By Andrew Cornelius , Industrial Correspondent
Rover, the loss-making State car group whose corporate survival plan is being considered by ministers , was dealt a savage blow yesterday with news that its snare of the UK car market had tumbled to 15.8 per cent in 1986. This compares with the group’s 17.9 per cent market share in 1985 and the 19 per cent share anticipated by the company’s sales team. The grim news comes as speculation continues about the contents of the corporate plan prepared for ministers by Rover’s chairman, Mr Graham Day.
His case for more state aid for Rover, which has swallowed £1 billion of taxpayers money since 1980, will not be helped by the group’s poor showing in a record year which saw UK car sales rise by 2.75 per cent to 1,882,474. Ford , which last year failed in an attempt to takeover Austin Rover , again topped the UK car sales league in 1986.
The American-owned Ford group increased its total UK market share from 26.51 per cent to 27.68 per cent last year with its Escort, Fiesta and Sierra becoming the country’s top-three best selling models. General Motors which had been making steady inroads into Ford’s dominant position in previous years lost ground in 1986. Its Vauxhall-Opel subsidiary took 15.11 per cent of the market , against 16.56 per cent the previous year , after a collapse in sales of the Cavalier model which fell from second to fourth position in the sales league table.
The share of the UK market taken by imports fell from 58.1 per cent to 55.97 per cent, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders , which publishes the sales data . Yet despite the strong performance by UK producers and record sales figures , Mr Anthony Fraser , director of the society, expressed concern about the fierce discounting in the battle for sales.
“Profitability for both manufacturers and dealers has been at a disappointingly low level,” he said .
The full sales table shows Ford in first place with 27.38 per cent of the market ; Rover second, with 15.8 per cent; General Motors third, with 15.1 per cent ; Nissan fourth, with 5.84 per cent ; and Peugeot/Talbot fifth , with 4.6 per cent. Rover has ambitious plans to boost its market share this year. The group has completed extensive market research into its products and decided as a result of this to drop the Austin name from its products, because of its association with the troubles of the old BL group. In future the group will promote the Rover name which is associated with high quality cars , and individual model names like Metro and Montego.