MG Rover has reported a loss of £77 million ($US128m) for 2003, slightly less than the £95 million of the previous year.

A BBC report noted that car sales have declined sharply in the current year, and a new small car made in India has not been a success.

MG Rover has made a loss every year since a buy-out from BMW in May 2000, further losses are likely this year and the firm is now pinning its hopes on a joint venture with a Chinese firm, which will help it to make new cars, the report added.

The group's owners, Phoenix Venture Holdings, admit that 2004 will produce another loss, in what is an "increasingly challenging environment".

Lower sales, together with the need to continue dealer recruitment in Europe would make it "impossible for the group to continue to reduce its losses," the company said, according to the report.

Phoenix said that during 2003, worldwide vehicle sales fell by 2.4% to 144,900 on 2002, with a corresponding 4% decline in turnover.

The firm said increased sales of "large platform models" and the TF sports car were wiped out by a decline in demand for the Rover 45 and MG ZS.

The BBC noted that the four West Midlands businessmen who bought the company from BMW in May 2000, had said it would be breaking even within two years. Peter Beale, the company's deputy chairman, said he now hoped the company would break even in the third or fourth quarter of next year.

"We have reduced the group's losses for the fourth consecutive year to a level that is now less than 10% of that in 1999, the last full year before we acquired the company from BMW," said Kevin Howe, chief executive of Phoenix.

The BBC noted that MG Rover company has launched new cars based on old models, but the company has not developed a new car since the BMW sale - a replacement for the company's medium sized Rover 45 is a prime requirement.

The BBC saud company's hopes are pinned on a joint venture with the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation and on Thursday, Rover said that the agreement will be signed in early 2005.

"This gives us a lifebelt - the ability to introduce new models," Beale told BBC News. "We can produce cars to again take on the world."

Phoenix said sales of the CityRover, made for it by Indian firm Tata, had "not yet reached planned levels because of a variety of issues including a delayed programme".

Last year, revelations that a £12.9 million trust had been set up for senior executives at the Birmingham-based car maker sparked criticism and discontent among employees, the BBC said.

On Thursday, Phoenix said contributions to the trust fund, which were £12.95 million in 2002, were £3.58million in 2003.

Beale reportedly defended the payments, and said: "Four years ago the company could have gone into liquidation but we took huge personal risks. I believe it is only right that a good pension is a fair reward."

According to the BBC, in 2002, the highest-paid director received £3.24 million but, in 2003, the top pay was £1.55 million.

Phoenix directors' salaries, including benefits, increased by 1.6% to £2.2 million in 2003, the report added.

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