The underdogs in the race to buy Rover will meet BMW on Wednesday with hopes fading that their bid can succeed. The Phoenix consortium has pleaded for more time to be able to finalise its bid, but BMW has insisted that it is close to clinching a deal with the venture capitalists, Alchemy.

The man heading the Phoenix bid, former Rover chief executive John Towers, will meet Professor Walter Saemann, a BMW board member and head of the Rover group.

The talks follow pressure from the UK Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, who had discussions with both parties on Tuesday.

John Towers: Says his bid is being hampered

Mr Byers said: "Whilst recognising that ultimately it will be for BMW to take a commercial decision, we shall continue to do all we can to assist the workforce at Longbridge."

Unions are behind the Phoenix bid because it would attempt to preserve mass car-making at Longbridge, saving thousands of jobs which would be shed under Alchemy's plans to aim for a niche market.

Representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union are due to fly to BMW's head office in Munich on Wednesday to press for an extension to Friday's deadline for bids, which would help the Phoenix cause.

Phoenix submitted its bid for Rover on 14 April, a month after Alchemy started its talks with BMW.

Because Alchemy was granted exclusive negotiation rights, Phoenix has been unable to see Rover's books and says this is hampering its financial plans.

Alchemy's boss Jon Moulton said the Phoenix offer had never stood a chance.

"The rival bid has the great benefit of being derived from a great state of ignorance... I don't think we're blowing them out of the water. I don't think they're even in the pond," Mr Moulton said.

Thousands are expected at rally in support of Phoenix bid

Thousands of Longbridge workers are expected to attend a union rally at the plant on Wednesday, in support of the Phoenix bid.

The taskforce set up by the government to look at the impact of the Rover sale on the West Midlands economy, will also publish its first report.

BBC correspondent Stephen Evans say it is expected to warn that 5-6,000 jobs being shed at Longbridge could result in some 19,000 job losses in the local economy.

The taskforce will recommend training programmes and other measures in an attempt to minimise the impact.

Mr Byers is already under pressure to increase a £129m aid package pledged for the region.