SIX years after the demise of the Rover Metro, the British firm is back in the city car sector with the Asian-built CityRover.
A new small car from India is set to lead MG Rover back to one of its traditional market sectors, with the firm aiming to boost sales by at least 30% next year on the back of it.
Only seven months after signing its first overseas supply deal with Tata, the British company unveiled its version of the Bombay-built Indica supermini last week and claimed the model would boost total registrations by more than 30,000 units across Europe.
Speaking as the first examples of the new CityRover range (pcitured) were being shown to management, workers and the media, MG Rover product development director Rob Oldaker said the sales target set for the 1.4-litre, five-door hatchback was prudent. 'That is an initial annual figure for the UK and our established European markets, but obviously, the hope is we will achieve better than that. Should that be the case, there will be no problem with supply,' he commented.
Priced from £6,500 on-the-road and due to be launched on November 6, the CityRover range will reach the showrooms six years after the former British Leyland factory at Longbridge produced the final version of its predecessor. Oldaker added: 'The Metro was very popular in its day and a total in excess of two million were built over its 17-year production run. Rover was very strong in the city car sector and our dealers felt done down by the loss of the Metro, which was a high volume seller and one that tended to bring younger people into the showrooms. Not having a small car has created a vacuum that we're now filling.
'This is a very lively sector of the market and we see good fleet potential for a spacious small car like this, which has a remarkable amount of legroom in the rear and has class-leading boot volume. We have not been strong in the fleet sector while we have been operating as MG Rover, but it is an area of increasing interest to us.'
Sales and marketing director John Edwards said small car sales accounted for 4.5 million registrations each year and represented 35% of the total European car market.
'What it comes down to is the fact that we do not have an entry in this sector at the moment and this is an area with massive potential. This car will do what the Metro did in the past – and more. It is an attractive car that is a good proposition and it has gone down very well at the research clinics that we've carried out,' he said.
'With more interior space than a BMW 3-series Compact, wide-opening doors and 220-litres of boot space, we think it will appeal to a wide section of customers. And because it has all the qualities you'd expect from a Rover, it is also smooth and refined.'
Officials from the UK company are considering offering a Tata 1.4-litre diesel engine, but it will be available only with a petrol-powered, overhead camshaft unit at launch.
Producing 85bhp at 5,500rpm, the multi-point fuel injection motor develops 85lb-ft torque at 3,000 rpm and is mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
Oldaker said: 'This is hardly an off-the-peg model. Apart from altering the style of the front and rear, side and interior, we have done quite a lot to the suspension system. We have made substantial geometry changes as well as setting changes to the springs and dampers that have altered ride height and stiffness to make it appropriate for European roads as opposed to the roads where it was originally developed.
'This has been a very cost-effective exercise. I'm not prepared to divulge the level of our investment in this project, but it's not huge. We've used an up-to-date product as a platform to bring a new small car to market very rapidly.'
To be available in four trim levels, called Solo, Sprite, Select and Style, the CityRover will carry a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and six-year anti-perforation cover.
Standard features across the range will include a driver's airbag, front seat belt pre-tensioners, a four-speaker radio-cassette player, clock, lockable glovebox, variable intermittent wipe, rear wash-wipe, tinted glass with shadeband, cigar lighter, courtesy lamp delay and remote releases for the tailgate and fuel filler.
The more sporty Sprite version will have alloy wheels, leather trimmed steering wheel and gearknob, front fog lamps and a rear spoiler, while the Select specification will include front and rear electric windows and air conditioning. Both versions will come with power steering, remote central locking, CD sound and a rev counter, and the range-topping Style – to cost around £8,500 – will also feature ABS brakes and a passenger airbag.
Two firms plan number of new projects
MG Rover has confirmed it is in discussion with Tata over the prospect of carrying out joint venture projects.
As first revealed by Fleet NewsNet in March, the companies are planning to work on a number of projects that are considered to be of mutual benefit.
MG Rover product development director Rob Oldaker said: 'Our relationship is in its infancy, but talks are under way on a number of different activities. Both companies can see the advantages to be gained as a result of working together. We have looked at other products in the pipeline at Tata and they have looked at our plans for the future. We are very positive about doing some other things.'
Rover 25 gets a Streetwise brother
IF you're aged between 25 and 35 and have an active lifestyle, the latest version of the familiar 25 hatchback is just the car for you, claims MG Rover.
Due to be released next month and kitted out to take all the urban jungle has to throw at it, the Streetwise model (pictured) is the solution to what the Midland company claims is a growing need.
'It might come as a surprise to some, but what we're offering is a car that has all the style of a 4x4 for people who don't need four-wheel drive. And it will come at a price that's a lot less than a Toyota RAV4,' said sales and marketing director John Edwards.
Rover claims research with customers has proved the new car has the 'wow factor' many buyers are seeking in a segment that is expected to expand rapidly during the next 12 months. 'What they have told us is that it's bang on the button,' said Edwards when the new model was revealed at the company's headquarters at Longbridge.
Aimed at widening the appeal of the 25 range, the Streetwise will compete with Ford's new Fusion by having a higher stance from large wheels and raised suspension. With enlarged bumpers, wheelarch protectors and rubbing strips all featuring a finish claimed to be resistant to scratches, the car promotes an appearance of extra strength and durability.
To be available with a 1.4-litre petrol engine offering 84bhp or 103bhp and in 101bhp turbodiesel form, the model also boasts individual sports-style seating for four.
'This is an entirely new direction for us. Streetwise has stiffened suspension and is just the car for people who like to have fun. But it is still practical transport because it has a split-fold rear seat and roof bars able to carry loads up to 65kg,' said Edwards. The car will cost from £9,295 when it goes on sale on August 21.