Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Rootes Group is a now-defunct British automobile manufacturer.
Rootes was the parent company of many famous British marques, including Hillman, Humber, Singer , Sunbeam, Commer and Karrier . Originally founded in Kent in 1919 by William Rootes as a car sales company, Rootes grew and eventually took over the five manufacturers which it sold, and became one of the earliest advocates of the policy of "badge engineering". Hillman was intended to be the basic brand, Singer slightly more upmarket, Sunbeam was the sports brand, while Humber made luxury models. Commer was the commercial vehicles division, whilst Karrier specialised in municipal contracts.
Rootes was best known for manufacturing stolid, dependable, well engineered (and largely unexciting) middle-market vehicles. Famous Rootes models include the Hillman Minx, Singer Gazelle, Humber Super Snipe and the Sunbeam Alpine.
In 1963, Rootes introduced the Hillman Imp, a compact rear engined sedan with an innovative all aluminum engine. It was intended to be Rootes' answer to the all-conquering Mini, and endorsed their confidence in the Imp by building a massive new factory in Linwood, near Glasgow in which to assemble it. But the Imp was tragically underdesigned, and a whole string of quality and unreliability issues, coupled to buyer apathy towards the quirky design meant that the car never fulfilled its promise.
In the mid-1960s, Rootes was taken over by the Chrysler Corporation of America, following huge losses amid the commercial failure of the troubled Imp. Chrysler was also only too keen to take control of the struggling firm as it wished to have its own wholly-independent European subsidiary like arch rivals Ford and GM. Chrysler also took over the French Simca company at the same time, and spent the early 1970s slowly killing off each of Rootes' brands one by one until only Hillman was left.
Under Chrysler stewardship, Rootes soldiered on with a range of worthy but dull rear-wheel drive family saloons like the Hillman Avenger and Hillman Hunter ("Arrow"), while desperately trying to develop the Imp into a decent car. An attempt to take the Avenger to America as the Plymouth Cricket was aborted after only two years, and Chrysler's lack of interest in Rootes' products was further reflected in its development of the Simca-based Chrysler Alpine and Horizon ranges instead, allowing the Hillman brand to die by 1976.
Chrysler spent much of the 1970s unsuccessfully trying to integrate the Rootes and Simca ranges into one, coherent whole. The boxy, rear wheel drive saloons of the British company didn't fit well in marketing terms with Simca's relatively advanced front wheel drive hatchbacks. Build quality suffered, and the UK factories (Ryton and Linwood) were the subject of frequent Government bail-outs. The resulting lacklustre product range, severe financial problems back home in the United States, coupled with a multitude of industrial relations problems in the 1970s led to the collapse of Chrysler Europe in 1977, leading to the company's 1978 takeover by PSA Peugeot-Citroen (for a mere $1), and the only remaining remnant of Rootes is its main assembly plant, in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, which today produces various Peugeot models for European markets.
The Linwood plant closed in 1981, signalling the end of the road for the Avenger, but the production tooling for the Hillman Hunter went to Iran, where the car is still in production today as the Paykan, and is a common sight throughout the Middle East. The Simca-based models continued to be built at both Ryton and Poissy using the resurrected Talbot badge for the first half of the 1980s. The Peugeot 309 was originally to be launched as the Talbot Arizona, and the Talbot Samba was to have been a rebadged CitroŽn AX. However, PSA saw little reason to maintain its third brand and the new models were not launched with their alternative names. The Talbots were eventually replaced by Peugeot and CitroŽn models.
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