A former chief executive of Rover is reported to be planning an alternative bid for the car group.
BMW announced last month it planned to break up Rover, selling the profitable Land Rover section to Ford, retaining the Cowley factory in Oxford but selling the loss-making rump to venture capitalists Alchemy Partners. But The Guardian newspaper says a consortium headed by Rover group’s former chief executive, John Towers, is planning to make an alternative bid for the company.
Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers said his department was aware of the possibility of a rival bid for Rover and the government would “welcome bids which favoured high-volume car production at Longbridge.”
Mr Towers resigned from Rover in 1996 after a dispute with BMW over strategy. He is now running Concentric, a privately owned engineering company in the West Midlands, and is also part of a consortium bidding for a new analogue regional radio licence in the Birmingham area.
Mr Towers is said to have government backing and is committed to mass car production at Longbridge, with only minimal job losses. A Downing Street spokesman said that it was not for the government to back one bid or another but clearly the government wanted to ensure that as many jobs as possible were saved.
He said it would be up to the companies to take up their bids with BMW. He said he could not comment on whether the Department of Trade and Industry would intervene to urge BMW to consider alternative bids. BMW said it would still consider a “serious” rival offer for Rover, but it had not received an alternative offer to the one put forward by Alchemy Partners last month.
The unions at Longbridge fear the Alchemy deal will be completed by the beginning of May if no “white knight” emerges with an alternative offer. The continuing uncertainty over Rover is expected to have a devastating impact on Rover’s March sales, which are announced later on Thursday.
The UK new car sales figures, from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, will also show if consumers have boycotted BMW in anger over the Rover sell-off. The Rover group sold 143,343 vehicles in 1999 – 26.08% fewer than in 1998. This gave Rover a market share of just 6.52% compared with 8.63% in 1998, when only Ford and Vauxhall sold more new cars in the UK.
Rover’s sales for the first two months have fallen 10.32% compared to the January-February 1999 period.