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News : October 2007

News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

The Sale Of Jaguar And Land Rover


JLR to be under new ownership by 2008?


Fight for Jaguar and Land Rover narrows
Louise Armitstead and Dominic O’Connell, The Sunday Times 28th October, 2007

INDIA’s Tata Group is set for a battle royal with One Equity over Jaguar and Land Rover, the two British marques that have been put up for sale by Ford. Second-round bids for the famous brands are due in tomorrow and City sources say the field, currently comprising six contenders, is likely to narrow quickly to just two.

Tata, headed by Ratan Tata, is expected to lead the race, but will face stiff competition from One Equity, the private-equity arm of American bank JP Morgan. The One Equity bid is being led by Jac Nasser, the charismatic former chief executive of Ford. All interested parties have toured the two companies’ plants and seen the new Jaguar XF, a model that will go on sale in March and is regarded as crucial to the marque’s future. City sources say the sale has been complicated by delays in striking future supply agreements with Ford, which provides engines to both marques, and by uncertainty over European Commission plans for a limit on CO2 emissions. The mooted limits would make life difficult for the companies’ new owner, as Jaguar and Land Rover models tend to have high carbon-dioxide emissions.

The sale of Jaguar and Land Rover is part of a radical reshaping of Ford, which is struggling to return to profitability in the face of crippling healthcare and pension costs and competition from foreign carmakers. Earlier this year it sold Aston Martin and it is expected to sell Volvo, the Swedish car group.


Ford weighs up rival offers for UK brands
By John Reed and Martin Arnold in London and Joseph Leahy in Mumbai, The Financial Times 30th October, 2007

Ford Motor is weighing up preliminary non-binding offers from Tata Motors and at least four private equity groups for Jaguar and Land Rover after Monday’s deadline. The Indian carmaker, alongside Cerberus Capital Management, TPG, Terra Firma, and One Equity Partners, is understood to have made offers for Ford’s two UK premium brands.

India’s Mahindra & Mahindra and buy-out group Ripplewood Holdings also made indicative bids for Jaguar and Land Rover in July, but it was not clear on Monday whether they would make second-round offers. Financial terms of the offers were not available on Monday, and none of the bidders nor Ford are commenting on the sale. Ford, which says it wants to sell the carmakers by the end of this year or the beginning of 2008, is now expected to whittle the bidders down to a shortlist in coming weeks. However, tougher credit markets have altered the conditions for its auction of the brands, as have signals of stricter carbon dioxide emissions standards for cars coming from the European Union.

Internal divisions within Ford’s executive ranks over the brands’ future are also complicating the sale, say people familiar with it. Tata is among the bidders asking the US carmaker to keep a large minority stake in the brands, whose large-engined cars face a serious regulatory EU threat. Last week, the European Parliament outlined a tougher-than-expected CO2 target of 125 grams per km it expects carmakers to reach by 2015.

Ford retained a minority stake in Aston Martin after selling majority control to a Kuwaiti-backed consortium this year. Its continued presence in Jaguar and Land Rover would allow the brands’ future owners to pool their vehicles with Ford’s lower-emission fleet when calculating the brands’ average emissions for regulatory purposes. However, Ford executives are divided on the sale. Chief executive Alan Mulally favours a clean break with the brands, but some of Ford’s European executives favour keeping closer ties with them amid signs that both are on the rebound.

Land Rover is profitable and selling record numbers of its vehicles this year, and even Jaguar is losing less money than projected.


MINI

Fiat and Mercedes plan tie-up
Hilton Holloway, Autocar 26th October, 2007

Fiat and Mercedes-Benz are in talks to develop a new range of small cars, according to industry reports. Despite strong indications over the summer that BMW and Mercedes were poised to announce a small-car deal, it now seems possible that Fiat could help the German manufacturer replace its unprofitable A- and B-class models.

Although it would not comment on the specifics of the Fiat talks, Mercedes’ parent company Daimler AG said that it was “ready in principle” to work with other car makers on “projects of mutual interest”. Mercedes’ interest is likely to be focused on the next-generation Fiat Grande Punto platform (which is long enough to replace the B-class) and Fiat’s small petrol and diesel engines.

This chassis could also underpin much-needed new models for the Smart brand, such as a replacement for the short-lived ForFour and the stillborn baby SUV project. Any deal with Fiat would be a blow to BMW, which ideally also needs a partner to develop a new Mini family for 2010 and beyond, and had been rumoured to be in talks with Mercedes itself.

With sales of the current Mini range unlikely to exceed 260,000 units, the unit cost of a car built on a unique platform will be higher than acceptable for a company dedicated to saving billions of euros over the next few years.


The SAIC Group/Roewe

GM to open lab for green cars
By Gong Zhengzheng, China Daily 30th October, 2007

US carmaker General Motors said yesterday it will open a research lab in Shanghai and work with its Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp to develop cars powered by alternative fuels for the world’s No 2 vehicle market. The GM Center for Advanced Science & Research, to be part of a new $250million GM campus in Shanghai, will look into developing alternative-fuel cars, including plug-in hybrids, bio-fuel and fuel-cell vehicles, Rick Wagoner, the group’s chief executive officer, said at a press conference in Beijing.

The first phase of construction will be completed late next year, according to Wagoner. The center is expected to employ 1,500 engineers and scientists when fully staffed. This plan will “accelerate research in the areas of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly automotive technologies, as well as alternative fuel pathways that are socially responsible, economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and technologically feasible”, he said. “We see China as being among the first markets and production sites for alternative propulsion systems – including the new flexible fuel, plug-in type of electric vehicles currently under development by GM.”

SAIC President Chen Hong said the firm’s production of electric-fuel hybrid vehicles under its own and GM brands and will reach 10,000 units by 2010. The plan comes as fuel prices in China are expected to increase sharply following hikes in world crude prices and a widely anticipated fuel tax next year. Many Chinese brands, including Chery, Geely and Chang’an, are also developing alternative-fuel vehicles.

Separately, GM and SAIC will jointly offer a $5 million grant in the next five years to research clean energy with Tsinghua University, China’s premier research institution based in Beijing, Wagoner said. GM, one of the top two market leaders along with Germany’s Volkswagen, said its China sales grew by 17.2 percent to 753,686 units in the first three quarters of this year.

Meanwhile, sales of all China-made vehicles surged by almost a quarter to 6.46 million units, according to industry data. Wagoner said China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest vehicle market in the next decade.

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NAC-MG’s first concept car

CHRIS CHAPMAN and CLIVE GOLDTHORP

Car Design News has recently reported on the 2007 China Automotive Design Conference, which was the first occasion on which Designers from many of the nascent Chinese OEMs had met to discuss the need for ‘independent innovation’ in Chinese automotive styling.

The China Automotive Design Conference was held in Nanjing, Jiangsu at the end of August and was attended by 140 design professionals from the likes of Dongfeng Motor, First Auto Works (FAW), SAIC Motor, Brilliance, Chang’an, Chery, Geely and Nanjing Automobile (NAC).

NAC’s Design Director, Li-Chih Fu, was one of several Designers to speak at the conference and, during his presentation; he revealed a full-size hatchback concept, which was, reportedly, inspired by the city of Nanjing’s symbolic ‘Pi Xie’ statue. Car Design News commented that Li-Chih Fu’s concept ‘demonstrated an interesting way of blending negative surfaces with stylistic curved edges to create a balance between Chinese decoration and modern solidity.’

Car Design News’ report gives no indication about whether the ‘Pi Xie Concept’ might be intended for production and, if so, whether any production version might have an MG badge. However, AR’s Editorial Team reckon that this concept does, at least, demonstrate that NAC appear to be developing products to succeed the MG-Rover-derived models currently being readied for production.

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

The Sale Of Jaguar And Land Rover: Queues form to buy expensive Land Rovers
By John Cranage, Automotive Correspondent, Independent

Land Rover is celebrating its best sales performance in 714 months of production as wealthy Russians and Chinese queue up to buy its most expensive models. The Solihull 4×4 specialist has been buoyed by figures showing that global sales rose by 34 per cent to nearly 26,000 units in September. The numbers show that the company, the world’s only specialist manufacturer of all-terrain vehicles, has not been affected either by uncertainty over ownership or the prospect of big tax rises on its products as a result of pressure from environmental campaigners.

But what effect the continuing sales boom will have on parent group Ford’s decision about whether or not to sell the company along with Jaguar cannot be estimated, one automotive industry expert said yesterday. The two West Midland luxury carmakers are on the market. Ford is expected to announce its decision on whether to press ahead with a sale or not either later this year or early next year.

‘The key to Land Rover is not so much volumes, but the fact that it is making a profit,’ the industry expert, who asked not to be named, said yesterday. ‘But Ford has had to bundle it up with Jaguar to make the sale of Jaguar, which it probably really does want to ditch, more attractive. The question is whether or not these latest sales figures will make Ford think again about a sale.

‘The glib answer is yes – but in reality the situation is much more complicated than that and ultimately they may just serve to make Land Rover and Jaguar a more attractive proposition.’ Figures published last week showed Land Rover making strong gains in the UK and the US, its two main markets, thanks mainly to appeal of the new second generation entry-level Freelander model which it builds at Ford’s Halewood factory on Merseyside. In Russia, though, sales rose by 105 per cent to 1113 units last month, while year-to-date sales were 94 per cent ahead at 8277.

China, a market that Land Rover entered only about three years ago, saw sales of 715 vehicles in September, a rise of 249 per cent. Over the first nine months of the year, sales were 102 per cent ahead at 4286 units. All four of Land Rover’s volume models are selling well in these markets, but demand is particularly high for high-specification, high-margin, variants of the flagship Range Rover and Range Rover Sport which compete with luxury cars from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Bentley and off-roaders such as the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne.

The mid-range Discovery and the smaller Freelander, meanwhile, are taking sales away from the likes of the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV4. Land Rover managing director Phil Popham said: ‘This is a great achievement and it’s always satisfying to break past records. We can now approach our 60th anniversary with confidence. I want to see the business move forwards responsibly, profitably and in a sustainable manner. We’re on track with plans to fit technology to improve the environmental performance of our cars and we’ve given a hint of new, exciting designs. A great future is shaping up.’

Meanwhile MINI was also celebrating record global monthly sales. BMW said it sold a total of 23,805 Minis in September, an increase of 31.2 per cent compared with the same month last year. It was the highest figure for a single month since the Oxford-built Mini went on sale in July 2001. It has put the brand 12.3 per cent ahead over the year so far with total sales of 164,891 units and on course to sell more than 220,000 by December 31.

Rolls-Royce, BMW’s second British brand, delivered 120 cars to customers last month, 60 per cent more than in September 2006. Year-to-date sales were 22 per cent ahead at 579.


Buyout firm would cut Jaguar capacity
By Danny Fortson, The Independent 9th October, 2007

Ripplewood Holdings, the New York buyout giant stalking Land Rover and Jaguar, would return the latter to its roots as a low-volume luxury car maker and seek to increase sales and manufacturing for both marques in emerging markets, with a special focus on China. If it wins the auction for the two groups, the buyout firm envisages abandoning Ford’s original ambition to make Jaguar into a volume luxury car maker. Instead, it would aim to produce between 60,000 and 75,000 cars per year; down from more than 100,000 it can produce at capacity now.

The private equity firm would seek to maintain current production levels at Land Rover. Thomas Stallkamp, an industrial partner at Ripplewood, said: ‘The opportunities in the rest of the world, on the Continent and in Asia have been underplayed. There is room to remix some of the sales in those markets that are clearly more favourable in terms of currency and profitability.’

The other bidders still vying for the two marques are TPG Capital, One Equity Partners, and India’s Tata Motors. Ripplewood has hired Sir Nick Scheele, the former chairman of Jaguar, to lead its bidding team. The firm has no plans to cut jobs in the UK. ‘We are very aware of the labour sensitivities in the UK,’ Mr Stallkamp said.


Marcos Engineering appoints administrator

Marcos Engineering Limited announced that it has entered Administration with a view to completion of existing work in progress. Marcos’ plan of dissolution will see the Company wind up its ongoing business activities, sell its assets and distribute proceeds and beneficial interests to shareholders and creditors as soon as practicable.

In reaching this decision the Company considered a number of factors including the Company’s current and future strategic and market opportunities and business prospects, limits on new capital from outside sources, increasing cost of ongoing capital and prevailing economic conditions.

Marcos was founded in 1959 and went into receivership in 2000. The Company was restarted in 2002, conducting business as an independent supplier of a new high performance family of hand built lightweight sports cars that provide a uniquely exhilarating driving experience. Despite mounting competition from companies with substantially greater financial, technical, distribution and marketing resources Marcos continued to develop its sports cars that received international acclaim.

As the cost of capital continued to climb and the potential for profit faded, the Company’s Board and management took steps to minimize product and operational costs while they investigated various strategic opportunities and engaged in discussions regarding lower cost distribution, alternate manufacturing and external capital transactions with potential business partners. After reviewing Marcos’s business prospects and potential opportunities, the Company came to the conclusion that Administration of the Company would have the highest probability of returning the greatest value to its shareholders and creditors.

‘Regrettably, despite the extraordinary efforts of our employees, suppliers and dealers, we simply could not attain a profit point, reduce our cost base or raise the necessary capital to sustain the business’, said Tony Stelliga, Managing Director. ‘My sincerest gratitude goes out to everyone that worked relentlessly to revive the Great British Sports Car Company one final time.’


The SAIC Group/Yuejin Group Merger.

US plans for MG revival now on indefinite hold
Paul Monies, The Oklahoman 10th October, 2007

A government-mandated consolidation of the Chinese auto industry has put on hold a project to build MG sports cars in Oklahoma, one of the dealmakers said Tuesday. But Norman attorney Marc Nuttle, who formed Oklahoma Global Motors LLC with China’s Nanjing Automobile Group Corp., said he still hopes the project will get a green light from the Chinese government by the end of the year. Nanjing is merging with larger rival Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

‘Right now, they’re in restructuring mode, and I don’t know what they’re going to do,’ Nuttle said. ‘They merged with Shanghai, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s not Oklahoma’s or the Chickasaw’s fault; that’s the state of international business.’

The MG auto plant was to be north of Ardmore on tribal land owned by the Chickasaw Nation and next to the Ardmore Airpark. The project was expected to create up to 500 jobs, including several in Norman and Oklahoma City. Nuttle stopped short of calling the MG deal dead. ‘They still contact me on a regular basis to let me know they’re still interested,” Nuttle said of his Chinese partners. “There’s nothing I can do to help them until they restructure the company.’

Nuttle said an upcoming Chinese Communist Party conference — which opens next week — may provide some clues to the direction of the restructuring effort in the Chinese automobile industry. There are more than 127 Chinese auto manufacturers, but the Chinese government wants just eight, Nuttle said. He said other possibilities for Ardmore wouldn’t be dismissed while the MG project is on ‘indefinite hold.’

‘We’re talking to other companies, and there are companies that would like to come here, but the MG brand was a key component to the business plan,’ Nuttle said. Nuttle made his remarks at Global Fusion Oklahoma, an international business conference being held this week in Oklahoma City.

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Jaguar’s X-TYPE facelifted

Autocar

Jaguar’s X-type saloon is set to receive a fresh look that mimics the styling of its big brother, the XJ.

The new 2008 X-type makes its debut at the Tokyo motor show later this month. It’s not just the styling that’s different, either; almost 500 components have changed in the car, and the 2.2-litre diesel will be available with an automatic gearbox for the first time. That should broaden the car’s appeal, especially as prices remain close to those of the current car.

But the X-type will no longer be available in America from March 2008, when the new XF saloon goes on sale. The smallest Jaguar has struggled to sell in the numbers required in the US, and as of December this year, production of US-model cars will stop. The new 2.2-litre diesel automatic will cost from from £22,500 for the saloon and £23,900 for the estate when the revised car goes on sale in the UK in March.

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

The Sale Of Jaguar And Land Rover

The sale of JLR is getting closer…


‘Serious bidders’ interested in Jaguar and Land Rover,
Birmingham Post 5th October, 2007

Some ‘very serious bidders’ have put in offers for Jaguar and Land Rover, Ford group chairman Bill Ford said yesterday. With the deadline for offers for the two West Midland luxury car marques now only weeks away, the Detroit-based group, which is fighting for survival in its home North American markets, has been encouraged by the response to proposals to sell JLR.

Mr. Ford gave no indication of when a deal, if any, is likely to be concluded, saying the process was ongoing. But he added: ‘We’ve got a lot of active interest. We are speaking to the bidders and we’re really encouraged by how much interest there has been by very serious bidders.’ It emerged a few days ago that Terra Firma, the private equity group led by City of London financier Guy Hands, had requested sale documents from Ford. Other PE bidders are Cerberus Capital Management, TPG, Ripplewood and One Equity.

Former Ford executives Sir Nick Scheele, Bob Dover and Jac Nasser are advising TPG, Ripplewood and One Equity respectively. Indian industrial group Tata, which owns steelmaker Corus in the UK, is being touted as a front-runner to take control of JLR. But Ford is believed to be reluctant to sell to an established manufacturer on the grounds it would be more likely to ‘lift and shift’ production abroad than a private equity owner.

The position of Volvo, the third surviving member of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group stable of luxury European brands following the sale of Aston Martin, is still unclear. Mr Ford said yesterday that the company was reviewing its options on Volvo and had not decided on whether to sell or not. He also said that Ford was ‘very prepared to get going’ in its talks with the United Auto Workers union on a new four-year contract. A deal to slash its crippling pension and healthcare legacy costs is vital if Ford’s survival plan, which has resulted in more than a dozen North American plants being closed along with the loss of thousands of jobs, is to succeed.

Its Detroit rival General Motors, which has faced the same the problems but which is further down the road to recovery, recently struck a cost-cutting new deal with the UAW. Ford is “still learning all the details” of the GM deal, ‘but the broad framework is certainly something we can work with’, Mr Ford said.

GM and the UAW agreed on the terms of a new deal that involves significant wage and benefits restructuring, as well as a commitment by the carmaker to invest in the US. The agreement also included the establishment of a trust, known as a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association, or VEBA, that will absorb tens of billions of dollars worth of retiree health care liabilities. Asked about the VEBA, Mr Ford said: ‘It’s a model we find very interesting. Obviously it’s something we will be discussing with the UAW.’


Ford extends bid deadline for Jaguar and Land Rover
Daily Telegraph 9th October, 2007.

By RUSSELL HOTTEN

Ford’s deadline for offers for its Jaguar and Land Rover divisions has slipped again, fuelling concern among potential buyers that they are spending millions on preparing bids despite getting no guarantee that the US car giant is determined to sell. Indicative offers for the two British marques were expected to be delivered by next week, but Ford has now given the private equity and trade buyers which have registered an interest until early next month to begin tabling bids.

While Ford has said that it is minded to dispose of Jaguar and Land Rover, some possible buyers have noted a lack of commitment. ‘It’s a slow process, perhaps too slow. It all costs money and time,’ said an adviser to one of the interested companies. Bill Ford, the US company’s chairman, said last week that some ‘very serious bidders’ had shown interest in Jaguar and Land Rover. But he declined to give any timescale about when, if at all, a sale could be agreed.

Several private equity firms, including Cerberus, TPG, Ripplewood, and One Equity, are looking at the British marques. Tata, the Indian conglomerate, was thought to be front-runner among trade buyers. However, there has been speculation that Tata only wants Land Rover, not Jaguar, and also that Ford is reluctant to sell to an established manufacturer. Of the private equity bidders, Ripplewood has the most automotive experience. It owns Honsel International Technologies, a supplier to Daimler, BMW, VW/Audi and Ford; and U-Shin, the Japanese supplier to Mazda and Suzuki. Other investments include automotive dealerships such as Asbury Automotive, the fourth-largest dealership group in the US, which sells Land Rovers and Jaguar cars.

Ripplewood’s Tom Stallkamp, a former president of Daimler, revealed to The Daily Telegraph recently that his firm has ambitions to grow the Jaguar and Land Rover brands in emerging markets such as China. He also said ‘Ripplewood would like to continue full operations in the UK’, which will please the trades unions worried about the two marques falling into the hands of private equity. “We have shown with our other automotive investments that we take a longer horizon,” Mr Stallkamp said.

Ford’s decision to push back its deadline may increase suspicion that the credit crunch has made life harder for private equity. But Mr Stallkamp said that “private equity has no trouble raising money for good assets” like Jaguar and Land Rover.


The Re-Launch Of MG.

MG gets a new web presence
Birmingham Post 9th October, 2007

A new online identity for legendary car brand MG has been unveiled. Birmingham-based design agency Clusta won a four-way tender to create a new website for the re-launch of the iconic sports car. The site has been rolled out in phases, the initial part going live in May and immediately attracting up to 35,000 visits every day. But, with the main bulk of the site launched to the public last week the number of hits is expected to rise even higher.

The initial phase formed a stepping stone between the old identity and the new one. Since May, both the corporate identity and the company have developed further, resulting in the need for phase two of the site. The second phase depicts MG’s brand new online identity – in turn derived from the company’s new corporate face. The site will feature details of the different vehicles on offer from the revitalised sports car manufacturer, with further features set to be added over time.

The site is built in Flash, a first for MG. According to Clusta, this was a bold but essential step by the company to move the brand on, through an experience focused site. The design firm says the new site will ensure that the user can engage with the product and immerse themselves in the MG brand, while still finding navigation simple and easily accessing the information on offer. A html mirror site is also being included to guarantee the site is available to all.

Matthew Clugston, creative director of Clusta, said: ‘MG has a great heritage but must portray itself as a modern and vibrant brand. We’re at the level where the web doesn’t limit our creative abilities, so the site will start working to re-educate people about the brand from the outset. We wanted a web environment that reflected the company’s new brand, was engaging and easy to navigate and had a modern feel. In addition to web design, we work extensively in video production, post production and 3D visualisation. Web and video are no longer distinct, so we often combine these skills in our rich media work, which is evident in the new MG site, to both engage the user and to better present information.’

MG marketing manager Peter Brooking added: ‘We regard our website as probably the key communication channel for us during the re-launch of MG in the UK – it allows us to keep potential customers and fans of MG up to date with developments as they happen. When we were looking to appoint a web agency, one of the key criteria was to ensure that they had a clear understanding of MG’s past and where we are going in the future. Clusta has fully met our requirements and developed a site with us that is fresh, exciting and very different from other car manufacturers.’

Clusta often works in collaborative arrangements with above the line agencies in order to fully serve the client. On the MG account, Clusta will work in conjunction with West Midlands-based agency Room 251.

Visit the new MG site at www.mg-uk.co.uk


The Return of TVR?

AUTOCAR.co.uk 8th October, 2007

TVR, the stalled Lancashire sports car manufacturer, is about to unveil plans to start building cars after 18 months in the wilderness — provided it can raise the cash. A revised but familiar-sounding recovery plan to assemble a mostly UK-based team of chassis and body suppliers, to utilize a stock of ready-built engines, and bring everything together in a final assembly operation at Bertone in Italy was revealed last week to a 60-strong UK meeting of dealers and potential investors from Europe, Asia and America.

Guests attended a seminar at the Midlands HQ of Ricardo, the engineering consultancy TVR has tasked with converting its 4.0-litre slant-six engine to 400 bhp, Euro 5 specification. They heard presentations from TVR’s managing director, David Oxley, from Ricardo, from trim suppliers IM Kelly and from Bertone, who view the TVR business as a way of starting to fill an assembly plant which once built up to 30,000 cars a year.

The following day they visited Vauxhall’s Millbrook test track to sample three ’07 spec TVRs which the company wants to make in Italy until revised models come on stream in 2009. Delegates were told the company aimed to be selling cars again early next year, with production targets of 2000 units in 2008 and 5000 before the end of the decade.

It’s no surprise that many elements of the recovery plan are familiar: TVR Engineering is still owned by Russian Nikolai Smolenski who acquired it for a reputed £14 million in 2004 but struck financial trouble last year when it was forced from its long-time Blackpool HQ. Smolenski briefly lost the company but soon re-purchased it from administrators.

Around the turn of the year, he apparently failed to complete a move to sell the whole operation to a pair of Florida-based car-trade millionaires, Adam Burdette and Jean Michel Santacreu, though the pair were present at last week’s meetings and are believed still to be interested in selling the TVRs in the US, where they estimate annual demand at 2000 units-plus.

Though much of the plan echoes Smolenski’s pre-upheaval aims, while TVR has been out of the news it has done a deal with Lancashire-based Multipart, a components supply giant which is already supplying dealers with much-needed parts. Multipart is understood to be storing some important TVR properties — jigs, moulds, plans and as many as 80 ready-built engines — which were previously at the old Blackpool headquarters in Bristol Avenue. TVR’s plan is, as before, to establish a head office and design centre in Lancaster.

Smolenski, believed to be living in Vienna, did not attend last weeks’ gatherings and attendees were given few details of how the new company would be financed. But it is believed a decision on whether to proceed with the plan will be made by the middle of October, and TVR’s managers want contracts with major suppliers to be signed by the end of the month, so production can be re-started quickly. The big question-mark is over financing, and for now, no-one is supplying an answer.


Marcos goes into administration

AUTOCAR.co.uk 8th October, 2007

British sports car firm Marcos Engineering has entered administration. The company has said that it intends to complete existing work in progress, but it will wind up the business and sell its assets. Marcos was founded in 1959 by Jem Marsh and Frank Costin, initially building cars with a composite chassis and a lower body made from plywood. It went into administration in 2000, before being revived by entrepreneur Tony Stelliga in 2002.

Under Stelliga, Marcos developed the new TSO and GT models, powered by a Corvette LS6 engine. Despite much critical acclaim for the new car on initial drives, Marcos reckoned the ‘continuing cost of capital’ means that the potential for profit has faded, and therefore decided that administration was the best way of returning value to the company’s shareholders.

‘Regrettably, despite the extraordinary efforts of our employees, suppliers and dealers, we simply could not attain a profit point, reduce our cost base or raise the necessary capital to sustain the business,” said Stelliga. My sincerest gratitude goes out to everyone that worked relentlessly to revive the great British sports car company one more time.’

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MINI

MINI heads for the hills
Auto Express

It’s not only Triumph that’s aiming to put Britain on the map for small cars. MINI is set to head into uncharted territory in 2009 with an off-road evolution of its supermini – tipped to be badged the Monte. Based on the recently launched Clubman, the newcomer is described by company insiders as a sports acti­vity vehicle, and it has been pencilled in to make its world debut at the Paris Motor Show next September.

While it’s front-wheel drive only, the car will sport a series of modifications to adapt it to the rough stuff. As well as offering tall suspension, the Monte will be fitted with a tough off-road bodykit, and will also be the first MINI ever to be fitted with five doors – a feature that’s likely to have an enormous impact on the model’s practicality. Engine details are still scarce, but a source told Auto Express that the car will be available with a choice of 1.6-litre petrol and 1.4-litre diesel units. Meanwhile, prices are expected to start at around £2000 more than the Clubman.

A larger diesel powerplant is also under review, although this is likely to be reserved for a flagship variant. To ensure the new model’s 0-60mph performance is matched by MINI’s green credentials, parent firm BMW is promising to develop an enhanced version of the Efficient Dynamics package that is already available on the current machine.

As well as featuring stop-start engine technology to help reduce fuel use in stationary traffic, this ser­ies of modifications incorporates an ultra-efficient gearbox and a regenerative braking system. Electric motors have been discounted, although BMW has not ruled out the idea of tuning the new car to run on biofuels.

The arrival of the Monte is a key moment for the MINI brand, as it rep­resents the end of development of the second generation of the sup­er­mini. At the moment, the manufacturer has no plans to introduce any other variants of the MINI family, and will focus instead on bringing special editions of its existing cars to showrooms – including a high-performance John Cooper Works version.

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Triumph TR is back!

Auto Express


Picture: Auto Express

Auto Express can exclusively uncover exciting plans by BMW to bring back one of Britain’s best-loved marques – Triumph is on to a winner! Last week, BMW announced its plans for the future. Part of this strategy was the introduction of the long-awaited SUV version of the MINI – but bosses also described why they are aiming to expand the company with new brands.

Despite speculation that Jag­uar, Land Rover and Volvo are in the frame as targets for acquisition, our sources have suggested that BMW will add to its portfolio by reviving a classic badge – and Triumph is top of the list. The historic British marque, which the maker took over when it bought MG Rover in 1994, would be a clear choice to market a rival for the new, Chinese-owned MG TF roadster.

Our pictures reveal what a modern Triumph car could look like, taking its styling inspiration from the classic TR4. Just as the new MINI’s design was heavily influenced by the Sixties classic, a reinvented Triumph would be a retro remake. BMW is committed to launching more premium models as it bids to gain a bigger slice of the most lucrative areas of the new car market. And these pictures show how an upmarket two-seater could offer a premium alternative to the Mazda MX-5. With a raft of class-leading engines and platforms in the BMW stable, the roadster would be a force to be reck­oned with. However, there are obstacles to overcome before any Triumph car could be built.

One problem may be Triumph the motorcycle manufacturer. The firm confirmed the car and motorbike brands are separately owned. A spokeswoman for the firm told us: “BMW owns the rights to Triumph Cars, which is entirely separate from Triumph Motorcycles. We are therefore not privy to any activities they may be planning and are unable to comment”.

As well as using the household name to mar­ket a new roadster, BMW would benefit from having Triumph models to test its low-weight mat­erials and new tech­nologies before using them on mainstream cars. But bosses will be watching with interest Audi’s relationship with the Austrian motorbike maker KTM, which has already led to the pro­duction of the X-Bow track-day car.

In a recent statement, chairman of the board of management at the blue propellor, Norbert Reithofer, said: “The BMW Group explored all the options for future growth during the strategic review, including potential acquisitions or the creation of a fourth brand. However, this would require the new automotive brand to be a perfect fit for the company.”

No official comment has been made about the Triumph project, but British car fans can expect to hear more on the ambitious plans by the end of the year.


AR Comment:

We’ve fired shots at BMW, MINI and Triumph on several previous occasions, most notably in January 2006, when we heard that BMW’s Design Works studio had been rendering Triumph roadster schemes. In the past, the situation was that the German company has been tempted to look at a Triumph revival, but each time, concluded that the return on the investment was not worth it.

However, with the recent unveiling of future product plans, the need to expand the lower end of the range in order to bring down CO2 averages, and to expand the MINI franchise and stop dealers needing to rely in a single marque dealer network, the Triumph plan could make sense.

We’ll be watching this one with interest…

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MG franchise for Wilcox of Wickwar

CLIVE GOLDTHORP


Some of AE Wilcox’s fine BMC>MGs…

NAC MG (UK) Limited are currently recruiting dealers in preparation for the re-launch of the MG TF. However, the recent confirmation that A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited of Wickwar, near Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire are to be awarded an MG franchise really caught our eye at Austin-Rover.Co.UK because the company’s association with the BMC>MG story dates back to the 1930s.

A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited’s business was originally founded in 1924 and first became an Austin dealership in c.1936. The business retained the successor franchises for an unbroken period of almost seventy years until MG Rover Group Limited went into administration in April, 2005. The business was started by Albert Wilcox whose son, Roy, succeeded him and whose two grandsons, Tim (45) and Jon (48), are the company’s current Directors.

However, what really underlines Tim and Jon’s commitment to BMC>MG is the successful strategy which A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited adopted after MG Rover Group Limited’s administration. Tim and Jon both believed that there would still be a latent demand for MGs and Rovers and identified a niche for their company to exploit. A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited’s proactive approach has resulted in the company selling more than 300 new MGs and Rovers (sourced from Capital Bank plc, PwC and other former MG Rover dealers) since April, 2005 and has enabled the company to recoup at least some of the losses caused by MG Rover Group Limited’s demise.

The company’s well-targeted national advertising campaign in Telegraph Motoring generated sales to customers from as far afield as Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne while one of a batch of six left-hand drive cars, an MG ZR, was even sold to a customer in Slovakia! Tim has just sold a black 07/57 MG ZT 260 V8 which he believes to be one of the last two to be registered but still has an MG TF 135, a Rover 45 1.4 GLi SVP and a Rover 25 Commerce 2.0 Turbo Diesel van available for 07/57 registration.

Tim and Jon are still actively buying used late model MGs and Rovers and selling them on a nationwide basis. Indeed, one customer recently left his home in Norwich at 3.00am and was in Wickwar for 8.00am in order to collect his 05/55 MG ZR! The two brothers have also acquired the parts stocks of fifteen to twenty former BMC>MG dealers during the last two decades and, additionally, purchased a substantial parts inventory from MG Rover Group Limited’s Administrators so are now keen to expand A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited’s existing mail order parts supply business. The two Directors also intend to retain the company’s XPart AutoService centre status and are developing a niche as an MG ZT 260 V8/Rover 75 V8 service specialist.

A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited was awarded a Citroen franchise in January, 2007 and, subject to the obtaining of Planning Permission, Tim and John now aim to re-develop the company’s second site in Wickwar for Citroen within the next two years. However, in the meantime, the brothers currently expect the company’s new MG franchise to become operational in early 2008 although, like all other BMC>MG enthusiasts, they are monitoring developments in China with considerable interest!

Tim and Jon have both been part of the BMC>MG story since their childhood and are confirmed BMC>MG enthusiasts with a collection of classics which include the following cars:

c.1961 Austin A35 Grey, one owner with the original Bill of Sale and brochure!
1961 Land Rover LWB/Petrol, one owner.
1969 Mini Cooper Whitehall Beige/White in original condition but in need of some restoration.
1969 Mini Cooper Island Blue/White – an on-going restoration project.
1973 Triumph GT6 Mk2 Brown, 91,000m.
1974 Mini Clubman Orange, 30,000m, one owner and originally supplied new by A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited.
1980 Mini 1275GT Orange, 43,000m, one family owner from new.
1980 Austin Allegro Vanden Plas Brown, 28,000m – one of the last sold!
1982 Mini Pick-up White, one owner.
1996 Mini Cooper 35 Green/White, No.1/200, 41miles and Waxyol-treated from new with all the paperwork!

Tim and Jon also have a 1929 Standard, a 1930s Wolseley 15 and Triumph Roadster similar to the one used in the “Bergerac” TV series which are also awaiting restoration but, unsurprisingly, none of the above vehicles are for sale!

For more information, go to: www.aewilcox.co.uk/wilcoxusedcarscompletelist.htm

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

The Sale Of Jaguar And Land Rover

Jaguar and Land Rover move closer towards life outside the protective bosom of the Ford Premier Automotive Division. We’re still no closer to finding out the identity of the companies’ next owners, though…


Automotive News Europe 1st October, 2007
New day nears for Jaguar-Land Rover, by James Franey
Tata and private equity giants are among those with a chance to take over British brands

One of India’s biggest automakers and some of the largest global private equity firms are considering bids for Jaguar and Land Rover. Ford Motor is expected to select the buyer early next year.

During a Web cast from the IAA in Frankfurt September 12, Ford Executive Vice President Lewis Booth said the automaker needs the money and the relief that a sale would bring. Worldwide, Ford lost $12.7 billion (€9.2 billion) last year. Ford CEO Alan Mulally said a priority is fixing the automaker’s struggling North American operations, which last year lost $9.9 billion.

Analysts say potential buyers will need to cut costs further and make large capital investments to restore Jaguar and Land Rover to health and make both brands competitive. While Land Rover made a €144 million profit last year, Jaguar continues to lose money. Last year, it lost €380 million. The year before, it posted a €787 million shortfall.

Here is a look at some of the companies that are considering a bid or are rumored to be thinking about it.

Cerberus

Cerberus Capital Management has not confirmed an interest in Jaguar and Land Rover. However, media reports and analysts say the firm is interested. If it did purchase the two British premium brands, Land Rover could share platforms with Chrysler’s Jeep brand. Earlier this year Cerberus purchased 80.1 percent of the Chrysler group from DaimlerChrysler for $7.4 billion.

‘Jaguar and Land Rover would make a nice bolt-on to Chrysler as they both operate in segments where Chrysler doesn’t,’ said Phil Dunne, vice president at AT Kearney Consulting, London. ‘The two brands would also benefit from being part of a large automaker, [providing] greater buying power and an extended distribution network.’

But Dunne doubts whether Cerberus has sufficient management resources to run another automaker so soon after the purchase of Chrysler.

One Equity Partners

One Equity Partners is interested in Jaguar and Land Rover, according to news reports. One Equity Partners, however, did not confirm whether it pursuing the brands. One Equity Partners is the private equity arm of the US investment bank JP Morgan and manages $5 billion of investments. Former Ford Motor CEO Jacques Nasser is a managing director.

Nasser set up Ford’s Premier Automotive Group in 1999, a subsidiary that oversees the US automaker’s premium brand operations. PAG includes Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Tom Donnelly, professor of automotive business at Coventry University, central England, said any private equity buyer will need Ford to retain an interest in the business so Jaguar and Land Rover can access the US automaker’s technology.

Ripplewood

Ripplewood, a US equity firm, has connections with the automotive industry. The company owns Honsel, a metal castings supplier to BMW, Audi and Volvo. It also has former Chrysler Vice Chairman Tom Stallkamp on its payroll. According to Ripplewood’s Web site, Stallkamp is lead director of Baxter International, a global health care company. Additionally, former Jaguar CEO Nick Scheele is advising Ripplewood on a Jaguar-Land Rover bid.

Stephen Cheetham, a London-based automotive analyst at Bernstein Research, said that Scheele would bring credibility to the Ripplewood bid but argued that Jaguar is simply too small to compete in the premium car segment.

‘Even with the leverage of Ford technology, it had a very difficult time,’ said Cheetham. ‘I struggle to see how Ripplewood could put a deal together. The ongoing cash spend needed to make Jaguar competitive suggests it is not viable as a stand-alone private equity investment, except perhaps as an asset-stripping operation.’

Tata Motors

Tata Motors is part of the Tata Group, an Indian conglomerate that also has interests in steel and telecommunications.

Tata’s automotive division is the second-largest car manufacturer in India, holding a 16.5 percent share of the passenger car market there. Tata posted a profit after tax of 19.13 trillion rupees (about €344 million) in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2007. In a television interview in August, Chairman Ratan Tata said he wanted Jaguar and Land Rover because the brands would give his company a global presence and end its reliance on one economy, India.

Tata Motors sold 580,280 vehicles worldwide in the latest financial year. Worried about the potential sale to Tata is the Unite union, representing 19,000 Jaguar and Land Rover workers in the UK. If the brands are sold, Unite wants guarantees that jobs will not be moved to India.

TPG Capital

A TPG Capital spokesman said that TPG has started due diligence on both brands, but it refused to elaborate on how the bid process was progressing. TPG has never owned a car company, but the firm did turnaround Ducati, an Italian motorcycle brand. It invested $475 million in Ducati over a 10-year period. TPG sold Ducati in February 2006 to an Italian private equity firm, Investindustrial Holdings.


Birmingham Post 1st October, 2007
New bidder in race for Land Rover and Jaguar
Another private equity bidder has emerged in the race to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. Terra Firma, the group led by City financier Guy Hands, has requested sale documents from the American carmaker. Reports said it has also carried out some due diligence on a possible bid for the two luxury carmakers which together employ 15,000 people in the Midlands.

Ford, which is fighting losses of $12.7 billion last year, said it will make a decision on their sale by the end of the year. Terra Firma declined to comment yesterday. The company is seen is seen as having its hands full following its £5.8 billion acquisition of EMI, and it is uncertain whether it will bid. Other private equity bidders include Cerberus Capital Management, TPG, Ripplewood Holdings and One Equity Partners.

TPG, Ripplewood, and One Equity are being advised by former Ford executives Sir Nick Scheele, Bob Dover and Jac Nasser. Indian industrial groups Tata and Mahindra & Mahindra are also thought to be looking at launching bids for Jaguar and Land Rover. Ford is expected to ask for indicative offers next month, although it is thought the interested buyers are seeking a firmer commitment the Dearborn firm will sell Jaguar and Land Rover before they commit more money to due diligence.

An industry source said: ‘There is a feeling among some of the bidders that Ford is not giving all the information they could. It certainly seems to be taking a while. Maybe Ford won’t want to sell, Land Rover is doing very well and Jaguar has a better control on its costs.’

Land Rover is thought to have enjoyed bumper sales in September and is on course for a record sales year – helped by the successful launch of entry model Freelander 2. ‘People are wondering whether Ford intends to sell after all. Maybe the new chief executive [Alan Mulally] came in and saw the historic results and sees companies which are not successful and facing problems. But now these businesses are not doing badly at all. Ford says it wants to sell these businesses by the end of the year, but they do not seem to be particularly energised to do so.’

Ford has said it has made no final decision on whether to sell the two companies, while it is also exploring options for its Volvo brand. But it did say a sale was probable when it reported its second quarter sales in July. Bidders will be watching a round of wage negotiations at Land Rover which are due to take place next week which may give some indication of the workforce’s flexibility on achieving productivity gains.

A spokesman for Ford said: ‘We are not confirming names or numbers of interested parties, but we have been pleased with the number and quality of interested parties.’


Financial Times 1st October, 2007
Tata and Jaguar
At a recent awards ceremony in Mumbai for Indian companies investing in the UK, the Tata Group won ‘Investor of the Year’. That is little wonder. Cash-rich Tata, one of India’s largest private conglomerates, has already done Britain a service by taking over and promising to rejuvenate steelmaker Corus. Now it is considering acquiring another struggling legacy company – Jaguar, the lossmaking marque being sold alongside Land Rover by Ford.

Tata has the estimated $3bn required to buy Jaguar and Land Rover. The group’s automotive unit, Tata Motors, India’s third largest carmaker, is virtually debt-free after stripping out its vehicle finance business. The problem is how such an acquisition fits with Tata’s strategy of developing low-cost cars for emerging markets. Tata already faces challenges with a project to develop the world’s cheapest passenger vehicle, the ‘one lakh car’. This will retail at about $2500. But rising raw material costs are hampering the project.

Tata is also fighting market share declines in its domestic car business. Analysts worry that consumers are growing tired of Tata’s ageing models and sales service – the group ranked at the bottom of JD Power’s Asia Pacific 2007 India sales satisfaction index study. This is not a great starting point for acquiring two top luxury brands. But the British marques would give Tata greater international distribution, a broader product range and might help enhance its customer service skills.

The Tata group has one of India’s most capable management teams. It has a good record with other deals, such as Tetley Tea in 2000. Even so, investors seem unhappy with a Jaguar takeover – Tata Motors’ shares have underperformed the market since talk of the deal first surfaced. Winning awards for investment is one thing; turning a profit is another. Perhaps Tata should hit the brakes on Jaguar while it still can.


The Economic Times
Jaguar, Land Rover Tatas’ major client says a group firm
Indian corporate conglomerate Tatas’ takeover bid for Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR), the UK brands of the American auto giant Ford, may be still hanging in balance, but the group enjoys a long and close relationship (about four-year old) with the target company.

“JLR is one of our most important strategic clients,” said David Myers, Chief Financial Officer of INCAT Ltd, a UK-based Tata Technologies company engaged in providing engineering and design services primarily to automotive and aerospace industries. We have over 200 clients in the UK and JLR is certainly one of the most important among them,” Myers told a group of visiting Indian journalists here

While declining to comment on the intended takeover bid for JLR by Tata Motors, another group company, Myers said the relationship was close to four years old. We have helped them (JLR) with designing software for their portfolio and currently we have a team of about 60 INCAT engineers working at JLR,” he added.

Earlier yesterday, Tata group’s UK-based subsidiary Tata Ltd Managing Director S A Hasan had said the JLR deal was very much in the offing and the group was quite serious about it. Incidentally, Myers said Tata Motors is also INCAT’s biggest customer across the world. Another Tata group company and the biggest IT firm in India, TCS, also shares some of the product offerings from the INCAT stable, Myers said.

“There have been occasions when we have worked with TCS. It is also one of our biggest competitors in the market as it has also been providing some similar products and services, INCAT CFO said.


The SAIC Group/Yuejin Group Merger.

Putting the brakes on SAIC/NAC specualtion…


SAIC Group Press Release 25th September, 2007

On September 25th, SAIC made a statement through their listed company, dismissing erroneous reporting in the article ‘Co-operation deal-signing in October, NAC waits as SAIC compiles evaluation report’ published by ’21st Century Economic Report’.

SAIC stated SAIC formed a taskforce with the Yuejin Group, the parent company of NAC, they had discussion based on the ‘Letter of Intent on Comprehensive Collaboration’ signed on July 27th this year, and no definitive plan has been set, and there is no such plan to sign a technical collaboration agreement at the end of this month. SAIC’s assessment on NAC is still underway, and the timetable for auditing, assessment and other tasks has not be confirmed. Topic regarding the value of the assets was not mentioned in the discussion. The company does not hold any undisclosed information that should be disclosed.

SAIC wishes to remind the public that the Shanghai Stock Exchange website is the website appointed by them as official channel of press release and other information, as well as the newspaper ‘Shanghai Stock News’, ‘China Stock News’ and ‘Stock Times’.

Source: finance.sina.com.cn/stock/t/2…01688405.shtml


MINI

Motor Authority 30th September, 2007
BMW and PSA to end joint engine development?
Unlikely bedmates BMW and the PSA Peugeot Citroen Group are breaking up – or at least asking each other for some space. The two companies had joined forces in recent years to produce a range of 1.4L to 1.6L motors, powering BMW’s second-generation MINI and cars from Peugeot and Citroen. The venture was originally intended to help the auto makers to improve engine technology in the fiercely competitive compact car segment, while saving money by sharing development costs.

BMW development executive Klaus Draeger recently told a German industry publication that cooperation with PSA was effectively ended. This news comes despite plans in late 2006 to evaluate the expansion of joint engine development efforts. Despite the success of the motors spawned by the joint venture, the engines were quite expensive to produce according to PSA boss Christian Streiff.

This summer, Mercedes proposed a closer working relationship with BMW, especially with engine technology. BMW hasn’t agreed to the partnership, however, and with the PSA deal now out of the picture, it looks like BMW will be developing the lion’s share of future engines on its own.

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SMC now taking orders for the TF…
…as the LE is caught testing at Millbrook

MG Enthusiast

Long-time MG Rover supporters, and one of the first dealer networks to establish a relationship with NAC-MG, SMC Motors, is now taking orders for the TF. According to its new website, ‘Orders can be placed now for delivery in the first six months of 2008.’ This all-but confirms our previous story concerning the launch delays…

Although no prices are being quoted currently, specifications are certainly competitive, and to bolster consumer confidence, the TF is being offered with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty.

Caught on video and posted on You Tube is a development MG TF LE 500 undergoing testing at the Millbrook proving ground’s small handling circuit. The car in question is probably one of the pre-production batch that has been produced at Longbridge in anticipation of ramping up to a full production run early next year. Either way, it’s an interesting find, and it clearly shows there’s poise in that chassis.

For more information, visit the SMC website.

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Kevin Howe unearthed

KEITH ADAMS

FOR all those who wonder where the MG Rover management team that ended up being collectively known as the ‘Phoenix Four’ have got to, we’ve some interesting news for you – Kevin Howe, MG Rover’s controversial Managing Director – and chief architect of the questionable styling of the RDX60 concept – has surfaced in the USA.

From the moment it became clear that MG Rover’s future was about to implode, Kevin Howe became the most notable member of the company’s management to disappear from view. Readers with long memories will recall that, during the fateful week in April 2005 when MG Rover fell into administration and the government handed over a temporary £6.5m loan to keep Longbridge ticking over, Kevin Howe was holidaying in the USA… and he made no effort to return here and face the music.

Since then, it emerged that Kevin allegedly made a number of questionable decisions during his time managing the company, not least choosing the RDX60 styling scheme that the Peter Stevens styling team had submitted as a deliberate lame duck. Ex-Longbridge workers who do chose to go on the record about Kevin have been less than complementary – one engineer describing MGR under his rule as being a case of ‘Lions being led by donkeys…’

In a recent blog by Paul Stowe, a fascinating insight into his character emerged. He recalled, ‘I remember flying back from Mumbai with Kevin Howe – I travelled in Economy, his Directors travelled in Business and he went on his own in First Class! We arrived at Mumbai airport to long and arduous queues, Mr Howe decided that the Crew channel was shorter and barged there way into the departure lounge – leaving the rest of us to tackle the Indian authorities.

‘Finally on the plane, one of our team became ill somewhere over middle Europe, in his attempt to make the toilets; he fell and smashed his glasses – leaving a shard of glass piercing an eyeball. Concerned, the flight attendants called for medical support. Kevin perturbed by the ensuing chaos decided to take a look for himself. On hearing the Doctor’s call to land as quickly as possible, Kevin demanded that the flight continued to its destination. On questioning the patient, the Doctor could see that the plane was not landing anywhere else but Heathrow! Kevin’s whispered words to the patient gave him one option… not comfort.’

Kevin also proved fast and loose with the careers of those working under him – with one hard pushed member of the PR team once telling us that if one difficult decision couldn’t be met… they would be fired. Just like that.

Rumours of Kevin’s whereabouts have been circulating for some time, but AR can now exclusively reveal that he’s now working in the USA. Having earned more than £1m during his time in MGR management, Kevin has bought an exclusive furniture sales outlet in Naples, Florida under the name Posh Space. Our informant joked, ‘I couldn’t help but laugh when the now de-bearded Howe told me… was he trying to cash in on Posh and Becks in some bizarre way?’

As well as being in the furniture business, Kevin’s allegedly building a new property in Naples. ‘A million dollar pad, for someone who wasn’t afraid to splash is cash’, as our informant relates. Paul Stowe recently told us that Kevin’s family is still in the UK, ‘His wife still uses the Porsche Cayenne to drop the kids off at school’.

An interesting financial contrast to the £2800 redundancy that the Longbridge workers all received.

To contact Posh Space:
Posh Space
5002 Tamiami Trail North
Naples, Florida, 34103
Tel: (239) 261-5532
Fax: (239) 261-7403
Email: poshspace@poshspace.net

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SsangYong Wz:
MG’s potential BMW Concept CS/Gran Turismo contender?

CLIVE GOLDTHORP

THE Jaguar XF and MINI Clubman were clearly the stars of last month’s Frankfurt Motor Show in the eyes of most BMC>MG enthusiasts. However, AR’s Editorial Team believes that the European debut of the SsangYong Wz concept might just have given us our first glimpse of a new MG flagship to compete with BMW’s recently confirmed Concept CS/Gran Turismo.

Shanghai Automotive Group Company Limited (Shanghai Auto) has a controlling 51 per cent stake in SsangYong Motor Company (SsangYong). SsangYong and Shanghai Auto’s parent company, SAIC Motor Corporation Limited (SAIC Motor/Roewe), are jointly developing five platforms, five engines (two diesel and three petrol) and a total of thirty models for launch between 2008 and 2011.

SsangYong say that Wz stands for ‘World Class, World Standard, World Premium Zenith.’ The Wz is a fraction longer than the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class but SsangYong describe the car as a ‘sports sedan’ which demonstrates the company’s ‘will to manufacture a premium large-sized sedan that can compete with world class luxury sedans in the global market based on quality and performance with cutting edge technology.’

A number of Automotive Industry pundits have implied that SsangYong’s aspirations for the Wz might be a tad ambitious. However, SsangYong and SAIC Motor clearly intend the Wz to define the standards for the other models currently under development and the concept features a 3.6 V6 GDi twin turbo engine producing 361bhp, All Wheel Drive mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with a manual override, a Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), self-levelling Electronic Air Suspension (EAS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and the Around Monitoring System (AMS) – this last feature uses camera sensors to identify obstacles around the vehicle when parking and entering road junctions.

SAIC Motor’s parent company, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (Group) (SAIC Group), and NAC MG’s parent company, Yuejin Motor (Group) Corporation (Yuejin), are continuing negotiations which may well result in an MG Roewe merger and will, no doubt, have identified the need for a combined ‘SAIC MG’ to devise a completely integrated Brand Development Strategy and Future Model Programme with some urgency.

Austin-Rover.Co.UK recently interviewed NAC MG’s former Quality Director, Paul Stowe. Paul described the two options for brand development rumoured to be under consideration and favoured the suggestion that ‘SAIC MG’ should retain the Roewe brand in China and focus on the re-launched MG marque internationally. MG certainly has a higher global profile and greater international potential than either Roewe or SsangYong so there must, at least, be a chance that the SsangYong Wz will be wearing MG badges when the final production version goes on sale in Europe.

However, a merged “SAIC MG’s” brand portfolio would not only include the extant brands of MG, Roewe and SsangYong but also the dormant, NAC MG-owned, brands of Austin and Sterling. Austin-Rover.Co.UK’s Editor first raised the prospect of a ‘Chinese Leyland’ some months ago and the Editorial Team now reckons that an ambitious ‘SAIC MG’ might well follow the Hyundai/Kia model by developing two parallel brands to compete in different tiers of the ‘Global Automotive Brand Hierarchy.’ MG may, in that case, be marketed as a Value/Sporting brand competing with the likes of Kia, Mazda and SEAT with Sterling (nee Roewe/SsangYong) being positioned as a Premium/Luxury brand competing with the likes of Saab, Volkswagen and Volvo. The original Sterling badges were, after all, the same shape and size as the then current Rover badges and so would, presumably, be almost identical to today’s Roewe badges – a neat economy of scale!

AR’s Editorial Team hopes that, in any event, a media-savvy ‘SAIC MG’ will follow the lead recently given by the likes of BMW AG and Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A. by releasing an outline of the Brand Development Strategy and Future Model Programme…

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A new Hydragas resource

PETER MELVILLE

Owners of cars with Hydrolastic or Hydragas suspension will be pleased to see the service offered by my new website, the Hydragas Register. Thanks to a few days of coding and the submissions of fellow enthusiasts, motorists can now search in their local area for parts and services for their suspension.

Starting off with a growing list of garages and individuals offering a pump-up service, I’m currently working on a page of technical specifications for each model and a page for mail-order parts from various online suppliers. An improved search facility is also on the way. If you have any suggestions or additions, please contact me through the website.

The Hydragas Register can be found at www.hydragas.co.uk.

Posted in: AROnline News
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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