The two top dogs at the UK car maker MG Rover – chief executive Kevin Howe and chairman John Towers – both failed to turn up at the company’s press conference ahead of the 72nd International Motor Show in Geneva on Tuesday. Their conspicuous absence was believed to be due to ongoing talks about a production partnership with an Asian car maker.
“Kevin is busy negotiating other business requirements at the moment,” product development director Rob Oldaker said.
Made in China?
MG Rover has previously said it is in talks with the Chinese minibus maker China Brilliance Holdings about joint production of cars and major car parts. It appeared likely that it was these talks that had demanded Mr Howe’s presence.
Ahead of the motor show, MG Rover’s press officers had prepared journalists for big news. Instead, the company focused on the unveiling of its latest mid-size concept car, a draft version of the model that is due to replace its Rover 45. The launch itself was spectacular. A group of dancers clad in black gyrated around the car which was covered by a massive Union Jack.
On cue, the dancers swept the flag off the car, then whipped open its estate-like boot to reveal a spanking new washing machine. The dancers then stuffed the flag into the household appliance, amid murmurs from the crowd of journalists of “cleaning up their act”, “flagging fortunes” and “taken to the cleaners”.
The China Brilliance talks circle around the production of this Tourer Concept Vehicle which Mr Oldaker described as “neither a tourer nor a saloon”.
Mr Oldaker appeared confident that the fact that MG Rover had not announced a production deal along with the launch of the concept was not a sign that the talks were faltering. Though he acknowledged that “if things were right to do so, it would have been nice to do so, yes”.
An announcement relating to MG Rover’s future should be forthcoming in the next few weeks, probably before the end of April, he noted. MG Rover’s officials declined to confirm that it was China Brilliance talks that demanded Mr Howe’s attention. This car (the Indica) could potentially be badged and sold in the UK
But it was obvious that the current talks were not with the executives of the Indian conglomerate Tata, given that its executives were gathered just a few yards away to launch its own concept car, a snappy seven seater which sceptics give little hope of ever being built.
Nevertheless, discussions are ongoing between the two groups, Tata Sons executive director R Gopalakrishnan told BBC News Online. The two companies are discussing the possible sale of the Indian car maker’s Indica as a replacement for the former Rover Metro or the Rover 25.
“They have a hole in their product portfolio of a B-segment vehicle which would cost them a lot of money to develop,” he said.
“We happen to have a B-segment vehicle which is well engineered and well styled. “With a bit of upgrading and changes which we would do anyway, this car could potentially be badged and sold in the UK. “This could be their first entry in the B-segment after a very long time if it is all successful and the talks are fruitful.”
MG Rover confirmed that talks with Tata are ongoing, but insisted that the group is just one of many with which it is holding discussions.