Blog: History repeating itself

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

I must admit that despite everything that happened to Rover between 1994 and 2000, I always had something of a soft spot for Bernd Pischetsrieder (BP to his friends).

He always struck me as a bit of a ‘car guy’ – and one in touch with the the values and traditions that underpin the marques he has been responsible for. When BMW announced that it had purchased Rover for £800 back in 1994, it was BP who stepped into the limelight of the British media, and smiled as he told anyone who’d listen that Rover would be safe in his hands.

And for a while, one got the impression there was real conviction in these words. There seemed to be an almost paternal protectiveness eminating from BP whenever the vexed issue of Rover would raise its head – and in the early days of BMW’s stewardship, one got the impression that he genuinely wanted BMW’s British subsidiary to succeed, even if he wasn’t quite sure how Rover would do it…

As time went on, and as the accounts looked increasingly negative, BP maintained his plan to turn Rover into a success, even as the vultures lead by Wolfgang Reitzle began to hover over the increasingly unhealthy subsidiary.

His passion for Rover possibly stemmed from his love of British cars (like so many of his countrymen), as well as his well-publicised blood link with Alec Issigonis. Perhaps this passion overflowed when he made one of the most baffling blunders of his career – he was so frustrated with a British government, which he saw was dragging its heels in offering state aid for the R30 project, that he used the launch of the Rover 75 to vent his anger over the matter. In a nutshell, he said if aid for Longbridge wasn’t forthcoming, it would have to close.

Of course, the small matter of the launch of the company’s most important car in ten years, passed him right by. The damage had been done. The 75’s launch had been torpedoed.

From that moment on, Rover under BMW was doomed. Yet, BP kept fighting the company’s corner, and the reason for his resignation came down to this: he wanted to maintain Rover, despite the wishes of BMW’s majority shareholders, the Quandt family…

Still, BP found his feet within the Volkswagen Audi Group – and within a couple of years of getting his feet under the table at VAG, he managed to bag himself the CEO’s job, taking over the reins from Ferdinand Piech. The initial signs were good – he spoke about improving quality at VW, and trimming away some of the fat from a range stuffed full of baffling model overlaps. He talked about turning Audis into proper drivers’ cars – and there were encouraging signs that this was indeed beginning to happen.

He soon made it clear that ranges with limited appeal, such as the SEAT Arosa, Audi A2 and VW Phaeton would not be replaced.

But all of a sudden, it seems to have come unstitched. VW has been in the press, connected with a number of salubrious rumours. But nothing comes close to his latest PR cock-up.

Seven years after his monumental gaffe (whatever the motivation behind it) at the launch of the Rover 75, BP seems to have done it again. This time the object of his wit were the premium brands. He told an audience that BMWs, Audis and Mercedes-Benzes were all ‘a complete waste of money’. He then went on to warn of possible factory closures. This wasn’t so much an attack at Audi, but a warning shot aimed at its product planners. Hmmm. Again, BP’s intentions weren’t full of ill-will, but that’s how his comment came across.

So, has what he thought was a harmless comment damaged Audi? Probably not as much as Rover was back in 1998. But it wasn’t good, was it?

For a few days, the press offices of Ingolstadt and Milton Keynes must have gained a unique insight into the life of their counterparts at Longbridge.

I wonder how it must have felt for them?

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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