Jon Griffin, Birmingham Mail, 15th January, 2010
LONGBRIDGE could have been sunk as long ago as 1994 by Japanese car giant Honda, former MG Rover Chairman John Towers has claimed. In a rare interview for a new West Midland book on the car industry, Mr Towers has revealed that the Japanese firm – which held a 20 per cent stake in Rover – could have thrown a huge spanner in the works of the deal that saw BMW take over at Longbridge from British Aerospace.
Acquisitions in the UK Car Industry, written by Coventry University Principal Lecturer Dr Emanuel Gomes, lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes moves at Longbridge which saw the German group take control.
The takeover was to cost BMW billions of pounds, before the dramatic sale for just £10 to John Towers’ consortium in May 2000 saved thousands of jobs. The factory ran under the Towers regime for a further five years.
But MG Rover eventually collapsed amid debts of over £1 billion in April 2005, with the loss of 6500 jobs. Mr Towers, who has not spoken in depth about Longbridge since the 2005 closure, says in his interview with Dr Gomes: ‘One of the not hugely publicised issues at the time was that Honda could have sunk us.
‘Our agreement with Honda was that if we were bought by anyone else then the agreements would be terminated. I took the position with BMW that if Honda sinks us then they are mad, because it will sink them in the UK as far as the Swindon organisation was concerned and it will also sink them in a marketing sense.
‘The workforce and our employers knew that if we did not get Honda’s toys back in their pram then we had a major problem.’
The book also reveals that unions and management believed Longbridge could have survived under BMW if the German group had hung on at the Birmingham factory for another 18 months.
Vin Hammersley, former Director of Communications for BMW/Rover, says: ‘You have to look at six years long term before you know whether you have made a good buy… given time and given nerve by BMW it could have been a success.’
And Dave Osborne, National Secretary for the Car Industry of the T&G section of Unite the union, said: ‘If we had been 18 months further down the road, I don’t think they would have sold Rover.’
[Source: Birmingham Mail]