News : June 2004

RD/X60 takes a step closer to production

RD/X60 as scooped in the press in 2003. MGR now has the strategic partner with which to go into partnership with, and finally get the new mid-sized car into production. (Picture by Autocar, used with permission)

AT the NEC motorshow, PVH chief executive Kevin Howe revealed to Autocar’s Richard Bremner that the company was still looking seriously at two overseas ventures: Poland and China. As was revealed recently by Polish sources, MGR’s chances of securing the Daewoo-FSO factory appear to be extinct, leaving China as MGR’s remaining option. This would appear to have suited Howe down to the ground as he had stated that the choice between Poland and China was, “a no-brainer”, given China’s rapidly expanding market.

There was a feeling amongst the journalists present that MGR dearly wanted to announce something at the NEC show, and now it appears that this something was a new alliance in the East.

According to the MGR press release, “Phoenix Venture Holdings (PVH) and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) announced that following the signing of an agreement, they have now entered into an exclusivity arrangement in order that the companies can develop a far reaching strategic relationship.” In other words, the partner that MGR so dearly needs to complete the development of RD/X60 may well have now been found. This co-operation will fund the development of new model programmes (most urgently RD/X60 – the new mid-sized car to enter the range below the 75/ZT). More than anything else, this means that MGR will have a lever with which to seriously attack the rapidly expanding and vitally important Chinese car market.

The signing of the agreement took place on the 16 June, at SAIC headquarters in Shanghai. Kevin Howe, said ‘Recently we have had discussions with several companies in China. We are delighted at the prospect of entering into a relationship with such a successful and respected partner, which will see a significant expansion in volumes of current and future products”.

Obviously, deal’s details have yet to be revealed, but it will probably take the form of a joint venture on RD/X60, with production in Longbridge and Shanghai. SAIC is China’s biggest carmaker, producing 600,000 cars per year, holding a 30 per cent share of its domestic market – let’s hope that it does not dominate MGR unduly.

MGR’s future is starting to crystalise: Gen.2 to replace the current 45, and the RD/X60 to slot in above, perhaps where the 600 used to reside. One thing is for sure, the future is beginning to look brighter after several dark months…

Rover’s product plans fall into place?

Proton Gen.2 has impressed all those that have seen it in the flesh. Could it be a fitting basis for a Rover 45 replacement? (Photoshop image by James Neale)

RIGHT now, MG Rover would like nothing more than to be able to announce their future plans to all and sundry. After all, the company has been busy on the global stage, trying hard to strike deals with carmakers from all kinds of emerging nations. As far as it is publicly known, since its formation in 2000, MGR have worked hard to set-up deals with Matra, Tata, China Brilliance, the Polish government, Sonalika and now Proton.

The Matra tie-up would have been the most interesting: well known for its range of innovative cars such as the Rancho and Murena, Matra and MGR worked together (with Peugeot) to form a deal where the British company would sell French produced Gen-3 Espaces, powered by Peugeot and re-styled by Peter Stevens’ team in the UK. Beyond that, Matra also had on its books, an innovative Smart-like City car proposal, codenamed the P72, which MGR were also very keen to market under the CityRover brandname. Sadly, the Matra plan folded, due to both parties being unable to agree on production volumes. Matra ended up fighting for its own survival, and ended up being swallowed up by Pininfarina.

MGR also constructed a deal with the Chinese company China Brilliance, which would have entailed production of MGR cars in China in exchange for funds with which to develop the upcoming RD/X60. Sadly, this deal also fell through, and although MGR was left with a positive bank balance from the venture, it still had no collaborative deal that the management so craved…

The company has also been fighting hard to gain control of the ex-GM/Daewoo factory in Poland, and John Towers admitted to the Parliamentary select committee last month, he would like the company to start producing cars there. There were obvious financial benefits for this, with the added incentive that Poland was now a member state of the EU. As yet though, the final positive announcement that MGR cars would be built in Poland prove tantalisingly elusive…

If this appears to be a catalogue of failures and disappointments, it is only partly true. For sure, MGR could have been stronger now had it been able to offer the Matra products, but these cars would not have been core to Rover’s success, as it is a new mid-range fighter the company desperately needs.

And it is here that the company’s hopes rest squarely on the RD/X60.

It has been well documented that RD/X60 is behind schedule: the Rover 75-based car had intended to be a direct replacement for the 45, but because the undoubtedly impressive platform is so well-engineered, it has proven a taxing task adapting it for use in a cheaper, smaller car. That is not to say that it is not suitable; far from it, in fact – the underpinnings of the 75/ZT are so well engineered that any car using them in a class below should be very impressive indeed.

The main issue is cost. Can the RD/X60
be delivered onto the marketplace at a
competitive price?

The main issue is cost, however. Can the RD/X60 be delivered onto the marketplace at a competitive price? Given that there have been difficulties finding a partner for the project, any go-it-alone RD/X60 will not receive the cost benefits of higher production volumes that a 100,000-plus per year production run in China (for instance) would have undoubtedly achieved. So, RD/X60 currently hangs in the balance. Ready for production, MGR management would dearly love to build it in partnership SAIC (see above). If they do go it alone (it probably would not be scrapped having already had over £100 million poured into it), it could be moved upmarket, away from the hurly-burly of the Focus/Astra battleground.

…and that would still leave the company the task of directly replacing the ageing 45. Given that the entire range have been given makeovers, it is safe to assume that MGR intend to continue selling these for some time. Has the 45 been freshened enough to remain a player in the market?

This is where Proton comes into the equation.

Announced back in March, the talks between the two companies have apparently been going well. Both companies have much to gain from pairing up: Proton is facing increasing competition in its home market (thanks to it being opened up to the importers), and has a negligible presence in the European market. It has a new and by all accounts impressive family hatchback to sell, and needs to find new markets to sell it in order to maintain production volumes. MG Rover on the other hand, need a new car to replace the 45 (assuming the RD/X60 is slotted upmarket), and the Gen.2 looks to fit the bill ideally. With a chassis developed by Lotus, it promises to be dynamically competent (look at the Proton Satria GTi, a silk purse from a sow’s ear if ever there was one). It also looks good, something that will not have been lost on Longbridge executives.

MGR also have a lot to offer Proton: the upcoming common-rail version of the L-Series diesel engine for one. More of a presence in Europe for another. MGR still have a small presence in the Benelux countries, Italy and France, whereas Proton has nothing at all. Breaking back into these markets would be of huge importance for them.

At the NEC show in Birmingham, rumours were abound that MGR were looking into producing the Gen.2 and selling it as a Rover 45/MG ZS replacement. Given the forces acting from within (and without) the company, it would seem that the Rover Gen.2 could well be the company’s saviour.

If that sounds far-fetched, remember that in 1979, BL agreed to produce a funny little Japanese saloon. Look what came of that…

MGR Shows off at the NEC

The new ZR-X: every boy racers wet dream?

OK, so there were no big announcements at Birmingham, but that did not mean there was nothing of interest. The Rover 75 LWB was renamned the 75 Limousine, and it was announced that production was moving – in-house – to Longbridge. The 75 V8-style front, also served to differentiate the new car from its lesser brethren. The car that many Rover watchers had been waiting for: the 75 V8 Limousine never materialised, and a company spokesperson stated that the reason was simple: it would be too costly to adapt the V8’s drivetrain to the longer body.

Beyond that, the company showed the facelifted 25 and 45 models for the first time, and wheeled out the impressive 75 V8. From the initial feeling of deja vu produced by that grille in Geneva, it became apparent that it looked a whole lot more impressive in the metal.

The SV-R also made its British debut, and attracted a lot of attention. The MG brand was also well served by the ZR-X concept, which was greeted with enthusiasm from everyone that saw it. The show car had a “cooking” 1.8-litre engine under the bonnet, but hopes remain high that XPower will be offering this car soon, with an uprated engine.

Already shown at the Geneva Motorshow earlier in the year, the Rover V8 was still the star of the stand, thanks to a combination of traditional, handsome body style and a thumping American V8 engine. But why, oh why, no Vitesse badge?

Keith Adams

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.