MG Rover will be hoping its new sports car provides a high-octane taster of more conservative models, leading to improved sales across the range. Despite a continued period of stagnation within the automotive industry, vehicle manufacturers are still producing high-performance models to strengthen their brands.

MG Rover, the independent UK vehicle manufacturer, has launched the MG ZT 260, its most powerful model to date. The new model has been re-worked with rear wheel drive in order to make full use its V8 engine. The new release continues the company's policy of using its existing product line-up to expand the range.

The ZT 260 is powered by a Ford-sourced 4.6-litre V8 engine and produces 260bhp, pitching it against rivals such as the BMW 330i and Audi A4 3.0. MG Rover is not expecting to produce the new model in high volume, and it is therefore available to order.

From the moment Rover split from BMW, the new company intended to present a more overtly sporting image and this latest model continues the company policy. MG Rover is not alone in its strategy of using flagship, low-volume products to boost sales of its more mainstream models. High profile examples include Honda enlisting the services of the late Ayrton Senna, a Formula One driver, to develop its NSX, whilst Ford is shortly to release the new GT, based on the legendary GT40.

Honda's NSX, whilst critically acclaimed, has never sold in high numbers, even against the low expectations placed on it. Indeed, sales volumes in the UK totalled just 23 in 2002. Its high price tag puts it up against opposition including Porsche's 911, which attracts greater sales due to a strong brand image.

Even the makers of luxury or sports models are releasing new flagship models for their ranges, with the Ferrari Enzo, Porsche GT and Mercedes-Benz SLR all competing for attention. But while these cars already have waiting lists into 2005, the MG ZT 260 is unlikely to be in such short supply. Rover will have to overcome 'badge snobbery' to achieve even its lowest sales targets, as many potential buyers will prefer more up-market brand images.

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