News : AROnline launches MGR@10 Month

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

MG Rover closure

Today is the first day of April 2015, and for many of us it’s astonishing to think that the demise of the MG Rover Group was a whole decade ago.

But a decade ago it was. The writing may have been on the wall for weeks, or even months, before the Longbridge production lines were wound down but, even so, the announcement that the company to close and the Rover name at least was to disappear, came as a shock to many.

We covered the ins and outs of the company’s final days on this very site at the time, so our focus over the next few weeks won’t be to go over old ground. Instead, with our specially-titled MGR@10 features, we’ll be looking at new angles and analysis of the last days of MG Rover, aligned with the reminiscences of those who were involved at the time, in different ways.

It’ll be me that kicks this off next week, with the viewpoint of a frontline automotive journalist at the time. I was on the newsdesk at Auto Express from 2001-2005, and I followed MGR’s peaks and falls with interest. We’ll also be getting the view of Rover dealers, sales staff and key employees at the time of the collapse, and will round things off with a visit to Cofton Park for the 2015 Pride of Longbridge event, where even a decade after MG Rover’s disappearance, the enthusiasm for the company and its predecessors’ models will shine through – and long may it continue.

See you there! I’ll be in my R8, arguably the best all-rounder ever to emerge from Longbridge’s factory gates. Discuss…

Rescued from the gates of a breaker's yard, Craig's 214 will make its public debut at Pride of Longbridge... To think you used to see them everywhere.
Rescued from the gates of a breaker’s yard (where this photo was taken), Craig’s 214 will make its public debut at Pride of Longbridge… To think you used to see them everywhere.

 

 

 

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.

23 Comments

  1. If there is going to be a place for R8’s to congregate then I can bring my 95MY Tourer with 161,000 on the clock with plenty of dings, dents, peeling paint and 20 years worth of car park indents. ( You may want me to park at the back ~ I will wash the top half as a good will gesture. )

    During my working life was a part time fleet administrator for a small 150 to 400 vehicle fleet under a central fleet purchasing group that purchased many thousands.

    Several times a year we were invited to a fleet demonstration days to evaluate the various company offerings organized by central and of all the attending manufacturers I regret to inform you that AR were the most dis-interested participants.

    No attempt to promote the product and one attendee who had been rejected told me that he heard them talking about Tulips ?

    I asked at the company conclusion review if any one knew what the term referenced.

    Apparently it stood for Two Litre Injected Plastic Spoiler nerds or people to be avoided.

  2. Well, yes Craig, when the R8 was launched and then spawned so many variants it was almost impossible to imagine the situation circa 15 years later. We’d already seen the 800, greatly improved ‘M’ cars, very popular SD3. With the R8 it really seemed that Rover had cracked it. After the bad days of BL, we now had a successful, if smaller, premium producer. The R8 itself was brilliant. A smaller car with big car quality and feel. A world away from Escorts, Astras. Very capable too.

    • R8 was a good car, but also a symptom of the demise that awaited BL / Rover as a volume manufacturer.

      A symptom because as a manufacturer the company no longer had the market share to fund the development of its own volume cars and had become dependent on collaboration, and successful as the R8 was in the UK (the only place Rover had any real market presence)it simply did not generate the cash to fund follow on models and so what followed it was heavily compromised by the lack of cash.

      The simple fact was that the failure of the Allegro ended any hope of BL being a volume European manufacturer. The loss of the BMC’s European market share and sales network that followed meant that the M cars etc could never have been made in the volumes achieve the economies of scale needed to make them profitable enough to fund future investment.

  3. Just a shame that it was never really replaced. The cars that following, R3 & HH-R were perceived as straddling two sectors each; R3 between Fiesta & Escort in size 7 HH-R between Astra & Cavalier in size.

    The problem was augmented by BMW, perceiving that the Rover marque had a luxury edge over Ford & Vauxhall bu virtue of a bit of wood, chrome & velour, pricing these two models in line with the larger sectors i.e. an R3 cost Escort money & HH-R costing Cavalier money.

    Unfortunately the British public didn’t see it that way considering HH-R as an overpriced Astra & R3 an overpriced Cavalier.

    Those wishing to replace an Escort size car were also left confused, as my Mother was, wondering with Rover product fitted the bill. Ironically she ended up buying a Volvo 440 which, in terms of soze & brand perception, was allied to HH-R. Whether a Rover 416 would have lasted the 11 years in her hands that the 440 did is also a moot point.

    • Fast forward 20 yrs and people will willingly pay Audi money for a VW Polo or BMW money for a modern day possible MK 8 Ford Cortina equivalent in the shape of the current 3 series.

  4. The sad demise of MGRover was about the same time that I discovered aronline so this site was very useful in its analysis into what was happening.

    I agree the R8 was one of the best Rover products in the early 90s. I never owned one but did own an HHR400, 45 and ZS which I did like lots and they gave me no real trouble to speak of. Rover did always have a more upmarket image to Ford/Vauxhall etc in those segments but obviously not enough to save them.

    I often wonder what might have been, had the UK Government made that loan to secure the SAIC deal…

    • What SIAC deal? Didn’t they simply string Rover along to the point that they could pick up what they really wanted, for next to nothing, from the receivers?

    • The SAIC deal was an act of desperation, the only major first world manufacturer who seemed willing to discuss collaboration was Fiat and that only appears to be in terms of a one way deal to sell them Diesel Engines and Stilo Body Shells and that went nowhere because the volumes were too low to be of interest Fiat in the end.

      The simple fact was that MG Rover cupboard was empty, the market share was negligible even in the UK, they had no proper design facility or team and dependent on third parties for pressings.

      Their diesel technology was a couple of generations behind the market using a block conceived and heavily compromised 40 years ago by the need to be built using B series tooling. The K series was not Euro 4 compliant and making it so with the limited budgets and time available was only possible by tweaking the fuelling at the expense of efficiency, longevity and performance. No serious funded plans existed for development of Euro 5 and Euro 6 compliant engines and even given the funding the lack of knowhow and time available can be seen in how far SAIC current engine range lags behind the market.

      What was left of value, the 75 tooling, the paint shop and parts of the track at Longbridge, SAIC new could simply be picked up by the receivers when the inevitable happened.

  5. hope you’ll track down Guy Pigounakis, now at Hyundai, who was almost the number 5 of what would have been the Phoenix 5 – he has some great insights into the last days of MGR

    And don’t forget BBC business correspondent Jeff Randall – i can still remember his incredulity at the dullards in the Labour government who let this all happen as I was in my local chinese takeaway in Ormskirk for that night’s ten o’ clock radio news. Earlier on I’d heard an advert for the Rover 25 GLI on Smooth FM – still got the centre spread ad, too in my files

    Dealer in Wigan, Lancashire was very bullish a fortnight before after receiving a personal assurance from MG R MD that all was well and the company would be saved; wished I’d have asked for a photocopy!

  6. If only MGrover had got the 45 replacement in production a year earlier-they might have stood a chance. At the end they had a diminished market share, tired old model s and the quality of the existing product was very bad due to project drive.

    A very missed company 10 years on-Great tragedy.

  7. @Tigger… The “supposed” SAIC deal was dependant on the Labour Government giving MGRover a £100M loan, according to what Kevin Beale said on BBC News.

    After the closure, Nanjing Auto bought the innards of Longbridge for £49M if memory serves… not SAIC. Didn’t SAIC take over Nanjing at a later date? Hence MG7’s from Nanjing and Roewe 750’s from SAIC

    It’s correct that SAIC had much of what they wanted by then though, including intellectual property rights for the 75.

    • Yes, when MGR went into administration, it was Nanjing who acquired what was left – intellectual property rights had already been sold to SAIC. Nanjing was then later taken over by SAIC.

  8. Had Rover gone under if the Tories were in power, imagine the howls of outrage from Labour. Instead they quietly let it go in the same way most of the manufacturing industry went in my home town under Labour without one comment from the local MP, whereas when factories closed under the Tories, he was always first to comment about how Labour would never let this happen.
    Indeed Labour should have tried to find a suitable partner for Rover in 2000 and tried to keep the company alive, or maybe as I suggested on a blog years ago, let the 25 and 45 die and concentrate on the new 75, which had the potential to be a fantastic luxury car. A smaller Rover concentrating on the 75 could have still been around today as I still see plenty of these cars around.

    • Yep, and live happy ever after, like SAAB… Take your rose tinted glasses off, how would the next 75 be funded? Sad end, but after the rich & powerful teuton Master left, what were the chances ?

  9. ” and the Rover name at least was to disappear ”

    Hmm, it’s still on £100k+ 4×4 luxury offroad vehicles… and a stack of others too.

    #Land Rover

  10. @ Didier, I think Rover was doomed from the day BMW walked out on them. However, the 75 definitely had a future, it was a highly competent large saloon that was typically British and was well liked by its owners.

    • I can only agree, I’m back in one since last month. 3rd one. I wish the Chinese had brought it bk in UK but then there’s no diesel… not much of a future in European market. It was 75/ZT or X type but the Jag isn’t that special compared to the 75 I’m afraid.

  11. In my view, the lack of quality did more to kill Rover than anything else.
    Every engine from TR7 on had headgasket problems or other fatal flaws. Worse, Rover never bothered to fix these faults.
    I look at the launch of Sterling (Rover 800) in the U.S. as the canary in the coal mine. Rover shifted 14,000 in the first year in the U.S. That was a great start, but then the quality problems surfaced. Had the air conditioners worked, the trim stayed attached and had the leather not turned green, the 800 would have been a success. Instead, Rover lost money one every one sold in the U.S.
    The success of the 800 could have led to the R8, and the MGF and TF here.
    No matter how you view the MGR failure, it is nothing less than a tragedy.

  12. The sale to British aerospace was the final nail and with it the loss of Honda.

    We did not Know it at the time but BMW did not have a clue how to run the company.

    • BMW did not get where they are by not knowing how to run a company. After years in the doldrums and with ( admittedly ) a lot of Hondas help Rover were turning the corner and BMW could see where this could have gone 15-20 years down the line. I bet they must have pinched themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming when it came up for sale. I am aware they sank a fair bit of money into Rover over their 6 yrs of ownership but only in areas to benefit them (Hams Hall, New Mini, Land Rover) and not really bother much with the rest. If BMW had wanted too they could have sorted out the K’s weak spots , they could have ensured the R3’s were properly marketed, been ruthless about build quality etc, but they were happy to let Rovers management make fools of themselves at every turn going for the pipe and slippers image. I believe the R75 cost something like £700 million to develop, not a great sum of money for a flagship model IMHO (BMW and others must spend more than that on stationary every 2 yrs ). They deleted or at least hushed up the sporty models in the ranges and wouldn’t even let the MGF go sale in the USA in case it took sales away from the Z range. As for their dismissal of Herr Perstreider ( sorry for the spelling) after the Motor Show farce I believe he is now CEO of VW, hardly a demotion in my book. The only they might not have forseen was the impact on their share price whilst pretending to struggle with their “English Patient”.
      At the end of the day whoever we blame be it the Unions, the workers, BAE, BMW , the Government etc MGR has gone and so have a lot of peoples livelihoods, national prestige and history. The most galling thing about it all is it could have been so much different. What is also annoying is that people are being conditioned to forget all the good and pioneering work the company and it’s predecessors contributed to the motoring world. e.g You would think that Audi and BMW invented the 5 door exec saloon ( apparently nobody ever heard of the 1976 Rover SD1, , The R3 Rover 200 might have been an overpriced supermini but that hasn’t hasn’t stopped Audi A1’s flying out of the showroom inspite of (or maybe because of ) it’s similarity to the Austin Allegro that so many people despise. According to a recent article by the Daily Mail the Austin Maxi was an absolute catastrophe of a car ( by their reckoning it was the only car built in the 70’s to rust, break down or have a notchy gearchange). When our own press take such delight in running our own industry down, how on earth are the rest of world going to take us seriously? IMHO French and Italian cars only have limited appeal and their respective manufacturers have had their own strife and problems but it doesn’t seem to stop the French and Italians buying them. We seem to have turned our back on our own industry whilst letting the spivs and chancers in the City wreak economic misery on us all whilst laughing at us from their Tax Havens.

  13. Interesting the change in Government attitude (and colour) since the demise of MG Rover.

    Hilton D, I think it may have been Peter Beale…

    Note he was “only” asking the then Labour Government for a loan, albeit what was undoubtedly a very large loan.

    Contrast that with news this week, (so fairly topical) that the current Coalition Government is giving Aston Martin Lagonda a grant of up to £9.6M from the regional growth fund.

    How times have changed……

    I’ve heard it said that those changes in attitude and greater support for manufacturing industry goes back to the days of Mandelson. Maybe so? Since then the Coalition has put a lot into the likes of JLR and Aston Martin, as well as the aerospace industry and into new technologies.

    You get to read about this sort of thing on the business pages, but otherwise they don’t grab the political headlines like they might have done all those years ago.

    As we know, what’s left of the UK motor industry thrives, probably like it has never done before.

  14. Ten years ago, I was on my way to the Nürburgring, relaxing in a Dortmund hotel lobby late in the afternoon, when a news flash on the telly appeared: MG Rover nach den Toten… MG Rover is dead!

    You bastards, you did it! I thought, blaming just about everyone not backing Longbridge. If you remember the end scene of the flick Planet of the Apes, you’ll now my feelings exactly.

    Still, that tragedy meant that two years later, I was able to buy a brand new car not yet fully assembled, which was a great experience. The car’s a 75 V8 with an MG commission number…

  15. When Phoenix took over in 2000, it was clear finding a partner would be vital to survival.
    If Leyland couldn’t manage alone in ’79 (without Honda), how on earth could the slimmed down MGR do it?

    But deep down I believed the company would survive: this after all was Longbridge, the epicentre of so many a crisis in the past, but somehow it always managed to pull through.

    And when I heard of proposed collaborative ventures with far-eastern companies, the news made sense.

    Every week in the early Noughties British manufacturing firms were relocating East, China was the new powerhouse of world manufacturing, so I it seemed logical for MGR to seek ties with a eastern Car maker.

    As news broke of possible deals I wished them well.

    But it was clear things were not going well when the real-estate was sold, to me that was an act of desperation.
    No company in for the long-term sells their premises and leases back?

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