Rover sales fell by more than a third last month, fuelling growing concern for the future of the last indigenous British volume carmaker. In September Rover sales in its home market were down 35% over last year as the company struggled with its ageing model line-up.

Altogether, MG-Rover sold just 11,568 cars in Britain in September – a month when results are traditionally good because it marks one of the now two number plate changes each year. The MG-Rover share of the market was less than 3%.

Back in 1999 – the firm’s last year under BMW ownership – it sold 110,000 cars in Britain. That figure fell to under 96,000 units in 2003 and a further fall is in prospect for 2004.

A decade ago Rover accounted for more than 10%, while in their 1960s heyday the old BMC and British Leyland built half the cars on Britain’s roads.

The entry CityRover has also failed to take-off in the British marketplace. The car is imported from Indian manufacturer Tata Motors and then rebadged as a Rover. But analysts say the vehicle is too expensive and of inferior quality in a very competitive segment of the market.

Some industry experts fear the deepening troubles could be the beginning of the end for the company.

MG Rover insiders say that much hope is pinned on the relationship with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation – SAIC – with which Rover is planning to quickly develop a replacement for its ageing 45 and share development costs.