News : June 2005

MG-Lola takes class win at Le Mans

By KEITH ADAMS


Despite what you heard elsewhere, MG was at Le Mans, and managed to take a decisive class victory. (Picture: dailysportscar.com).

JUST in case anyone out there had been put under the impression that the MG name would not be appearing at this year’s Le Mans 24-hour race, it should be known that the Intersport Lola-AER didn’t just appear at the great race, but it took an important victory.

Sponsored by MG the Intersport Lola is also known at the MG EX264, and it is the latest in a long line of technologically advanced and aesthetically pleasing racecars to emerge from the Lola factory in Huntingdon – the latest in a line of MG Lolas to appear at the circuit at La Sarthe since the 2001 factory effort piloted by Mark Blundell and Anthony Reid. Developed in association with MG, RML and engine specialists Judd, the EX264 is based on the B05/40, itself a comprehensive redevelopment of the successful MG EX257 sports prototype. Eligible for the ACO LMP2 class at Le Mans, and also the Le Mans Endurance Series and the American Le Mans Series, the EX264 complies with all the latest regulations, and represents the way ahead in competitive LMP2 motorsport.

The MG V8 powerplant has been specially developed for the EX264 by Judd, and is unique to this application. It is mated to a Lola six-speed sequential gearbox with semi-automatic paddle shift system. Two starter motors are fitted for reliability, lightweight magnesium castings are employed extensively, and braking is by 355 mm diameter carbon discs. The EX264 is fitted with a fully-integrated computerised dash/data logger system with steering wheel mounted display, The military-specification wiring loom is installed directly to the inside of the monocoque for protection, access and reliability.

The cars took a 1-2 in the LMP 675 class, proving not only that MG and motorsport are synonymous. but that the company’s commitment to hospitality wasn’t unsupported by cars racing on the track…

We’ll add more about the MG Lola Le Mans cars in the future…


Is it really game over?

By KEITH ADAMS


MG TF design appears to be owned by SAIC…

THANKS to Nick Birse, an eagle-eyed member of the MG-Rover.org forums, it would appear that we can now surmise that MG Rover’s last hope for continued survival may have wandered out of the picture, never to return.

The reason for this statement comes down to the vexed issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and SAIC’s ownership of them. During the past few weeks, it has always been assumed that MG Rover continues to own the rights to the MG TF roadster, and this could be an ‘in’ for any prospective partner, attracted to the idea of taking on the production of this successful car, and re-establishing the MG marque.

However, it has now come to light that SAIC actually owns the IPRs for the MG TF and Rover 75 Tourer – two cars, thought previously to still be in the hands of the British. Although the patent has only just been granted to the Chinese, the document details say that the change of proprietor of the patent was filed on 11 March 2005. This puts it at about a month before MGR went into administration, thus backing up Autocar’s story that MGR had sold these cars to the Chinese, as a way of raising urgently needed funds in lieu of signing a Joint Venture (JV) deal.

The details are all in the public domain on the Patent Office’s website, and if you perform a search on SAIC, the details of ownership are laid bare (thanks to Dan Lockton for the links).

The results of the search can be revealed here: SAIC Search.

You can also see what MG Rover still owns (not a lot, but it does retain right to manufacture of the MG TF… toy): MGR Search.

Is it game over?


Peter Stevens tells it like it is…

By Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, The Independent (Reproduced with thanks to Sean O’Grady)


RDS Automotive Design Studio, based in Southam, Warwickshire, and a number of MGR design proposals including the RDX60 (foreground). (Picture: ITV)

SENIOR management of the collapsed MG Rover company were naive, profligate and allowed themselves to be plied with alcohol during failed rescue talks with representatives of Shanghai Automotive, according to a director. The regime of the so-called “Phoenix Four” was guilty of “dreadful conservatism” – including a failure to secure a deal with Fiat, it is alleged. Peter Stevens, Rover’s former consultant director of design, accuses the consortium of inertia and “the same old muddle you’d get in a corner hardware shop”.

The consortium wrongly focused attention on making a new medium-sized car, but there was no “soul-searching” to draw up a long-term strategy. “We were firemen really. We were rushing up and putting out fires wherever we found them around the company, never finding time to think of certainly a 10-year plan.”

Internal divisions and a reluctance to accept change in the market place also inhibited progress. Managers were more intent on defending their patch from people “down the corridor” than seeing off the competition abroad. Mr Stevens tells the story of a dinner in Shanghai where the hosts – “very sharp people” – were pretending to drink in order to gain an advantage over the British delegation.

In an interview for ITV1’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald, broadcast tonight, Mr Stevens said: “They weren’t drinking but they were doing all the play acting of being drunk and reeling about and it wasn’t really happening. And then after midnight it was to repair to the bar to begin negotiations. I thought it was crap quite honestly. It would be wrong to say they were slaughtered but the Chinese would have given themselves an advantage.”

He accuses management of tolerating “excessive” staffing levels: one man was employed to check whether there was sufficient space around car wheels so that snow chains could be fitted; another ensured cars would fit on to delivery trucks.

While Longbridge was producing around 125,000 cars a year with a 6,000-strong workforce, some companies can build half a million with the same numbers. Some £25m was poured into motor racing to no effect. Mr Stevens said MG Rover management was reluctant to do business overseas, but when they did so, they were lavish with expenses. The idea of getting up early and driving to Stansted for £9.99 flight to Italy was “absolutely anathema”.

He alleged that they preferred to fly from Birmingham where a flight to Bologna could cost £640.

He said senior managers had been “over-awed” before a meeting with Fiat that could have led to a joint venture to secure the Longbridge plant’s future. He said there seemed to be a “cultural barricade” around Birmingham and a reluctance to accept ideas from elsewhere. Employees seemed to think they had a “God-given right to have a job there.”

The allegations emerge within days of the company’s administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers, revealing that creditors owed £1.4bn were unlikely to salvage anything from it.

A spokesman for the Phoenix consortium said the directors were proud that they had managed to sustain 6,100 jobs and car- making in Longbridge for five years producing 800,000 vehicles. “The Shanghai Automotive deal promised an exciting future for MG Rover and we fought to the last moment to secure the partnership. It was tragic to lose when we were so close to success.


‘Cupboard bare’ at MG Rover

By MICHAEL HARRISON, Business Editor, The Independent

ADMINISTRATORS at MG Rover began the process yesterday of breaking up the failed car maker after telling creditors owed £1.4bn that they were unlikely to salvage anything from it.

Tony Lomas, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said time was running out to find a buyer for the company as a going concern and that agents had therefore been instructed to make preparations for the piecemeal sale of assets at its Longbridge plant.

“In the worst case, there will be zero cash left at the end of the day and creditors will get nothing,” Mr Lomas said. “We are planning to go for a break-up but if an interested party can get their act together quickly enough they can pre-empt that.”

The grim news, which makes a resumption of car production at Longbridge an even more remote possibility, was given to creditors at a meeting in Birmingham. Mr Lomas said that when the administrators arrived at MG Rover in April after the company’s collapse they discovered little left in the way of “viable or realisable” assets because many had already been sold off to keep the company going whilst joint venture talks continued with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

A total of 630 expressions of interest had been received but only nine of these were deemed credible and just three of those were for the company as a whole. Mr Lomas said that because of the high “holding costs” of retaining the sprawling Longbridge site, they could wait only another two or three months before commencing the break-up.

He cautioned that the value of the assets was likely to be significantly less than the £85m estimated by MG Rover’s owners and said that what proceeds could be raised were likely to be eaten away by other costs. PwC’s fees as administrator currently stand at £4m.

MG Rover’s biggest single creditor is Techtronic 2000, the master company set up by the four directors of Phoenix Venture Holdings (PVH) who bought Longbridge from BMW for a token £10 five years ago. Techtronic is owed £442m but has agreed to subordinate its claim to all others. Trade creditors are owed £102m, of which BMW is the biggest with a claim of £8.1m, whilst MG Rover’s pension fund is owed £325m.

The administrators said one of the major obstacles to finding a buyer had been the uncertainty over who owned the intellectual property rights to MG Rover’s 25 and 75 models and its Powertrain engine business. But Mr Lomas said SAIC, which bought the rights to the two models and the K-series engine last year for £63m, had offered to share the intellectual rights with a third party on an agreed basis.

PwC said it was more optimistic of finding a buyer for the Powertrain business and held out the prospect of a dividend for creditors of at least 5p in the pound. An outright sale of the Longbridge engine line to SAIC is under discussion and a team from PwC is flying to China next week to continue talks.

Many creditors demanded to know whether MG Rover had been trading whilst insolvent in the run-up to its collapse and there was anger that John Towers, the chairman of PVH, did not attend the meeting. He and his three fellow Phoenix directors have taken £40m from the company since 2000. Paul Snook, representing National Tyre Service, said Mr Towers – rather than a “stooge” – should be chairing the creditors’ meeting. He added: “There really was little information about Mr Towers. The guy has got to turn up and start answering some questions.”

John Alexander, whose components business Lander Automotive is owed more than £100,000 by MG Rover and Powertrain, said: “He [Mr Towers] would have had a lot of questions and it would have taken up most of the meeting.”


Government launches probe into company finances

By BBC Online

THE UK Department of Trade and Industry has launched a probe into the collapse of carmaker MG Rover after questions were raised about its accounts. The investigation follows the analysis of the Rover group’s accounts for the years up to 2003 by a watchdog body, the Financial Reporting Council.

Rover filed for bankruptcy in April with debts of £1.4bn and a hole in its pension fund of £415m.

More than 5,500 workers lost their jobs when Rover stopped operating. The government was criticised for not doing enough to help.

“People want to know what happened,” said Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson as he launched the investigation. The role of Phoenix’s owners has come under scrutiny as it emerged that they paid millions of pounds to themselves in pension benefits and bonuses despite Rover’s problems. Rover’s main pension scheme – which has more than 6,000 members – has a shortfall of some £415m.

“The public interest requires that the issues raised by the Financial Reporting Council and developments after 2003 when the last accounts were published be investigated by independent investigators,” Mr Johnson said.

“I have asked them to report to me as quickly as possible and in a form which will enable the report to be made public.”

There are still hopes of reviving some production, but analysts said that the chances of that happening are very slim. Companies and businesspeople from China, Iran and Russia have all been linked with a possible buyout of Rover, but to little avail. A report by administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has shown that Rover was losing £25m a month before it declared itself bankrupt. Creditors are expected only to get a small part of the money they are owed.

Rover’s creditors include car dealers, former owner Phoenix Venture Holdings, the VAT man, pension funds and BMW


Centenary Opportunity

By KEITH ADAMS

JUST a quick reminder to all that there are still seats availale at the Austin Centenary Celebration evening meal.

The dinner will be held on the evening of July 8, at the delightful Chateau Impney Hotel in Droitwich Spa. The dinner will be held in the Royal suite. Starting with a reception 6.30pm, the four-course dinner will commence at 7.30pm. Guests wil include Sir Stirling Moss, Tony Ball (BMC’s youngest marketing director, responsible for the launch of the Mini in 1959 and the Metro in 1980), Carl Chinn, Sir Digby Jones, and many other emenent figures from the company’s history.

Dinner costs £45 and places are rapidly disappearing. If you fancy joining what promises to be a very interesting evening, send payment to Tony Osborne (chairman of the Federation of Austin Clubs, Registers and Associations), 8, Maxstoke Close, Matchborough West, Redditch, Worcestershire, B98 0EJ. Tel: 07771-521886.

See you there!

For more information about the Centenary event, click on, www.austinmotor.co.uk.

Posted in: AROnline News
Keith Adams

About the Author:

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.

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