Sustained attacks on the company’s owners, management, finances, workforce, future, brand and partners have created a general percep-tion that the manufacturer is practically on its last legs.
Yet, behind the persistent attacks, MG Rover has been busy preparing for the future, with a major announcement about a future joint venture with Chinese manufacturing giant Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), expected soon, which will secure the funding for a new model range in 2006.
And it is still selling cars, with 2004 sales of about 120,000 units globally and about 76,000 in the UK. Admittedly not enough (in fact, in the UK a fall of 13.5% for MG and 24% for Rover), but still a long way from a company devoid of hope.
The company has also been investing heavily in its future by bringing in new talent.
Two months ago, Kevin Brown was the latest to join the team as corporate sales director for MG Rover.
Although he knows there is a lot of work to do, he is convinced the company has huge potential in future years.
He said: ‘Part of the reason why I joined is I have great affection for this company. I want to be part of the team that turns this business around.
‘People have said the company is a basket case, but I am not a lemming. We have a lot of work to do, but I know we can do this. Turning the corner will be the pinnacle of my career.’
But despite his confidence in the business, Brown admits there is work to be done to translate his belief in the company into hard sales among fleet operators.
For 2004, fleet sales for both MG and Rover were about 20,000 units, down over one-fifth, with Rover taking 75%.
Brown said: ‘Sales performance in 2004 was extremely disappointing, but for the last couple of months, we have been working on making 2005 a year for improved sales. ‘We are totally committed. Salaries alone in the fleet department are more than £1 million before additional costs. Can you imagine a company spending that kind of money if it wasn’t committed to the market?’
As part of the bid to improve fleet sales, there has been a wholesale reworking of the department, moving away from staff selling to fleets of any size. Instead, there are four key areas, with a team of five focused on helping dealers sell to smaller fleet operators.
Two separate teams concentrate on the rental and leasing industry, while there are two further teams working on large fleet sales. One team covers new business development and a national accounts team covers current supply deals. Already the department has 32 staff, but more team members are being added.
Much of the company’s future success hinges on the investment that will be generated by the SAIC deal, but Brown is confident the firm already has good product to offer. He said: ‘We have some extremely good cars that are good to drive, fuel efficient and reliable. They have competitive leasing rates and good residual values. They are excellent products, but we may not have effectively communicated the benefits.
‘We will have more focused products next year, playing to the brand advantages of MG and Rover, with more corporate sales activity.’
This includes a clearer brand separation at MG and Rover dealerships, due this year. Brown added: ‘The biggest challenge is getting people to drive our cars who have not done so for a while.’
Brown plans 2005 as a development year, with a number of announcements planned, before new products come on stream in 2006.
And even with the backing of new investment from the SAIC deal, he knows there will still be a great challenge.
He said: ‘No-one has written a law saying MG Rover will be successful. We just have to be successful and I am sure that will happen.’
Kevin Brown life and times