Rover launch spells start of boom
The new Rover 75 was launched today heralding the start of a series of new models promising prosperity and long-term security to Cowley. Hundreds of new jobs are expected in the next few years, on top of the 1,000 being created by the launch of today’s luxury car.
The Rover Group and BMW, its parent company, are expected to invest more than £120m in a second car assembly complex at the Oxford plant. This is expected to produce the new compact saloon, similar to the BMW 3 Series and codenamed the R41, which is due to be unveiled about the start of the year 2002. And there is speculation that the new Mini, due to be launched in 2000, may also be built at the site – now renamed Rover Oxford.
The new investment would double the capacity of the plant, allowing production of more than 250,000 cars a year. The expansion promises hundreds more jobs at Cowley, as well as several thousand in the components industry. Rover executives were in buoyant mood at the launch of the Rover 75 at the Motor Show in Birmingham today.
Dr Walter Hasselkuss, Rover chairman and chief executive, said: “This is a momentous day for every single person within the Rover group and, in fact, for everyone in BMW.”
Cars to quit the roads
THE number of cars leaving Cowley by Rail is to be increased sixfold. The Government has given Rover a grant of more than £350,000 as part of a national drive to get more freight off the roads. The money will help Rover develop a major new railhead next to the Cowley plant to cut lorry movements and traffic congestion.
Rover will eventually move 30,000 cars a year by rail from Cowley. At present, the railhead can cope with just 5,000. Many cars will be shipped straight through the Channel Tunnel as more than a quarter of the plant’s output goes by rail, eliminating hundreds of shipments by articulated car transporters.
A series of underground tunnels is also planned to ferry parts from warehouses to the assembly lines, bringing further relief to the roads. The railhead grant is one of 16, worth a total of £9.5m, which the Government predicts will save about 750,000 lorry trips nationwide each year. Transport minister Dr John Reid said a further £30.5m was available this financial year.
He said: “It is up to the transport industry to come forward with schemes.”
A key goal in the campaign to relieve pressure of lorries on motorways and rural roads was to encourage more freight on to the much-criticised West Coast main line between London, north-west England and Scotland, run by Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail.