SIX BIDDERS IN QUEUE TO BUY LAND ROVER
Rival Groups Fight to Head off U.S Swoop.
By Alan Cochrane
Deputy Political Editor
The furious row about the future of Land – Rover took a new turn last night when it was revealed that six groups are queueing up to put in new bid s for the company. But the signs are that it will still be swallowed up by American giant General Motors within three weeks, despite growing demands to keep Land Rover British
Trade and Industry Secretary Paul Channon has set a 21-day deadline for a deal to be clinched, amid howls of protest led by former Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath who claimed on TV that the country was bitter about it. Any home-based firm will have to come up with a cash offer. And MPs believe it will be Impossible for any of General Motors’ rivals to meet the timetable.
The MPs admitted that the Americans are now clear favourites. The key as far as the Government is concerned is that Detroit-based General Motors will also take over BL’s truck division, which lost £25 million last year. The Americans, owners of Vauxhall cars and Bedford, commercial vehicles, told Mr Channon bluntly : ” Either we get Land Rover or we won’t buy the truck division, It’s all or nothing.”
The revelation brought immediate accusations from Tory and Opposition MPs that the Government was giving in to U.S. “blackmail”. There were echoes of the Westland helicopters saga and its rival European and American, take-over moves when some of General Motors’ competitors were disclosed.
Four are British-based and two are foreign. Three of them, Lonrho, Avellng Barford and a Land-Rover management buy-out group, have stated their intention publicly. But the other three, two of them foreign, arc keeping their interest in Land-Rover secret.
General Motors. have been talking to BL for nearly nine months. Both companies have Government backing, to bring their talks to a swift conclusion to end uncertainty and guarantee jobs.
Mr Channon believes that only the Americans can preserve the future of both Land-Rover and Leyland Trucks. Although Land-Rover is widely recognised as the best vehicle of its kind in the world, sales performance has been falling dramatically. Even in Britain the Japanese have captured half the four-wheel drive market.
Mr Heath, who led the successful opposition to the proposed Ford take-over of Austin Rover, said on BBC’s Newsnight that the British people did not want their industries taken over completely by the United States. “The whole country feels they are being steamrollered into something they do not want,” he said. “You are going to have great bitterness about this.”
The 9,000-strong workforce is mounting a campaign to Keep Land-Rover British. Union officials also met Junior Trade Minister Peter Morrison, but came away without any guarantees on jobs. Joe Harris, the factory’s chief union convenor, said: “In a few years, we could see an empty shell at Solihull with our products being produced somewhere else.”
Birmingham MP David Gilroy Bevan said that the General Motors take-over of Land Rover was like ” a shotgun wedding with a bartered bride.” Mr Morrison warned against the perils of appearing to be ” too anti-American,” driving jobs away from Britain.