By Andrew Cornelius, Industrial Correspondent
The Mini, one of the most popular cars ever made in Britain, has been saved from the scrapheap by Mr Graham Day, the Canadian born chairman of Rover Group, the former BL vehicles company.
Mr Day, who took over as chairman of Rover six months ago, promised during a briefing on his business strategy for the state owned group, that the Mini was safe until 1991 at least.
He confirmed no further redundancies are currently planned among Rover’s 69,500 workers in the UK. He also said that the AR6, the replacement for the Metro, is not cancelled. There has been fierce speculation that Rover’s corporate plan, which is being considered by ministers, recommends that the project should be abandoned.
Mr Day said that many details of the plan, including the sale of Unipart and Leyland Bus, had already been announced. A final decision on the sale of Leyland Trucks and the Sherpa van business to DAF, the Dutch trucks company, or Paccar, the American truck maker, would be made by the end of the month.
Mr Day, who hopes to revive Rover by making the group more responsive to market needs, said that the company’s previous management had decided that Mini production should end next month. He reviewed the decision after a plea by Rover sales staff in France.
The car, which has chalked up worldwide sales of 5 million since its launch in 1959, was still in great demand in France, they told Mr Day at the Paris Motor Show last October.
Subsequent market research by Rover showed that the Mini was “a nice little earner” for the group, said Mr Day. It also showed that the Mini was a cult car in Japan. In the UK the car was most popular among women aged 21 to 30, but the biggest problem was that many potential buyers did not know the Mini was still available because it had not been advertised nationally for five years.
Since a new television advertising campaign opened at Christmas, sales of the Mini have boomed. In January Rover sold 1,200 Mini’s, a 21 per cent rise on January 1986 and production has been stepped up from 650 to 750 cars a week at Longbridge, Birmingham. Mr Day said that he was determined to get the loss making Rover Group into profit and that the Government had set no deadlines for privatising the business. He said that 1987 would be much better than last year and that Rover’s UK market share had risen from the 15.8 per cent achieved in 1986 to 17 per cent in January.
Rover’s chairman hinted that the Government may give the go ahead for development of the K-series engine by Rover, which would be used in a Metro replacement.