It took a £400m investment, but Rover’s old car factory in Oxford is now ready to produce the company’s new flagship model, the Rover 75. Some 800 workers will be moved from other Rover plants to work at the refurbished Cowley factory. Rover’s owners, BMW of Germany, see Cowley as a model for the revitalisation of the company’s Longbridge factory in Birmingham.
Industry experts say that Longbridge is Europe’s least productive car factory and needs a massive overhaul to become competitive again. The investment required at Longbridge is four times that at Oxford – on top of £400m pounds already being spent on producing a new Mini.
The German carmaker is willing to spend the money, but is still awaiting formal approval of a £150m government grant.
Rover’s chairman, Werner Samann, said: “At no time in the past has there been such a major transformation and such a high level of investment at Rover Oxford.”
Car of the year
The new Cowley plant will be opened by employment minister Andrew Smith. Rover expects a lot from its new model. The Rover 75, to be launched in mid-June, will replace its top-of-the-range 600 and 800 models. The company’s car sales have slumped recently, falling by more than 27% during the first four months of the year.
The Rover 75 is designated to lead the recovery, and in a pre-sale boost What Car? magazine recently voted the new model Car of the Year 1999. There have been rumours of quality problems with the new car, but Mr SÃ¤mann has promised that the Rover 75 will be built to the same quality standards as BMW’s luxury cars.
Rover expects the 75 to sell well abroad. Up to 70% of cars produced will go to export.
By July, the Cowley workforce is expected to total 2,700 people, operating on two shifts. Hundreds of Rover workers will be bussed in from other sites, like the body plant in Swindon and from Longbridge itself.
Rover also produces the highly successful Land Rover and Range Rover models at Solihull in the West Midlands.