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Towers wants affordable Rover with 'BMW quality'

Rover Cars plans to be building up to nine models across the Rover and MG brands at its Longbridge factory by the end of next year.

The multi-brand strategy will give the company an intensive, low cost production facility.

Guy Pigounakis, Rover commercial director, revealed the company has at least three new MG cars “at the design concept stage” and hopes to have the first new model in showrooms by late spring of next year. A fourth MG model is still under consideration.

##Rover--left##The new MGs will sell alongside Rover 25, 45, 75 and the 75 estate, which will also be launched early next year. The cars will be based on existing Rover platforms but clearly differentiated and “not just badge engineered”.

Mr Pigounakis said: “The MGs will be proper high performance saloons - dynamic cars which will appeal to customers of cars such as Golf GTi and Peugeot 306 GTi.” Rover chairman John Towers revealed the company is considering reviving the MG Magnette name for one model but said “the jury is out on the rest of the names. We must get away from numbers”.

Mr Towers said the freedom to develop the MG brand was a key element in the Rover Cars' business plan which had not been available under BMW.

“MG couldn't be a focus for BMW but, as a saloon, will become uncompromising, exciting and occasionally outrageous,” he said. “People will not mistake it for the old MG Maestro.”

The MG franchise will be extended to all Rover dealers from January and the network will remain around the 300 mark. Mr Pigounakis said Rover currently had around 10 open points and recent defections from the marque had “been pre-arranged” some time ago.

Rover is aiming for a combined UK market share of 5% by the end of next year and global sales by 2002 of 200,000 units, of which MG will take around 50,000. Mr Pigounakis expects the MG brand to take more than 25% of sales in the UK but the company preferred to be conservative in its forecasts. Rover, he said, needed to “have a presence in all markets” if it is to achieve 5% share and that meant “we need to turn the fleet market back on”.

Retail sales are running 27% ahead of last year and Rover sales as a whole are 11% up, though Mr Pigounakis acknowledged that April sales figures “were significant”. Unsold nearly-new car stocks have fallen from 30,000 cars in January 1999 to 5,500 in June this year.

Mr Towers said Rover and MG would offer “BMW engineering, quality and precision at affordable prices - value for money will be a key element”. He said BMW had invested £3bn in Rover over the past four years and the new company was ready to reap the benefit.

“The engineering changes at Longbridge since I was last here are absolutely astounding,” he said. “We have an all-new product line-up with the 75 estate as an incremental model. The Rover 400 had the lowest warranty claim record of any BMW Group product and the Rover 75 had the best BMW quality score of any new product.”

The present platforms will last until 2004 when legislation changes will force a redesign. Rover has already had one “significant approach” from a potential partner and “two minor developments”. But Mr Towers is in no hurry to open negotiations.

##Rover Badge--left##“In the long term, four or five years out, we will need a collaborative partner,” he said.



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