Blog: Dave LeggettGood luck Rover

Dave Leggett | 4 April 2005

Looks like this will be a big week for MG Rover and Longbridge. At worst (if weekend press reports are to be believed and they are numerous and with a strong air of plausibility), the company could be unable to pay its bills and could be in the hands of receivers by Friday. Longbridge production grinds to a halt next week and thousands lose their jobs. At best, the iron is pulled from the fire, all the appropriate steps needed to reassure Chinese investors are successfully taken and the JV deal with SAIC is still very much on (it now looks like the only real option besides the receivers). Job losses are still substantial, but less. Anything between those two positions probably amounts to a stay of execution.

Rover has confounded the industry’s pundits and analysts before, but it really does look like crunch time now, with talk of government bridging loans just to stay in business. After an epic struggle that has defied so many industry conventions, it looks like Rover is finally running out of road. SAIC may well have cold feet at this moment, getting colder. Vultures will be circling soon looking for what the receivers may be selling in the not too distant future.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. The workers at Longbridge and the suppliers in the West Midlands region who have been through so much over the years deserve better. The spirit at Longbridge in recent years, in the face of considerable adversity, has been phenomenal. And many of Rover’s dealers deserve some credit too. To have kept Rover going since 2000 with its long in the tooth ‘volume’ model lines is no mean achievement (although, let’s face it, it wouldn’t have been possible without BMW’s financial help) even if Rover vehicle sales could not defy industry model cycles forever. If only TWR hadn’t gone bust, maybe that elusive 45 replacement would be with us by now. If only British Leyland had had better quality and industrial relations in the '70s and not lost so much market share overnight in Britain...if only then owner British Aerospace had sold Rover to Honda in 1994 and not BMW, things might have turned out differently....if only, if only. 

The history of the company in its previous incarnations is a sorry, sorry tale and I won’t dwell on the mistakes too much now (suffice to say that it could all have been very different and down the years everyone - workers, management and government - deserves some share of responsibility for where we are now and focusing on the alleged failings of the Phoenix Four misses the point a little).

For those in far-off lands who wonder what all the fuss is about, Rover still means something here, maybe more than it should in a hard-nosed industry like this one. It is the last remnant of indigenous volume carmaking in Britain (much of what's made here now being made by companies headquartered abroad - Rover is down to a little over 100,000 units a year across all lines, very paltry). There's an emotional attachment to the rump company whose forebears brought us cars like, well, where would I start? The original Mini, Morris 1100, Morris Minor, Austin A40, MG sports cars, Rover P6, Triumph Stag, TR7, Mini Metro...(and more than a few cars that have been the butt of many a joke - but we British do like to laugh at ourselves: Morris Marina, Ital, Austin Allegro fitted with a square steering wheel, wedge-shaped Austin Princess, the ironically named Austin Maestro that talked and even the Bulgarians rejected, Rover 800 'fastback'..) 

But there is, as I write, still the real possibility of a Rover-SAIC deal that is beneficial for all parties. Just one thing left to say really: good luck, Rover.

UK: MG Rover denies insolvency reports


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