By David Benson
The news that Rover is to close down the production line which turns out the 800 and Sterling range for three separate weeks in November, December nnd January is a blow at a time when the company’s fortunes seemed about to turn for the better. Some 1,800 workers will be laid off on full pay for an extra three weeks winter holiday. They must be concerned about their long term future. The Rover 800 (with the Sterling and the Fastback topping the range is a superbly engineered and styled car which should have given Rover big slice of the executive car market, particularly with fleet buyers in the UK . But it hasn’t â€” mainly because it is perceived as costing the same as a Jaguar, even though you can buy a basic 800 for as little as Â£13,396. This is a problem that is slowly being overcome. But it is in North America, where there was talk of selling 30,000 cars a year, that the sales performance has been so disappointing.
Sadly, sales there have averaged barely 10,000 a year since its introduction two and a half years ago. Meanwhile, the Rover 800 line at Cowley has been turning out only 900 cars a week where it could produce double that. So what has gone wrong? In America the Rover launch has been little short of a disaster. The Sterling arrived nearly a year later than its Honda-built sister, the Legend, and missed out on the end of the U.S boom in European executive cars. The market took a downturn which has hit everyone including Mercedes Benz, Saab, Jaguar and Volvo. As part of a new five-year plan, Rover has promised dealers in the USA that next vear the 1991 models will be in dealerships in time for the main buying season.
Fortunately Rover in the UK is in much healthier shape. The new 200 series has been widely aclaimed and promises to be a market leader in 1990. The company is making profits and has funded a far-reaching development programme which will see the launch of three new models next year and at least two new cars a year for the four years from 1991. It is going to be a long haul, but Rover does have a bright future.