Fleet News

Rover: new concern

FRESH concern has arisen over the future of Rover operations at Longbridge in the wake of a European Commission investigation into £152 million of UK Government aid being made toward a £1.5 billion project to revitalise the troubled factory. Union representatives fear board members at BMW could decide to jettison plans to modernise the car production centre if the investigation procedure is subject to excessive delay.

The concern has sparked speculation that an EC block on the state aid could see the Quandt family, which is BMW's largest shareholder, put both Rover and its parent up for sale. The likely buyers would be Volkswagen, which just days before Christmas recruited former BMW chief Bernd Pischetsrieder, Ford which is looking to further expand its stable which already includes Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin, and General Motors, which is shortly expected to announce it has secured the remaining 50% of Saab it does not own, but is also known to want to add other upmarket brands to its business.

However, BMW Group chairman Joachim Milberg remains upbeat and in an interview in the company's magazine said that of BMW, Land Rover and Rover Cars only the latter's growth was down year-on-year and, he added: 'Wait and see -we will bring about a renaissance of the Rover brand.'

After years of heavy loss-making, Rover's radically-remodelled Longbridge operation is due to start producing the all-new Mini range from the end of this year. Annual output of this model - not a part of the application for aid - is expected to reach 150,000. R30, the range at the centre of the EU inquiry and destined to replace the recently-revised 25 and 45 hatchbacks and saloons, is due to follow the Mini from 2002 and give the UK brand its badly-needed challenger in the segment dominated by the Volkswagen Golf. It is planned for upwards of 350,000 vehicles a year to leave the revitalised tracks.

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