MGR@10 Month : Interview with MG Rover Product PR Manager, Kevin Jones

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

For the latest instalment in our MGR@10 Month coverage, Craig Cheetham catches up with MG Rover’s former Product PR Manager (among other things), Kevin Jones.

A younger Kevin, at the wheel of a Rover 400 that he was responsible for on the press fleet
A younger Kevin, at the wheel of a Rover 420 SLi he was responsible for on the press fleet

Kevin, who is now Head of Communications for Peugeot in the UK, went to work for what was then British Leyland as his very first job and remained there for over a quarter of a century, right up until the company’s final days. He is also one of the motor industry’s true gentlemen, and a bona fide car enthusiast with an MG TF of his own.

Kevin today, as UK Head of Communications for Peugeot
Kevin today, as UK Head of Communications for Peugeot

AROnline’s Editor caught up with Kevin earlier this year to ask if he’d be happy to talk about MG Rover Group’s demise to coincide with the 10th anniversary. Here, he speaks openly about those final days for the very first time, including how he accidentally killed off the supercharged MG ZT 260 – it’s a fascinating read…

How long did you work for MG Rover Group (or whatever it was called that week), during which years, and in what capacity?

26.5 years to be precise – 21 August 1978 until 9 April 2005 (JRT Technical Apprentice, five years in Press Garage admin and the rest in the Press Office, mostly as Product Press Officer).

What was the best moment of your time there?

I had many ‘good times’ at the sharp-end, but surprisingly, the last ones were some of the best – simply because we were in control (not held by a bigger force), spoke plain English, it was exciting and we got things done in weeks that a big organisation would take months to accomplish.

What was the worst?

The British Aerospace times were not times of great security – we always knew it was transitionary.

According to Kevin, the Aerospace days were tricky, despite the discounts!
According to Kevin, the Aerospace days were tricky, despite the discounts!

Which Austin/Rover/MG model do you believe was the best, and did/do you have a personal favourite?

That’s quite a hard question, given that times get better every decade. I would probably pick the SD1 Vitesse – I saw it develop (from prototype ‘Rover Rapide’) and subsequently had so many good times in it. They even made models of the press cars…

Kevin's favourite - the Rover SD1 Vitesse
Kevin’s favourite – the Rover SD1 Vitesse

Is there a car they should have launched, but didn’t?

The MG Metro Turbo was due to look like the Tickford Metro – with carbon-fibre wings, etc. It looked fab, but didn’t make it. Another in later times was the Supercharged MG ZT V8 – which wasn’t due to get the 2004MY look. I said to Kevin Howe that it was ridiculous (that it wouldn’t) and he agreed – so cancelled it!

And is there one they did, but shouldn’t have?

Rover CityRover (2)
CityRover – Kevin was not a fan

The CityRover was the Tata Indica and not something we felt was a true Rover. It met a brief, but was too late and too cheap to make a difference. There was too much resistance to accept the changes that we knew were necessary.

MG Rover did a pretty good job of keeping the wolf from the door after the BMW sale by launching the Z-car range of Rover-based MGs. Were these in planning before BMW departed, and how much of a role did they play in providing ‘life support’ to the brands?

Immediately we had freedom from BMW, the whole product range was reviewed. There had been some assumed relationships with Lola (from where Nick Stephenson had been) to produce ‘MG Lola’ versions. When it was decided it couldn’t or shouldn’t happen, a way of placating Lola was to run the Le Mans car – which partly explains why we ran so many XPower-backed race programmes – we had to very quickly elevate the MG brand from just MGF into TF, ZR, ZS and ZT within a year, and have motorsport programmes with all – it was SO EXCITING, and the rapid development was impressive with such modest investment.

MG Z Cars arrived at an optimistic time for MGR employees
MG Z Cars arrived at an optimistic time for MGR employees

They were cars enthusiasts could relate to – all had alloy wheels, spoilers and in bright colours. They were very successful. Our best moment was persuading (nay, almost forcing) motoring journalists to drive the 45-based ZS – and when they returned, their grins were like tattoos – you couldn’t get the smile off their faces.

How soon in the run up to the events of April 2005 did you realise it had started to go badly wrong? And at what precise moment did you know the writing was on the wall?

Every day you went to work wondering, but, honestly, only as we entered 2005 did the clues begin to assemble. We’d hear some suppliers hadn’t been paid. But we just kept our heads down and hoped the China deal would come to something. It was quite a possibility and seemed plausible.

Did you ever, hand on heart, believe that MG Rover was going to have a long-term future, and if so, in what form did you expect that to happen – as a volume or niche manufacturer?

It certainly could have – but for the number of employees. There were too many for the business requirements. Individuals were often displaced, Engineers came into Marketing as ‘experts’, but it couldn’t be sustained with those overheads. We had considerable latent talents but often it was against all odds.

Left to right: Towers, Beale, Edwards and Stephenson – collectively the Phoenix Four
Left to right: Towers, Beale, Edwards and Stephenson – collectively the Phoenix Four

The model was operating as something of both – and our success kept us in business a couple more years than the critics believed. It could have continued, but the moment of change occurred when it became a story about the Phoenix Four pensions’ issue. I think the end was drawn from that moment.

In your opinion, what could the various stakeholders have done differently (if anything) to see MG Rover survive in one form or another?

We were a private company, thought of still as a public one. The Directors were playing poker with the banks, but had a smaller company been formed with choice people and facilities, maybe a division of its former magnificence could have taken it forward. Also, SAIC were badly advised – because, had they taken it over, as was, most likely more of it would have survived, albeit the product integrity was ageing fast – and, 10 years later, it has still not caught up.

How close to production did the RDX60 get? And do you believe it could have been the answer to MGR’s problems?

RDX60 as shown to the dealers in December 2002
RDX60 as shown to the dealers in December 2002

It wasn’t – to both questions. It was flawed – a cut and shut, used existing platform technology and was too big (and ugly, to be frank).

Likewise, how production-viable were the coupe variants of the Rover 75 and MG TF?

Both were concept flights of fantasy, to show prospect-Chinese that our designs had future potential, but they were both a façade. With time they could have been made, but there was no money…

75 coupe
Kevin once told me ‘Never say Never’ when I asked if the 75 Coupe would ever be a production reality. As it turns out, never it was…

Was MG Rover right to concentrate on low-volume specialist models such as the SV supercar, ZT 260 and 75 V8?

The plan was to build a ‘staircase to heaven’ with MG the exciting and dynamic brand. With all the many things done and achieved, never before has a brand moved so fast and up, than was achieved with MG in those few years. The V8s were part of that strategy and would have been delivered two years previously had the contract to make them not been offered to Prodrive, who dithered. When it came back inside it took months to deliver, which explains why we had the pre-2004 look. Also, because the Ford V8 was being used, we only had a short time to use them before emissions regulations prevented it from being sold.

SV-R was, in many ways, more than a flight of fancy
SV-R was, in many ways, more than a flight of fancy

Some would say the SV was even more risky. Just 30 RHD and 30 LHDs were made, but every brand needs a halo product and it was right, if too expensive, but the critics didn’t always understand the journey we were taking – such was the speed of its acceleration.

Today, 10 years after the dust has settled, do you look at things more pragmatically, and do you still feel an emotional connection to MG Rover?

Absolutely… I certainly believe we did everything possible to keep the company alive. Our part was keeping it going for much longer that would normally have been the case. Fate and inevitability were unfortunate, but we’d had so many ‘last rites’ moments, it in itself became the normal survival condition. It wasn’t comfortable, but our pride was in our survival.

It remains a major part of my life and I have few regrets. We did it with honour, respect and good business ethics – nothing underhand.

It’s not much, but there’s still an MG presence at Longbridge. What do you think the long-term prognosis is for the MG brand, and is it right to bring it back under Chinese ownership?

In my mind, I’ve moved on and times change. I had the better years, spent more time as a PR for these two brands than any other and came away with my reputation in place, so can’t really speak about its future in others hands – just to say I was very lucky to have had the experience.

And finally… could you ever envisage Rover, Austin, Morris, Triumph or any of the other former BMC/BL/ARG brands returning to the European market?

Only in my dreams… BMW retained ownership of some Triumph (Spitfire) and other names, but these are now protected for posterity and as products of history and times passed. When the Z3 was launched, there was a real attempt made to use its platform for an MG and Austin Healey. It could have worked, a la VAG Group, but BMW was quite protective and little open to risk.

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

20 Comments

  1. A great interview with some really interesting facts and honest opinions from an insider’s perspective. Kevin was often the first port of call for most journalists and always came across as helpful and enthusiastic for both brands.

    I am glad he has the same level of favoritism for the Rover SD1 Vitesse as I do! I fondly recall attending a Rover Regional Press Drive event in early October 2002 and as I looked round to view the front of the venue, Kevin jokingly said to me: “No, we have not brought along the Rover 75 Vitesse,” knowing I had previously asked him whether this might one day happen, to coincide with the 20th anniversary when the SD1 Vitesse had been unveiled. We then spent the next five minutes reminiscing about the SD1 Vitesse.

    Glad to hear he still owns an MG Rover Group product.

  2. An excellent interview, asking all the questions that I would have.

    Kevin’s response however to MG Motor UK’s prognosis struck me as a little bleak, stating that he “had the better years” implying his time there from nationalised BL onwards saw the company in a stronger position than the current SAIC owned MG regime.

    However he did go on to state that he couldn’t really comment since the future was in other’s hands which, hopefully, can be translated as “times were good in my day & I’d like to think that the good times will return”.

    • No, I think what he meant was…..it was great when I was there, a real company and now… Well it’s all a bit embarrassing and therefore I dont really want to comment

      • I doubt he meant that either, I am sure what he meant was, that he wont comment on another brands current leadership, marketing/range, the same as anyone else in his position would do.After all, in five – ten years, he may well be back there with a vastly improved MG

  3. Very interesting article. I really enjoyed the read.

    I would tend to agree with Kevin’s feel for the future of MG. With the two uninspiring products they are currently offering they have no chance of success. I’d like to hope that with Chinese money and British Engineers and designers, we could see some desirable models that appeal beyond the current tiny group of “I’ll buy any old rubbish as long as it’s got an MG badge on the bonnet” enthusiasts.

    I’m struggling to understand why after 10 years we’ve got practicality nowhere with this revival. In fact, the delay and poor interim products has pretty well destroyed any value the MG badge ever had.

    Nige

    • Now that’s a bit strong!! The MG3 and MG6 may not be the very best but they’re certainly not rubbish. The MG bit goes a bit further than just sticking an MG badge on. The MG influence does extend to the driving characteristics. The 3 and 6 do offer something just a bit different and not just because of their current rarity. The BTCC involvement is evidence that it’s more than just badging.

      The fact that ten years on there’s no huge UK revival is because the UK enthusiast is not SAIC’s priority. SAIC are thinking in world terms.

  4. Sorry but in my opinion he gets of to lightly.He stated that both the RDX60 and City Rovers were a waist´(he even calls the RDX60 “FLAWED”)so why did he go ahead with them waisting millions of pounds which could have been used elsewhere?.And again why waist millions on the SV?.Also no mention of the pension fund.Sorry but I feel the Phoenix 4 still have a lot to answer for.

    • I don’t think that Kevin Jones had much say in the new developments or the pension fund. He would be unlikely to be a beneficiary of the P4’s pension fund and would have likely been made redundant on minimum statutory redundancy following the collapse.

      While the P4 may have a great deal to answer for Kevin Jones can’t be expected to speak or be responsible for this former employers, especially some 10 years after the events discussed.

      • I think you might have the wrong Kevin! Are you confusing him with Kevin Howe, who was the former CEO?

        KJ worked in the press communications team and I had the pleasure (and it was just that) of working indirectly with him on many occasions. Indeed, I still do, although we both now have very different roles.

        He’d have had no say at all in the pension fund or how the company spent its money – he was simply an employee (albeit a highly valuable one), not a board member.

        • All 4 of them were “disqualified” and deemed unfit to become directors after the collapse of MG Rover.The 4 of them were still in the news just 6 months ago about the pension fund.

          • Ok…. your “rant” has nothing to do with the post, the guy concerned worked in marketing, nothing else, he did a great job, with little funds, his work is to be applauded, and not ridiculed with a random rant about the owners of the company.

  5. An interesting and sobering view of things . What the future holds for the worldwide motor industry is very difficult if not impossible to predict, because the motor car has moved from being an aspirational and characterful product , which it was in most markets even 40 years ago, to a consumer device which people now find useful but, for the most part, unexciting , rather on the same level as a dishwasher. It is this factor which seems to me to be one which causes companies such as SAIC , with no real track record , to face an uphill struggle for survival

    • The fact many now regard cars as a consumer device, rather like a dishwasher, will in some ways assist SAIC in conquering the UK, European markets I think. With no emotion or loyalty in their purchase people will be less concerned that MG has diverted from its heritage and is now Chinese owned. If the car looks good, is easy to live with day to day and is financially competitive such people will be perfectly satisfied.

      With limited dealers though, the easy to live with bit ain’t yet fully achieved.

      • Looks are subjective but in my opinion neither the MG3 or 6 look good at all, certainly not premium or aspirational, they do a disservice to MG of old.

  6. So RDX/60 was a cut’n’shut then. Well yes, it was. This adds to the case made in the other recent article that it wasn’t likely to be the saviour of the company.

  7. Just caught up with this fascinating interview. Kevin is genuinely one of life’s gentlemen and we had adjoining desks in Conoco House, Warwick when I was looking after Land Rover and he Rover Cars. The latter weeks of BMW ownership were pretty terrible frankly as was the final denouement. Within hours it seemed the Land Rover team was moved down to Gaydon and delivered into the capable hands of the Ford Motor Company. The split was traumatic as overnight former colleagues became potential rivals. Everyone knew which ship was the leakiest and Land Rover ended up with far more people than Ford thought it was getting!

    It’s great to see Kevin in such a great role at Peugeot and we still catch up at motorshows.

    We all got nicknames from the Rover Group press garage. Kevin was ‘The Student Prince’ (no, I have no idea why) and mine was ‘Captain Chaos’ – I think it was something to do with my historic re-enactment activities but I may have been wrong!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


WordPress spam blocked by CleanTalk.