Blog : Should MG Rover have been bailed out in 2005?

With the ashes of MG Rover long since scattered to the four winds, and UK PLC doing a pretty good job of manufacturing cars without it, the answer to the question in the headline above seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? In 2005, when the assembly lines at Longbridge went quiet, its model range looked pretty tired – allowing it to die really could be construed as an act of mercy.

However, as in all these discussions, things really aren’t all that clear cut. Yes, the UK makes more cars than pretty much any time in its history right now, and we make a fair deal of profit selling our own premium models across the globe – Jaguar Land Rover is expanding, as are Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Great news!

If you’re British and you want to buy a British car, things aren’t so clear-cut. Firstly, let’s rule out MG’s current model range – the MG6 is long gone, and what’s left is as Chinese as the mobile phone, tablet or computer you’re reading these words on. We have the British-designed, developed and assembled Nissan Qashqai – but its Britishness is a huge secret. Who outside the industry knows these cars are made in Washington?

What choices are there today?

There’s Toyota and Honda, which are both doing great jobs, building Japanese cars in the UK. But again, even though they’re as well made as their homemade counterparts, buyers are oblivious to their country of manufacture. That’s probably a reflection of the international nature of car manufacture.

Is there a desire for buyers to still buy British? Probably not… But I’d suggest that a new car market today, in 2017, would still benefit from MG Rover still being around. Choice in the family and executive market has never been more limited than it is right now – we have Ford, Renault-Nissan, PSA-Opel/Vauxhall, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen Group, Toyota, Honda and Fiat-Chrysler – and that’s about it.

In this world, MG Rover could have offered something genuinely different if it had been supported by the Government instead of sold off to BAe in 1988. But as it was, then we can surmise that, following BMW’s failure to get things on track between 1994 and 1999, the Government could have swooped in around the time of the 2005 General Election with an emergency package to get things moving again, before investing in a more robust plan for rebirth in the following years.

Hard work reaps its own rewards

We have talent in the UK, and we have ambition. But we’re also our own worst enemy. So, as the sun came down on the Phoenix Four’s tenure of MG Rover, should the newly re-elected Labour Government led by Blair have thrown caution to the wind and committed a billion or so into regenerating MG Rover and its ability to build cars?

What we learned from the 1975 bail-out was that the company’s future prosperity rested heavily on the shoulders of management – and the ability to build great products. Had someone as strong as Sir Michael Edwardes been appointed to run the company – and break the unions’ stranglehold – sooner, then the story might have been entirely different. We would have needed to find someone of that calibre to run a bailed-out MG Rover from the outset. Would it have been possible? MG Rover, after all, was a basket case by 2005.

I say yes, but not in the way that bail-outs were done before. Even though the EU would have deemed it illegal to do so, the UK Government had every justification in sticking up two fingers to Strasbourg and saying that the Midlands, as a whole, needed this investment. We were at the tail end of our ‘Cool Britannia’ phase, and the Government was still popular enough at this point in time to have pushed it through, regardless of what the Tory opposition might have said.

But how to rescue MG Rover in 2005?

Assuming there were enough British assets still in MG Rover’s hands at the time, it could have been doable. Firstly, the Government should have said this was a long-term investment. No ‘getting it ready for privatisation’ talk would be allowed to pass a single Minister’s lips – this was industrial regeneration of the Midlands first and foremost.

Secondly, a long-term plan should have been drawn up. This would have included a replacement for the MG TF, Rover 45 and 75, and new models based on ideas drawn up with Tata (for CityRover, but properly implemented) and Matra (assuming it would release plans for the Espace), but executed in the UK. How would that be done? MG Rover would take a controlling interest in Ricardo (2010) Limited, bringing a world-class development team in house.

The Rover 75 platform was still a viable starting point for an all-new replacement for the Rover 45. RDX60 proved it was possible to spin off(albeit expensive and overweight) a smaller car, which would have competed in the C-segment against the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. As for an executive car – the SAC928 version, with a 10cm stretch in the wheelbase and a less retro style, would have been good enough to re-energise Rover in the D-segment against the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia.

Even with new tooling, new production lines and a kick up the distribution network, these longer-term models would have been introduced for considerably less than £1bn. Consider where Skoda was in 1991 and fast forward to 1996, with the Felicia/Octavia/Superb ranges it was offering – a confident MG Rover based in an expanding Longbridge could have achieved the same.

Could they do it alone?

Probably not… A strategic partner would most definitely have helped – and, seeing as Rover had burned its bridges with the Germans and the Japanese in earlier times, the obvious choice was staring the British in the face.

The talks between MG Rover and SAIC Motor should have been resumed immediately, but with competent business leaders and strong management (which would have been installed after Towers and Co. were marched out of the building) taking the helm. With Government support and the commitment to its 10-year plan, this would have put the British negotiating team in the driving seat – and not taking the subservient role it did in MG Rover’s dying days.

The model range was past it (sorry, but it pretty much was), so the first job would have been to instigate emergency facelifts of the TF and 75/ZT. This would have been achieved quickly, with a deal to offer transplant deals for these cars to the Chinese placed on the table. The empty Longbridge assembly building (once intended for MINI production) could have been refurbished and kitted out with new manufacturing equipment while the next-generation of cars were readied.

What of the first wave of facelifted cars?

By 2005, the IPRs to 25 and 75 might have belonged to the Chinese but, in partnership with SAIC Motor and with a joint production deal on the table, facelifted versions could have been produced in double-quick time. The purchase of Ricardo (2010) Limited would have been the masterstroke here.

The good work that the company undertook on the Rover 75 in order to transform it into the Roewe 750 shows just how quickly. Much of that work had already been done before 2005, though. We even had some new body-style ideas to work from. Probably as early as 2006, there would have been technical improvements fitted to the Rover 75, along with the new (Indian-built) G-Series diesel engine. By 2008, it could have been wearing those smart new clothes.

The purchase of Ricardo would have been necessary for this work, and much of the task of getting an updated body and interior onto the 25’s underpinnings would have needed to be outsourced, too. Probably also to Ricardo, but equally likely, SAIC Motor’s rapidly growing Engineering Department (set up to mirror Ricardo in the UK) could have handled this work – getting a modern-looking, 25-based supermini onto the market within three years of the Government bailout.

For expanding markets for niche cars, the Renault Espace plan hatched between MG Rover and Matra would have been exhumed – this time taking the French car’s innovative underpinnings and creating a 21st Century Rancho from it. And below the 25/ZR, Tata’s growing UK operation could have been tasked with a more thorough re-engineering job of the CityRover to incorporate a decent engine, interior and more inviting styling.

This would have left MG Rover at Longbridge to go on a recruiting spree for its base. It would have needed to encourage engineers lost during the Phoenix years to come back – but, had that been successful, and with a new engineering centre installed in Longbridge (large enough to house Ricardo as well as a large contingent of SAIC Motor’s engineers), the job of dealing with its most important (and weakest) car could have taken centre-stage.

Ah, the 45 and ZS

Yes, here lay the biggest problem for the bailed-out MG Rover/SAIC Motor alliance. Firstly, it relied on Honda’s IPRs, and also the Japanese company’s generosity on allowing it to continue using it. But, given that it was based on the 1992 Domani, it was no longer relevant to the Honda model range, the Japanese company might have been persuaded to allow MG Rover to continue with it – with certain provisos.

Secondly, its facelift and emergency refitting for 2007 would have taken place alongside the development of the RDX60 at Longbridge. This would have needed to be a UK-only operation by necessity and, as such, would have been quite limited in its scope. However, having said that, Honda gave its blessing to Rover to turn the 800 Mk1 into the R17 – a huge change – so we’ll have to assume it would do the same for a limited rebody of the 45/ZS.

This restyled car would have only needed to last three years until 2010 and the arrival of its son-of-RDX60 replacement. And by then, the partnership with SAIC Motor could have been made more wide ranging. But back to 2007, and given that the 45/ZS’s underpinnings were pretty sophisticated in the suspension department, rebodying this car and fitting it with a new and more appealing post-Cool Britannia interior might well have been enough to see it through.

And on to today…

It’s highly likely that the 2010 Coalition Government would have needed to see out MG Rover’s plans because of the long-term strategic alliances that had been signed – a good way of embracing further trade with China. And seven years on from then, that decision to stay on course could have born fruit with a successful range of British mid-market saloons that could have done their bit to fight off the uniformity of today’s car market.

Twelve years after the bail-out, and with that investment, it’s easy to see that in partnership with the Chinese, but led by the British, MG Rover could have been around today building cars in China and in the UK. It would have survived by building good value, well-styled cars British cars with cool interiors and bristling with new-world tech to keep them near the head of the pack. More importantly, Birmingham would have been a manufacturing power house, and it might have been in a whole lot better shape than it is now.

MG Rover showrooms would be offering a city car, supermini, medium-sized hatchback, crossover/SUVs, a sports car and large family car/executive challenger. That’s a far cry from the wreck of 2005, and the realisation of the dreams that people within Longbridge had for the company as the Phoenix Four were running it into the ground.

Of course, it would have taken strong leadership and wholehearted support from Westminster, much like that given to Renault by the French, and as such it would have not been a cheap, short-term fix. However, with vision, investment and stability, the Anglo-Chinese car manufacturer could have been in good shape today – and leading the charge for innovative styling in the marketplace.

One can dream…

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams
About Keith Adams 5262 Articles
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

103 Comments

  1. Some of us still say the rot set in with the cancellation of the P8 in 1971 and the whole way that the enormously profitable Rover company was bled dry to subsidise the former BMC marques.
    Of course we still have Rover, it just has ‘Land’ or ‘Range’ in front of it and oh, the irony, now paired with it’s former nemesis, Jaguar. The P8 was of course cancelled to placate William Lyon’s concerns about competition for his XJ6. There are quite a few of us that don’t believe the smokescreen about the P8 failing it’s crash test. It certainly wasn’t what David Bache, the designer, thought.

    • 1. Bache was a stylist, not an engineer. Whatever his thoughts on crash performance were, they were irrelevant.
      2. The truth is that Rover bled the company dry. The disaster of the SD1 ensured that ADO77 never happened. Without that product, we simply had no chance in the market. Austin, Morris, Triumph, and MG were sacrificed on the Solihull alter.

      • At the time of the Leyland merger Rover was a very healthy company, enjoying the profits of Land Rover and P6, and able to fund alone its future models like the Range Rover. You could not say the same about its bedfellows at the time, could you? And in restrospect, the decisions of the Rover management until then were correct, chasing modern technology like EFI, preparing a sports model, and building on the success of its rather popular and successful model range. Which is exactly what all the other competitors around the globe did in the following years that allowed them to be still with us today.
        In fact, it seems to be that thriving success of the Rover company in the 1960’s that was sacrificed in the hopeless merger of BL, followed by an even more hopeless management, who it’s main worry was not to hurt Jaguar sales by competition from Rover products! Hard to believe such a shortsighted policy these days!
        As for the SD1, despite bearing a Rover badge and carrying on with the V8 engine, it doesn’t have much in common with the values that made the Rover company successful the previous decades. It was indeed a disaster, but this was due to the management that wanted it to be made on the cheap, as they wanted Rover to be below Jaguar, and to the workforce that by then was shooting itself on the feet.

        • A very blinkered view. Rover was a small company that had virtually no export market. It had an ageing model range, and depended on this for it’s profits! By the late 60’s and early 70’s, it’s sales were being eroded by the large Fords and GM cars. Jaguar and Triumph were much better placed than Rover, to fight this. As you correctly agree, SD1 was the final nail in a long closed coffin for Rover. The sad part is that it laid the foundations of the ruin of the rest of the company.

          • This argument is daft, Triumph and Rover merged before BMC was brought into the fold. It was BMC that was the big mistake, Triumph/Rover made allot of sense.

            Look at the model range, Triumph had the sports cars and small cars. Rover had premium and off road. The only overlap was the P6 and 2000; which was an easy fix.

            Both companies avoided competing in the cheap end of the mass market with Ford, both had a future. Imagine what they could have done without the millstone of BMC.

          • Fake news alert!

            ‘The truth is that Rover bled the company dry.’ Never read that before anywhere! There were problems with the SD1 after launch, following an initially strong reception, but until then Rover (including Land Rover) was one of the stronger parts of what became British Leyland.
            In fact, so strong was the brand still that in the late 1980s it was decided to call the company Rover Group.

          • I think the tragedy here is this:
            – Rover was a small company at the end of the 60s, but had a wide range of credible products that were selling well. Production was, what, 100,000 cars in its last year of independence? Less than someone like Mercedes, but more than, say, BMW.
            – Range Rover, P8 and P9 would perhaps have given Rover the escape velocity to become a global, rather than British, player
            – if all had gone according to plan, the P6 replacement would have been a more competent car than SD1 which (and I say this as an SD1 owner) was undoubtedly compromised by being built to a price in a way that the Rover Company would never have done
            – however, BL splitting off Land Rover saved Rover’s bacon. In Land Rover form it survives and thrives. The car element of Rover probably died with the end of P6 production. In many ways it’s amazing that it’s the only company BL didn’t kill – even Jaguar’s had a few near-death experiences.
            – the big question in my mind, then, is whether Rover would ever have been able to assemble the capital funding to put Range Rover, P8 and P9 into production on its own. And then shortly afterwards fund the development of the P6 replacement. Given the tremendous cost of the SD1 factory, my feeling is that it would have struggled. As such, a merger may have been inevitable.
            – even if it had managed to get th capital together, it’s still an unknown whether the company which resulted would now be in the position of Volvo (independent, niche maker), Alfa-Romeo (part of larger group), BMW (still independent after many years of growth) or Saab (bust)…

          • Ian…..the costs of the SD1 were huge, including a new assembly plant. The car was wracked with problems from the start, not least of which was that there was no real market for an ‘executive’ hatchback. The market demanded a 3 box sedan and an estate. Hence the success of the Granada, Volvo 2 series, etc. The build quality was dreadful, the body engineering and paint were a disgrace. The product was so poor that the car had to be withdrawn from the US market completely.

            The bottom line was that SD1 cost so much, with so little return, that ADO77 was first mothballed, then scaled down to TM2, then cancelled altogether. This effectively, meant the end of Triumph and MG as anything other than mild saloons, and forced the volume car divisions to struggle on with ADO28/ADO73 10 years past their ‘sell-by-date’.

          • Oh, I dunno. I still think that all BL had to do with SD1 was to build the bloody thing properly. It sold really very well until it emerged that it was just a load of hubris and polystyrene nailed together in a dysfunctional factory. It spawned a whole load of executive hatchbacks too (Granada Mk 3, Saab 9000, Renault 25) and came in alongside a bunch of cars that looked like hatchbacks but weren’t (Lancia Beta, Citroen CX, Leyland Princess, Granada coupe), so I’m not sure the hatchback argument carries much weight, at least in my view.

      • 1.Bache was involved in decision-making at the highest levels inside Rover at the time and would be someone who knew the truth about what happened with the P8 and P9. When I spoke to him five years before his death, he described the P8 debacle as one of his great regrets. His thoughts on how to achieve better crash performance may have been irrelevent, he wasn’t an engineer. But as one of the witnesses to what happened with the P8, he was in the perfect position to witness that using a crash test result as an excuse to cancel the whole program is specious, erroneous, and an excuse to let Jaguar’s skullduggery off the hook.
        2. Rover was enormously profitable, both with the P6 and LandRover. The Range Rover was just coming onstream and look how profitable that was for years and years, with almost zero money going into development. It had the same problem as the P6. Why spend any money on a vehicle that is selling so well? Take the money and spend it somewhere else. Rover’s profits were ploughed into development of technology and the Range Rover, P8 and P9. After the mergers, all the money went to the disfunctional BMC. All this was a long time before SD1. SD1 wouldn’t have occurred if P8 had gone ahead, Rover wouldn’t have needed a Granada/Volvo competitor. Rover/LandRover became a cash cow funding the lossmaking other divisions.

        • @ Julian Robinson:

          “[The SD1] sold really very well until it emerged that it was just a load of hubris and polystyrene nailed together in a dysfunctional factory.”

          Ha ha ha ha ha ha !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. £1 billion may sound a lot but I’m just not convinced that that level of subsidy would have been sufficient to really make a difference. I think the government of the day realised that.

    To truly compete with the best, high levels of investment – nothing less – is required. Look at the success that has been made of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover by foreign owners through seriously large injections of money.

    Bear in mind too that BMW’s total investment in the Rover 75 was £1 billion. That was for just one model and at mid-1990s prices.

  3. I hate to be that guy, but the Superb came along in 2001. Based on a LWB Chinese market Passat, for all comparisons with the Roewe 750.

    The 96 Octavia was an eye opener for many though, based on the Golf chassis but a capable family car, like the 45 it seemed to span the C and D segments. However it was priced right at launch, and the VW diesel engines were (at the time) respected, made it a minicabber’s dream.

    And the Felicia, 2 year old at this point, was a reworked version of the Favorit, again this could draw comparisons to a potential 45 rebody.
    Little known fact is that a badge engineered pickup version was sold as the mk2 VW Caddy. (Some Felicia owners cottoned on and fitted the VW grille to their cars!). The facelift in 1998 brought it into line with the corporate look started by the Octavia, with a new grille that looked like a cross between Rover and Volvo.

    I would fear that the Rover bailout would’ve mirrored the prolonged execution of Saab, lurching from crisis to crisis with a nice new model and a reworked variant of an older model.

    It could be argued that it did survive in a way, the modern MINI range offers a selection of hatchbacks and a crossover. The Jag range offers modern big saloons, a sports car and an SUV. MG offers a slightly more value oriented hatchback and crossover, being sold in ex-Rover small town family dealers with a loyal customer base, a breath of fresh air in the day and age of pushy suits in steel-and-glass retail park locations.

  4. During the early 1970s, BMW, Auto Union ( AUDI ) and VW were all in deep financial doo-dah. Yes, including so called industrial action against job losses cuts etc. The cull of jobs were made and money invested in design and development rather than maintaining overborne jobs. All very necessary.

    The German Nation, both Government and the people, supported those companies in every worthwhile way and the long term benefits of that resulting in what we see today. Quite unlike what happened in another EU Nation. No names etc… :rolleyes:

    Those that say the UK put lots of money into in our indigenous Motor ( and other ) UK Industries are of course correct. That was done to retain thousands of overborne “bruvvers” non-jobs rather than as an effective survival measure for those once successful manufacturers. Had those who run these businesses and those we entrust to this Nation’s longer term well being looked beyond any quick-fix solutions and viewed these issues in the same way as the German people did during their crisis years, things would be considerably different and more beneficial to this Nation as a whole.

    However, those we entrust the Nation and Businesses longer term well being for decades did not “do” long term. Profit by next week latest or close, asset strip and run. Only fools and horses … work!

    There are signs that those of that mindset, including many in UK media who have enormous influence, have at last seen the light and modified decades of their near perma-negative stances when reporting on most things UK Industry related.

    Thiose that think this nation will both survive and thrive by shuffling papers and pressing keyboards in “The City” are wrong… in spades. There has to be a balance in any nation’s economy and Industry provides that essential economical balance. The German and Japanese know that …. No doubt they’ll be sorry for such foolishness.

    • To be fair the Germans didn’t try and merge BMW, Mercedes and VW into one massive car firm. The problems all stem from BMC. I read a box about Mini development and reading that I realised that BMC was a basket case long before the Leyland years and the 70’s.

      There was brilliance, but it was brilliance in isolation. The design team didn’t talk to the people actually making the cars, the BMC factories didn’t talk to each other and management seemed to pluck the price of the car out of a hat. They certainly didn’t worry about minor things, like was it profitable to make.

      So BMC found itself in the absurd position of having Britain’s best selling car in the 1100 and running out of money. If Leyland had said no to the merger, it is possible that Rover/Triumph could have survived the 70’s. Alas we will never know.

      • Inadvertently it was Merc who indirectly saved VW

        http://jalopnik.com/how-this-gorgeous-mercedes-prototype-made-modern-volksw-1787505336

        As MGJohn’s first point, VW were behind the curve making dated rear engined air cooled vehicles. BMW had made luxury cars and bought Isetta bubble cars, but were a quirky brand. Merc were making solid big limos and coupes.

        A combination of engineering that was right at the time (water cooled, FWD), crisp designs (mk1 Golf, BMW neu Classe), marketing (VW were, and indeed still are, seen as reliable because the air cooled models were basic, simple and the long production run had seen any issues ironed out / BMW 3 series did well during the “yuppie” era) and hard nosed business acumen (see BMW treatment of Rover / Sauber, Mercedes dumping Chrysler, VW dieselgate) saw companies thrive and grow.

  5. In April 2005, the then Government turned their backs on the 6000 “bruvvers” and the many thousands more who relied on the company in other sectors of manufacturing supply. They did that simply because the then MG-Rover company, a small remnant of the once massively asset rich and asset stripped Rover group sold uber-cheaply into alien control… was a private company.

    I changed the habit of a lifetime back then. I have never voted for that absolute shower ever since and do not expect to do so ever again.

    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall the government “lending” money to MGRover in the run up to the 2005 general election to keep things going. Once the election was past and Tony Co were safely back in Downing Street, there were no more “loans” and the company was liquidated.

      • Undoubtably the government of the time should have stepped in to save MGR and the 6000 jobs. They were only too quick to bail out banks so why not help out a proper UK manufacturing business with a loan, MGR were on the brink of coming good with a new mid-sector model almost production ready.
        Tony and his band of merry men have a lot to answer for (they were the party that introduced student loans! to name but one of their monumental mistakes – I wont mention the war!!) – they were the worst thing that ever happened to the Labour Party and I for one am glad ‘New Labour’ is well and truly dead and buried, and only now are the Labour Party starting to get back on their feet, but his spend now pay back never legacy does live on and we are still feeling the effects of his terrible policies.

        • If you’ve followed this thread it was obvious Rover was on borrowed time after 2000 if not before & no amount of bailout money would have saved them for any length of time.

          • Richard is right: Rover was a basket case years ago, as was BL, British Ship Builders, British Rail, British Steel, National Coal Board, British Road Services, National Bus Company, and just about anything touched by governments since and including Harold Wilson’s plan to make taxpayers pay for dying industries with a shallow promise of jobs for life. Soz mates, but that is life, stuff gets old, and falls apart, and keeping the patient alive with drugs of any sort never has a good outcome once the rot has set in. In the next generation it will be Amazon Google or some other current money spinner which will get flushed down in the end…hold your nose and be ready folks!

  6. The masses might hate me for this one but I believe the Chinese are MGs best bet for survival in the long run.Take a close look at MG(Roewe) world sales,they are on the up.The cars are getting better designed and with mnew engines/gear boxes coming as well.Like many I was saddened and gutted when ot all went belly up in 2005 but were we really suprised.It´s been coming for years and for some weird reason the cars as a whole range never really fitted.The City Rover was really the sad end and a sad excuse for a Rover.

    • Sales*. Are you posting from a Wongbridge IP by any chance? Their market share is tiny. Way less than 1% in UK and China. Selling two more cars than last year is indeed an increase, however market share is what tells the true story.

      • Sales in China the first 4 months this year were about 450,000 with Roewe up about 140% and MG 110%.Sales are on the up in Thailand and although slow in the UK they are up on last year(and by more than 2 cars).Also whats with the Wongbridge comment?,tastless to say the least.

  7. There appears to be a common theme across UK manufacturing industries (cars, electronics, software, whatever) – and that is, the typical Brit is strong in ideas, innovation, development and start ups but not so good at making the same thing day in, day out.

    Basically we get bored, and boredom leads to disruption so when Brit workers are overseen by Brit managers we end up with poor quality and erratic levels of output.

    This is probably why Honda, Nissan, Mini, Jaguar etc are making a success of manufacturing cars in Britain. These foreign owners have a far lower emotional stake in UK industry so Brit workers, designers and middle managers remain focused on the task in hand as they know there’s no easy recourse to tax payers money for a bail-out if they fail to deliver the goods.

    This isn’t an insult to Brit workers and managers, just a recognition that problems are often best solved by someone looking in from the outside.

    • The best engineering companies – Toyota, Ford, BMW/MINI, TATA/JLR, JCB – retain ownership by a family who are able to take a long term view.

      • Ford? Best engineering company? With respect, you’re miles off. And the Ford family have virtually nothing to do with running the company. (Although a study of how Ford shares are structured is entertaining!)

        The common thread to long term profitability for car companies seems to be that they’re engineering led, rather than MBa led.

        • All respect due to William Clay Ford Junior, who in 2006 realized that having the right surname didn’t necessarily make him up to the job. He resigned and brought in Alan Mulally.

          I respect Ford’s engineering. The petrol engined Fiestas, the Focus, the Mondeo, the latest Mustang, and the Transit are all decent kit. I also have a soft spot for Crown Victorias, and it’s not Chat Moss.

    • An interesting point. At the bottom of much of the labour problems in the UK lurks our unenviable class system, until that is destroyed, management and worker are unlikely to rub along.

  8. I, too, still mourn the passing of MG Rover – Especially after owning so many of their products inc. 2 x ZT260 V8’s & growing up with all the models our parents and friends parents had in the 70’s.80’s & 90’s.

    I suppose only 2 models – The 75 & MGF, could have been stretched a little longer with a drastically reduced workforce, post 2005.
    This wouldn’t have happened, though, as the unions would have said no

    Similarly; I often wonder what would have happened if Jon Moulten (& Alchemy) had been successful with his bid for MG Rover & just kept with the MG name & dropped Rover altogether, along with laying off thousands.
    Again; This wasn’t happening & I remember seeing the work force treating John Towers as the messiah, when he paid £10 for MG Rover & the workforce & models saved!

    If Jon Moulten had taken over, instead….Would MG Rover (or MG!) still be going today? Would the ZT range ever of happened? Would we now have a larger, more expensive “new TF” , which has a large waiting list & is desirable as an F-Type Jaguar?. Who knows?….Or would it just be sold off to the Chinese, anyway, with no UK commitment needed whatsoever.

    We are where we are….& I suppose its nice to still see immaculate examples of Rovers and MG’s from the last 5 years of MG Rover’s life, still on the road today.

    • John Moutlon/ Alchemy? See Better Capital and Citylink.

      Not sure the outcome would have been better. It was either close the company in 2000, or carry on until 2005 as it was. The real tragedy were all those who lost their pensions.

  9. Having been an mg/bl/rover group supporter through the years, I could see that the Mg Rover product by 2004/2005 was not only tired but the quality had hit rock bottom. Cost cutting had made the cars tinny and undesirable, especially the Rover 25. I borrowed a 2004 plate 25 and was appalled at the lack of quality and comfort. I think by this time the brand was fatally damaged and even loyal customers throughout the years were finding it extremely hard to justify buying these cars when there were so many other better ones on the market. Mg/Towers and co should have had a joint deal in the bag by 2002 in order to prosper and invest in new product, instead they left it too late and harmed the brand to junk status. Sad, but even with a billion to invest, it would have been too little too late.
    I still love the 80 s/90 s and early 2000 s Mg Rovers though and own 2 R8 s

    • They did try though, didn’t they? They were very close to a deal with China Brilliance very early on.
      The reality was, a China deal was the right idea, but too soon for Chinese industry. The Nanjing/ SAIC purchase of the remains of MG Rover was one of the first Chinese investments into UK industry.

      • I think that they saw that China was the future, just as Korea and Japan were before that.

        However I do also think that SAIC was canny and knew MGR was in trouble, waiting for the inevitable and scooping up the remains.

        Compare with “NEVS”, the remains of Saab.

  10. Would MGR have continued successfully beyond 2005 with its existing management? IMO, no, eg see how they bottled it with FIAT. Was it worth saving? Yes, eg for its engineering/manufacturing/design skill sets. Would John Moulton/Alchemy have made a go of it? No. In retrospect SAIC and Nanjing were not the best partners to ensure Longbridge’s future but no-one in government, or Opposition, had the commercial skills/clout to identify and induce a suitable partner to come to the table.

  11. Though MGR bottled it with Fiat IMHO the latter is the best low-cost-ish option despite the somehow mediocre underpinnings, especially if Fiat’s joint venture with GM manages to continue beyond 2005 allowing MGR to develop new models off of the Fiat Mini (Cityrover replacement akin to mk2 Ford Ka), GM Fiat Small (Grande Punto and Corsa platform for 25 / ZR replacement), GM Delta (45 / ZS replacement) and GM Epsilon (75 / ZT replacement) platforms and more.

    Other options include Geely based on how well Volvo is currently as well as Tata with Jaguar Land Rover, both of which were willing to heavily invest in their respective acquisitions unlike SAIC.

    • But then look where Fiat have ended up, yes they are fairly successful, but thanks to multinational factories….

      Fiat have seen that there is little profit to be made selling cheap cars built in Western Europe.

      The MINI-aping 500 (itself still effectively a mk1 ‘facelift’ when we are on the mk3 MINI) is a success – it is built in Eastern Europe, the Tipo is brought in from turkey and the 124 from Japan as they saw the benefit of platform sharing for a niche product, rather than spending a fortune building one from scratch.

      People here are complaining about the R3 needing axed – the Punto (nee “Grande”) is still on sale in 2017!

      • Admittingly Fiat / GM is a short-term remedy for MGR unlike Tata and Geely, then again that did not stop SAIC from using the GM Epsilon platform to develop the Roewe 950 though a continued collaboration might have also meant MGR like GM Europe ending up as part of PSA.

        To be fair to the platform used in the Grande Punto, it is at least newer then the R3 by a decade if not more in terms of mechanicals.

  12. Keith finishes with a dreamy comment.
    Facts are that Rover group, ARG , whatever you want to call it was an amateur company in a professional world. Any other investment would have only delayed the inevitable by a short period
    As for whether Rover, Triumph or any of the other brands could have or should have done this that or the other is irrelevant. In fact the partisan comments on here are typical of the senseless in fighting that did for the combined mess of companies. Let’s be thankful that BMW Ford and now TATA have allowed a new generation of A1 products to take the business forward without retrospection and 1950’s empire logic.
    Most of ARG products were poor quality engineering with make do and mend, poor supplier chain and ineffective cost control and marketing. Let it die….

    • Tragically, we are seeing signs of some of the same problems with Jaguar. Shockingly poor interior materials, design and build quality in models from the XE onwards, cheapening of the brand to go downmarket, baffling spec and pricing decisions, clumsy marketing etc. The XE, for example, is selling no better than the old X Type when it was supposed to be a world beater.

      Lots of evidence of make do and mend on the new models sadly. Take a look at the finish inside the boot of an XE or XF.

  13. The government should have stepped in when BMW pulled out in 2000. Then, Rover still had 6-7 per cent of the new car market and was considered more viable. However, I would have ditched the 25, which had a confused image and whose sales were mediocre, insisted Rover sort out the problems with the K series engine immediately, and invested in improving and modernising the 45, 75, and Land Rover. Also with the growing trend to MPVs at the time, the company should have been given the funds to develop a 45 and 75 based MPV. I think this would have kept market share and possibly even grown it by improving quality and introducing new designs.
    By 2005, Rover sadly was over. Although the 75 was still a good car, the 25 and 45 were elderly cars that just weren’t selling and issues with head gaskets on K series cars and a misguided cost cutting programme in 2004 meant buyers were staying away and the company was beyond help.

    • The Government did step in – that was the problem. By pushing the Phoenix Four forward, they helped prevent Rover being reduced to a profitable niche player that had future growth opportunities in the name of short term political capital. From there, it was doomed.

  14. The short answer no

    In a world where GM can’t afford to keep its European operations going (and they were far far bigger than Austin Rover at its height) what chance would a tiny little UK based volume maker have?

    One with an ageing model range and engines, and no proper technical centre. And if many engineers left MGR, then presumably most of them went to JLR.

    Dragging down Ricardo doesn’t sound like a good idea either, they’re doing fine consultancy work for various clients, and long may it continue.

    Oh, and I’m sure lots of people are very aware of where the Qashqai is from, especially as the Washington plant is a key national asset (Brexit considerations, the deal offered to them by the government etc etc).

  15. Probably too late by 2005, but Jaguar/Land Rover shows the problem with experts in Westminster and the City. They would have let that company go under after Ford decided to get out, it was the Indians that saved us from ourselves.

    It is best not to think about the number of potential world beating companies the incompetents in London have collectively destroyed and will destroy in the future. You shouldn’t back everything, but the problem with the elite in this country is they back nothing.

    • The problem is, JLR are replicating BL in trying to produce a big range of cars on a limited budget, as well as going downmarket. This is mostly evident in Jaguar’s current range, where interior quality and overall build quality are way down.

      It seems we don’t learn from history where these things are concerned.

  16. Just read the book ‘MG XPower SV’ in which the writer was invited to follow the project through.

    The SV was a very low volume vehicle on which the Head of Design spent half his working week on. Whilst all this development was being funded operation Drive was going on stripping out cost from those vehicles in production, such as the caps over the seat belt bolts on the 75 – so just a few pence saved.

    There was also the development of the 75 and ZT V8, another low volume exercise and the bringing in-house the LWB version.

    This leads me to the conclusion that the Board was not fit to run the company.

    • Spot on. They were incompetent at best, with a shocking track record of hopeless decisions. R6 k series Metro, Rover 400 market positioning, Rover 800 2 door, black bumpers on launch 600, pocan bumpers on Montego Maestro, RSP weak and badly made derivatives, the list goes on and on.

      • Martin, I was referring to the actions of the Phoenix 4 from their takoeover in 2000 – do read the book.

  17. Perhaps, had there been stringent quality control from the mid seventies onwards, the unions told to behave, and some tough decisions taken earlier on regarding overmanning, perhaps British Leyland’s problems would have been fixed by the end of the seventies. Had the M cars, the SD1 and 800( in its first year on the market) been better made, then market share would have been up to 25 per cent, as Austin Rover’s model range was far more coherent and good to drive. Yet it wasn’t to be and a brief revival in the nineties was like a last hurrah.

  18. I know MgRover were trying to get a deal in place right the way through the years 2001 to 2005, but there didn’t seem to be a real real sense of urgency-only near the end when they were asking the government for a £100 million bridging loan, which by this time was too incredibly late. By this time the Chinese knew the state of MgRover accounts and all credibility had evaporated.
    If they had got the ex daewoo factory up and running in Poland in 2002 , not cost cutted on the cars quality and got into bed with a major branded car company, then they might have had half a chance. The company as a whole had billions pumped into it over the years and not even that saved it in the long term ,unfortunately.

    • Let’s not forget, MGR was also wasting a small fortune on motorsports which achieved nothing except get a few drivers, executives and buddies very drunk on post race hospitality. The whole strategy of Phoenix was misguided and deluded. They could and should have dropped the 45 immediately, concentrated on style and substance by developing the Z cars and worked on a true MK2 Rover 75 instead of the cheapened version that it ended up as. Many Z cars were sold ahead of the Rover models. I’ve owned all 3 and they were great examples of MGR engineers at work on ride and handling. The 45 was too far out of date to compete with the Golf and Focus etc so why keep flogging a dead horse? When I saw the facelift cars in 2004 my heart sank. Even the motoring press was scathing about the results. Death was inevitable.

      • All true. The Phoenix mob had a great party at the expense of a failing business. They knew when they started it was just a question of time.
        At least JLR has survived and thrived. LR is in effect today what Rover might have been if BMC and the Wilson government had not got involved.

    • The whole Daewoo/Poland exercise mystified me – it seemed a pointless diversion unless they could get some grants – if they moved some models there what on earth would they have reasonably filled Longbridge with or was there a hidden plan even then to eventually shut/redevelop it?

      BTW, MG have announced the start of sales in Western Europe, based in Luxembourg, so they don’t seem to have given up just yet.

  19. I’d choose to buy British (Keith’s comment), but there are no small cars that I could afford that are made here. Admittedly, it is hard to earn a profit in them, but most affordable small cars are nearly identical and if a significant number of components were also made here, the overall benefits could be worthwhile.

    I come from the West Midlands and there’s no joy seeing Longbridge covered in yet more retail parks. With hindsight, I think we could have saved it. I understand the differences in scale and profitability between the bike and car markets, but would anyone in 1982 would have guessed that Triumph would have a successful future on the track (Super Sports for many years) and now make one of today’s most sought-after adventure bikes? If I could choose any bike tomorrow it would be a Norton, with its engine cases cast in the West Midlands. They both had the same ‘variable’ quality in the 70s and 80s; the same short-sighted management, outdated production systems and destructive unions.

    We have a KV6 75. It’s still a lovely car and it wasn’t a basket case in 2005: I had enough crappy company cars at that time to compare it against. I agree with Glen above; the time for action was when BMW pulled-out. The K series problems were, I’m sure, resolvable.

    If you’re watching the TT coverage on ITV4, you’ll have seen the F-Type advert/ident. Who wouldn’t? I think the fact that it’s also made here is great.

    • No cheap cars are made here, but plenty of “normal” cars are made here

      MINI
      Astra
      Juke
      Qashqai
      Auris
      Civic

    • Apart from the Mini, there’s the Nissan Note. However, go back 40 years and you had the choice of the Mini, Chrysler Sunbeam, Ford Fiesta( some were made in Spain as well) and the Vauxhall Chevette in three door hatchback form. However, supermini type cars do seem to be increasingly made in lower wage countries as the profits aren’t great on them, my Micra is made in India, most Suzukis now come from Hungary and Thailand, Vauxhall Opel have a factory in Poland, and Fiats can be sourced from Serbia and Turkey.

      • The Note is no longer made now, I think they added the X-Trail instead!

        The Sunbeam and Chevette may have been UK made, but move forward to the 80s and the Samba was made in France, and the Nova/Corsa in Spain…

        • The Note is no longer sold on the UK market & the line at Sunderland has been put over to making more Qashqais or Jukes.

          They already had the Pulsar in production so didn’t need another mid range model, especially as the New Micra is larger than the old one.

  20. We are where we are. However if the government want to develop our car industry they could do worse than bribe BMW to build a new car factory in the U.K. and make a new range of premium Triumphs….

  21. There was no chance of saving MGR beyond 2000. The only sensible thing to do when BMW bailed was to reduce the company down to a profitable niche and rebuild slowly from there.

    Sadly, the Government DID intervene then and as a result, we got the Phoenix Four with their knights in shining armour act. By 2005, there was so little left that it was difficult, nigh impossible to even start again from a profitable niche.

    The last real opportunity to save Rover was in the early nineties where Honda should have increased their share in the business with a view to potential future ownership. Sadly, BAE’s short term its attitude and lack of investment prevented it.

    Once BMW failed to grasp the nettle, the thing was doomed.

    • I did argue at the time that Rover should be slimmed down and to concentrate on the Rover 75 and Land Rover. BMW would gain Cowley to produce their MINI, as happened, and a smaller Longbridge and Solihull kept open to produce Rover and Land Rover. I know this would have meant about 4000 job losses at Longbridge, but the factory would have a more secure future producing an upmarket product that could be updated regularly as the company no longer had to fund the 25 and 45.

  22. The pre BMW Rover Group was too small to survive as an independent volume manufacturer, when rivals are selling millions of cars sharing common platforms. It needed a significant partner of the sort Honda provided.

    Then strip away the “jewel in the crown” Land Rover, MINI (and Cowley), Swindon pressings, the Gaydon technical centre, access to the new generation engines from Hams Hall…you’re not left with much. Far too small to be competitive by itself, and not attractive as an international partner either

    Sadly Saab went down the same path not long afterwards.

  23. Well Keith has certainly struck a rich seam of opinion with this one!
    Michael Edwardes, in his book ‘Back from the Brink’ claims that even in the early 1980s the only parts of the Cars business he thought had a long-term future were Jaguar and Land Rover. Of course, the fruits of his endeavours and the budding collaboration with Honda took the company to new heights a decade later. IMO the killer blow was the sale of Rover to BMW which finished that highly fruitful relationship. BMW’s short stewardship brought us the 75, but that wasn’t going to keep the wolf from the door for very long.
    And then of course there was the City Rover…
    Had the BINI somehow been kept and made by Rover themselves then who knows. Equally who would have guessed what a global success that would become?
    MGR’s 2005 demise was the last act in a tragedy that started with the creation of BLMC 35 years before. But on a positive note, think about how much of the old empire is left – Leyland Trucks, JLR and of course the BINI all employing people in the UK, using UK-made components and materials and contributing to the nation’s automotive output.

    • “Had the BINI somehow been kept and made by Rover themselves then who knows. Equally who would have guessed what a global success that would become?”

      Not so sure it would’ve been, sadly.

      I would wager that part of the appeal of the MINI was that it was seen as a BMW product, Rover were still being slated by Clarkson et al, they mightn’t have given the MINI a warm reception.

      Then would they have had the funds or management drive to develop further models as BMW have done? Or even the mk2 / mk3 generations, or would we be in a situation like Fiat where they are still selling a warmed over mk1 500? Given the likes of the 45 facelift, I’d say that the engineers would’ve done a great job over time of getting the most from the basic car (compare ZS to HH-R/Domani!), but that we would still be looking at the mk1.

      And a Global Success – BMW had dealer networks globally in markets that Rover didn’t – North America for example, where once the land of the V8 has seen MINI in Cooper form (the hatchback is referred to over there as MINI Cooper) as a moderate small car success, and prompted Fiat to introduce the 500. Rover may have been able to give their European dealers a cracking new model, but it wouldn’t have had the same global reach unless they paired up with another manufacturer.

      • You are right of course. With MGR having been reduced to essentially a home-market operation at that time with limited reach elsewhere a Rover MINI or any other new product would probably have struggled.
        BUT – if the MINI product had been really good (and love it or hate it the MINI has been a huge success), then would the global market have come to MGR?

        • A parochial company with hardly any exports and only 3 per cent of the home market didn’t have much of a future, and tales of head gasket failure and cost cutting weren’t bringing in any new customers. MG Rover was doomed and even the government nationalising it again would have only put off the inevitable for a few years.
          The real problem was the sale to BMW, who only really wanted Mini and Land Rover. Had Rover stayed with Honda, who had helped to turn Rover round, then it’s likely the company could have survived and with Honda backing and engines, become a company similar in size to Volvo.

          • Fact is though Honda was never interested in buying into Rover. For them it was a stepping stone into the UK.
            They are not brand acquisitional.
            Why BMW bought the business was always a surprise to me, but brand acquisition was trendy then.

          • BMW had nil interest in Land Rover – this is an utter myth. BMW wanted a brand to sell below BMW, with a cheap, compliant, workforce. They got what they wanted in MINI, and Cowley (after the original plan to use Longbridge for MINI fell through). They then flogged what was left over with all due haste.

          • Spot on; the Japanese were and are ideal partners for British industry. British workers under the right leadership are world class. That leadership is not available in house…

  24. @ Martin Peach, Volkswagen bought up SEAT and Skoda in the mid nineties, when they were poor quality brands making budget cars, and turned them into huge successes, and Nissan and Renault have had a successful partnership for 16 years, but maybe Honda, once they built their factory in Swindon, lost their interest in Rover. Rather a shame as the Rover/Honda partnership produced some very good cars.
    However, had the quality been right on the M cars from the time they were launched, then the Honda partnership would have been a short term necessity, in the same way Kia looks back at its relationship with Mazda in the nineties.

    • Honda wasn’t looking to buy into Rover though. They wanted a partnership. But Rover had very little to bring to the table. When the BAe deal came along, Honda felt betrayed – they knew their investment in a new paint shop and press line at Cowley, was simply going to be subject to asset stripping along with the rest of the company. From that point, Honda lost all interest in Rover and got out asap.

    • VW were sniffing around SEAT since the early 80s, when the FIAT licence ran out, as extra capacity initially to build the Polo model. By 1986 they owned 51%, then 75%, then 99.9% in 1990.

      It was the early to mid 90s before the last of the FIAT era was cast off, the Marbella (Panda), Malaga (saloon Ronda/Ritmo), and the first VW based Ibiza (the mk1 had Ronda/Ritmo platform).

  25. By the mid-00’s, Rover was a goner. They were in a death spiral of declining sales taken up by the Japanese brands, serious management issues, collapsing capital access and nothing really distinctive over other brands. BMW and TATA pretty much stripped off the only parts of value (JLR, MINI)and Chinese co’s bought out some IP, designs and names needed to get into the international car business and grow their domestic needs.

    • The company was dead in the water after 2003 and cost cutting cheapened what were supposed to be upmarket products. It’s a huge shame as even at the end of its life, a car like the 25 still looked nicer inside than most of its competitors( even with the cost cutting), was good to drive and looked upmarket. Yet sadly very few people wanted to know by then.

  26. Since WWII, Britain has suffered on successive governments that do not understand the manufacturing industry. As a result, there are technical education issues and difficulties in accessing capital. Add to this managers who traditionally have found it difficult to penetrate overseas markets, and you have a toxic mix that would have not worked for Rover.

    • I love all this hypothetical argument.
      BUT M cars were poor in ny just quality, but loads of other deficiencies when measured objectively against contemporary competition. The core SD1 was a good concept, but range extension with weak power trains and poor marketing were never going to help. The comments concerning UK and it’s industry continue to this day. The pursuit of Brexit at any cost is a clear indication of the ineptitude of the UK to see how to make manufacturing work even now.
      I fear that all the hard work done over 30 years to rebuild a privately run car industry based on a European home market and supply base will soon be undone.

  27. If Michael Edwardes had started a Japanese style quality control drive and made sure Austin Rover had similar levels of quality to Germany and Japan, we wouldn’t have had Longbridge turned into a shopping centre and Austin Rover would have been a major player still, making everything from city cars to luxury off roaders. Remember, dynamically there was nothing wrong with the SD1 and the M cars, just the quality was so poor.
    Ideally it would be so nice to see Austin Rover dealers everywhere, the company outselling Ford, and Austin, MG, Land Rover and Rover marques having the same level of desirability as Volkswagen’s four brands. Remember, this could have been a reality if quality control was tightened up 35 years ago.

    • Yes if quality was better, (and dealer apathy) but then again worked on quite a few Fords and Vauxhalls, they weren’t the best at all(not so many Maestros or Montegos, But your right Metros were bad at times), VWs Audis BMWs the odd Mercedes all had their fare share of problems but then again if they were all ok I wouldn’t have been working on them..
      At that time (late 1980s-early 1990s) It was the Japanese items that were the least troublesome if quite flimsy in places, But rust was their biggest problem.
      In The 1960s Austin (less so Morris)was seen as Technically advanced/cutting edge and desirable until the 1970s, something it could never shake off hence its demise.
      Fast forward to today and VW has one of the most shocking Customer service (especially the Emissions Fix Scandal, checkout facebook to see Cars going dangerously into Limp mode, especially at Motorway speeds, The Fix eats EGRs, Injectors and various other parts only for VW to say “This is pure coincidence”)But somehow still seen as Desirable image.
      No one is sure weather The Storm will blow over VW, there has already been speculation VW will be broken up as Law suits pile up, However I somehow think Germany wont let VW close, The show must go on.

      • Going back to the early eighties, it seemed Italian cars had by far the worst reputation for rusting and quality issues( cars like the Fiat Strada seemed to rust from the start and struggled to get through their first MOT), French cars were better but were very complicated and expensive to fix when they went wrong( particularly Citroens), while British cars weren’t very reliable but were cheap and easy to fix.
        If you wanted a car that never seemed to break down, but you still had to watch for rust, then it was Japanese, if you had more money and you wanted a car that seemed to last forever, you bought a Swedish car, and if you wanted something that the neighbours would envy and was mostly very well built, then it was German.

  28. The car industry suffered from national-champion thinking by the Government. JRT (JRMG would have been better) should have been split from Austin Morris – a specialist-car company and a volume car producer. This might have allowed the two companies to concentrate their thoughts on their respective markets, not all markets. That and all the other problems – like lack of investment, poor quality management, a massive market share. Putting Rover into the same company as its competitor (Jaguar) wasn’t good for Rover. Where does one start and where does one end?

    • Perhaps maybe the merger in 1968 should never have gone ahead. We’d probably still have Triumph as a British version of BMW and Rover as an alternative to Jaguar, who would have been the flagship of BMC. Possibly BMC would have needed to rationalise as its financial position was worsening in the late sixties, but I’m sure we’d still have Austin and MG as brands( Morris and Wolseley would have gone).
      Also it’s very likely with BMC and Leyland kept separate, Canley and Longbridge would have survived and continued to employ thousands and kept suppliers like Lucas in business. I’m sure there’s nothing more depressing than seeing a DIY shop and a housing estate on the site of a factory that once employed 10,000 people.

  29. Perhaps we should start the Aronline party. Our policies would include investment in infrastructure, technology and research. Unfortunately we would be too late to stop Brexit.

  30. Another problem that led to British Leyland/ Austin Rover’s decline was falling sales meant they had to cull the number of dealers. A cull during the mid seventies when many dealers were axed to cut costs and due to rationalisation of marques meant these were snapped up by the Japanese, whose sales were growing often at the expense of British Leyland. Similarly, further culls in the eighties and nineties saw many dealers go over to rival brands, and again new brands to this country like SEAT and Proton found plenty of new dealers. ( I do recall one former Austin Morris dealer locally lose his franchise in 1985, took on the new SEAT franchise, and is now one of the most successful SEAT dealers in Britain).
    It’s interesting to think how many former British Leyland dealers sell other marques now. Apart from B and H SEAT, Walkingshaw Brothers have a very successful Kia franchise, and the last one, Edgar and Son, sell Nissans, Hyundais and Suzukis from two very popular showrooms. Another moved on to Mazda in the early eighties, but later sold up and retired.

    • A few local family run ex-Rover dealers either switched to used cars, one was a Citroen franchise, but have now taken on the MG franchise, quite a few MG3s are getting sold now.

      • In my town, the Mitsubishi dealer (ex Nissan), started advertising MG3’s at cheap lease prices and now must have an MG Franchise too as their flags are on the forecourt. An MG3 & GS were recently on display at an indoor shopping mall in Sunderland. I’m starting to see a few more MG3’s on local roads

  31. It’s a shame MG Rover went bust in 2005 and sold out to SAIC with its weird Roewe (row-vee) and equally daft slogan Rong Wei (sounds jokingly like Wrong Way!).

    Not the best way for the company to go but when you’ve got old Honda platformed cars i.e. the 45 and 25, a flop of a supermini called the Cityrover based on an Indian Tata car, and luxury car the Rover 75 (which didn’t sell very well), it was inevitable that company would fold the way it did and the Phoenix Four didn’t help matters by not investing in new models and not updating the product range.

  32. In Europe, production capacity for motor cars is 120% of long-term demand, source: European Investment Bank and others, there is no place in the european market for the dead horse of Rover

  33. The seeds of Rover’s demise lie in the seventies, although the Phoenix Four certainly hastened its demise in the end. No other European carmaker in that decade saw its market share more than halve, its export market fall away, and develop such a negative reputation. Fiat might be the nearest contender with their rust ridden cars, but they were helped by protectionism in their home market and owning most of Italy’s car industry, rust wasn’t such a big issue in Mediterranean countries, and their cars being attractive and keenly priced. Otherwise British Leyland faltered and the malaise continued into the eighties, where sadly poor quality saw their market share fall further,and after a revival from 1988 to 1994, it was downhill again to the point MG Rover were dead in the water.

    • Most of BL’s rivals mad major overseas operations, whereas BL’s got sold or closed down. Fiat probably wouldn’t be here without their operations in the likes of Brazil and Eastern Europe

      • It’s certainly the case with VW & Renault having factories in various countries, with many other makes having assembly operations where it was viable.

      • Fiat probably made a lot of money licensing its designs to SEAT, whose cars were almost identical in the seventies, and were helped by the Italian government banning Japanese cars. Also in southern Europe rust wasn’t such an issue, which was the main reason people in northern Europe were wary of buying a Fiat.
        However, some very uninspiring designs in the nineties and early noughties like the Bravo and a reputation for poor quality saw Fiat, even in Italy, start to fall away and the company only survives by making many of its cars in low wage Poland and Serbia, and by basing its model range around the 500. ( No one is interested in the Punto).

  34. Fiat were always jinxed with their larger designs, & normally ended up having to drop a model & not replace it with each generation.

    • The Argenta was a complete flop, terrible build quality and rust saw sales dry up, and the Croma that replaced it, while better made, never sold in great numbers. Fiat were never taken seriously as a manufacturer of large cars, people saw them as an economy brand and their large cars struggled. However, the Croma was a bargain for people wanting a cheap large car and one was in regular use in Dumfries as a taxi in 1994.

        • I’d forgotten about the Marea, the D segment Fiat that was completely underwhelming, and then an attempt to revive the Croma name in the mid noughties that did nothing. Yet for all it rusted and wasn’t very well made, the 131/ Mirafiori used to be popular in the seventies and early eighties due to some very desirable twin cam models and keen pricing. Also the big 132, largely forgotten now, made an interesting alternative to a Princess or a 2 litre Cortina, with a powerful twin cam engine and plenty of kit for the money( PAS, five speed gearbox, electric windows, rare 40 years agon).

          • The 132 was faceifted into the Argenta in the early 1980s, which must have sold even less then expected in the UK after the Falklands conflict.

Leave a Reply