A question I sometimes ponder is what would life be like without MG Rover? It has been said many, many, many, many times since 2000, that the company was heading for implosion and its only available future would be found within the pages of RETRO magazine. However, like the stubborn thing that it is, Rover simply refuses to curl up and die.
The immediate aftermath of the BMW sale had us wondering what on Earth Phoenix would be able to pull from up its sleeve. We would not have to wait long… the MG “Zeds” quickly appeared, which were an obvious and clever ploy to stem the company’s falling sales. Thanks to attributes that young people like (big wheels, loud colours, lowered suspension), sales took off, and quite handily, they did cover the shortfall in the sale of Rovers.
Beyond that came the TF roadster, a car substantially re-engineered. Then, MGR put the 75 Tourer into production – after delays during the BMW era. Then it announced the Qvale buy-out. Exciting times lay ahead, and it made us wonder how resourceful top management was to be able to pull these surprise and delight projects out of a bare cupboard. My admiration remains to this day; and the SV and ZT260 perfectly demonstrate the inventiveness of the new regime.
However, the ZT260 and SV are two niche products – cars that will sell in their dozens, and although they are high-image, it is hard to imagine that they will be bringing in massive profits to the company. And it does sometimes feel as though MGR has stalled a little bit. But has it? The answer to that question will not become apparent for some time, but one thing is for sure – give the company’s limited resources, it appears from this vantage point as if it cannot develop more than one new project at any given time, and that means that RD/X60 is the only new car for the foreseeable future.
And because this project has had its fair share of set-backs, it has suffered the kind of delays that simply would not affect a company with more money. A policy employed by the company is outsourcing (something learned during the BAe era), as this means that internal resources can be focused more effectively. What it does mean is that the MGR is reliant on the fortunes of the outsourced company – so in the case of TWR, when it went bust, MGR had to deflect valuable internal resources in order to cover TWR’s work. Finance was always an issue, and the RD/X60 was frozen time and time again, whilst negotiations with potential suitors followed their courses. Not a comfortable situation to be in.
An indicator of how tough times are is the sale of Longbridge and XPart to outside interests. In both cases, they are subject to buy-back deals, but the bottom line is that two valuable resources are now in the hands of third parties.
So, mid-2004, what are we left with? A freshly facelifted line-up of cars aged between nine- and five-years old. Then there’s the TATA, Proton and SAIC tie-ups. There’s the spectre of a deal in Iran. There’s the Powertrain business. But beyond this, there seems little. Is MG Rover staring at the precipice?
Should we now be considering life without MG Rover?
It is something I think about from time to time. What would I have to write about? What would constitute the “home team”? In the end, I bury the thought, and think about the positive aspects of what’s left.
Proton owns Lotus, and there is a nice synergy between the two companies… Gen.2 looks promising, and given a lick of paint, new set of seats and some subtle restyling, it could prove to be a very effective mid-sized car for the company. I have made analogies between this and the Triumph Acclaim, but actually it needs to be a lot better than the Acclaim ever was, simply because standards are so much higher. However, painful lessons were learned with CityRover, and I am sure MGR would be keen not to repeat them.
SAIC is a big player in China, and although it builds VW and GM cars, MGR offers something subtly different: the chance for SAIC to be involved with the design of a new car, the RD/X60. It also will have enough influence in the arrangement, that it can influence the direction of the car, something it would never be able to do with a more straightforward CKD arrangement. This car is one that I am genuinely excited about because it will allow MGR to express itself, and finally rid itself of its 1990s Honda roots (as worthy as they are). A mini-75 is a lot to hope for, but it is an attainable target. Just as long… please… drop the retro brief, for good. The P6 and SD1 weren’t retro, and they went on to do pretty well, despite problems.
TATA. Lots of potential there, but what is needed is something more collaborative. CityRover could have been a storming success, given a new interior and the option of K-Series engines. Sadly, cost cutting drove MGR away from this ideal situation. Rumour is that the two companies will try harder next time.
Personally speaking, given all the upcoming positives, the future looks bright. All it needs to do is tread water for another year to eighteen months. And I believe that’s all the facelift cars have to do. Despite what Clarkson says, they’re not that bad – and they have their fans. They will keep selling enough. Anymore than eighteen months though, and it could be over. But we won’t talk about that.
So… life without MG Rover? I just can’t see it.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.