Archive : Rover wins car of the year

Business: The Company File
The Rover 75 was also voted Best Compact Executive

Rover’s new 75 has been named car of the year for 1999 by What Car? magazine, beating 15 other category winners to the title.

Patrick Bartlett: “This car is almost certainly make or break for Rover” The news will give the company something to celebrate at last after months of speculation about its future, particularly that of its loss-making Longbridge plant which employs 14,000 people.

Rover has been given a spring ultimatum to come up with presentable “initial results” by its German owner BMW. Editor of What Car? Julian Rendell said that with more investment from Germany, Rover had the ability to compete head-on with the world’s best car makers.

The Rover 75 is the firm’s first new car for five years Steve Fowler, also from the magazine, explained how the Rover 75 had beaten off stiff competition to win the award. “What we look for is a car that makes new benchmarks, and the Rover 75 certainly does that, particularly in terms of ride comfort, interior, ambience and styling details,” he said.

“It really is a truly sensational car.” The award was presented to the company at a motor industry dinner in London on Monday, where it was also voted Best Compact Executive, fighting off its rivals the Renault Megane and the BMW 523i. The Rover 75 is the first new car to be built by the firm since it was taken over by BMW five years ago and much rides on its success.

BMW has been at great pains to improve the profit margins of its loss-making UK subsidiary, and has invested £800m ($1,328m) in Rover’s Oxford plant to build the new car. It recently set up a special “turnaround team” to push the company in a new direction.

There have also been reports that the UK Government may step in to help the ailing company with £200m ($332m) in assistance in return for BMW injecting £1($1.66) bn of its own. It is hoped the award will convince BMW that Rover is set for a new lease of life both in the UK and abroad, competing in the tough global market alongside BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

Experts question car

But Rover’s rosy glow of optimism has been questioned by experts, who are not so sure that the new car will make a substantial difference. Independent car writer Mike Rutherford said the Rover 75 would never win the international car of the year award, adding “and that’s the one that really counts”.

“When journalists from around the world would look at it, they’ll look at it a little less passionately and more objectively than the judges who are entirely British,” he said. “On the world stage, this car will barely be acknowledged. It’s not a bad car, but it’s not a class-leading car,” he added.

Keith Adams

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