2006. BMW’s Californian Designworks studios had proposed a Mini-based roadster which would be badged Triumph TR. At the time Mini was still semi-detached from BMW and the idea was kicked around, but Mini dealers were said not be keen.
Today, with BMW sales continuing to expand and Mini now fully integrated into the company, why bother with another brand? Well, BMW’s think-tankers have to look a long way into the future. The company might need to bolt on another brand to continue growing beyond, say, the second half of the decade.
Is there, perhaps, an organic limit to BMW’s growth, once it has every market niche covered? Does BMW need to get into larger front-wheel drive cars? Does it need to expand its sports car and roadster offering? This latter question nearly became real: BMW engineered a cheaper, four-pot, version of the Z4 roadster, which was going to be sold by Rover Group. Whether it was destined to be a Triumph or an Austin-Healey, I’m not sure.