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Comment: Longbridge - the final chapter?

Published 30 January 2017

Last September, MG Motor UK delivered a final blow to the former MG Rover plant at Longbridge, Birmingham. Production of MGs, marketed here and across the world against the Britishness of the brand, had finally ceased within the historic plant. Buy a new MG today and it will have been built in China - although much of the company's design, research and development still takes place on the famous site.

At the time of the announcement, there was much comment and speculation about what the future might hold for the plant (the answer, largely, is affordable housing). The finality of the news left those who still belived that the former British Leyland Austin Rover Group giant would one day rise like a phoenix from the ashes foaming at the mouth. But really, was there ever a future for the plant at all? I suggest not.

I make no secret of the fact I adore Rover cars. When I was a kid, our next door neighbour worked as a sales manager for the local Austin-Rover dealer, and would frequently come home in the latest Maestro, Montego, 200, 400 or - if he was really lucky - 800, and knowing that I was a car mad kid, he let me climb all over them, or occasionally take me out for a spin. It's his fault that, 23 years later, I finally bought myself an 800 Vitesse - a car I first promised myself at the age of 13.

I'm not the only one, either. You only have to visit the Pride of Longbridge rally, which this year takes place on 15 April at Cofton Park, directly opposite the former factory's main entrance, to see the huge groundswell of enthusiasm that exists for BL-ARG cars. Yet I wholeheartedly believe that there wasn't a car that emerged from the gates of Longbridge without a number of flaws. Despite that, there were enough of us around who loved them - and, indeed, still do.

Rover -workers

Rover owners and workers protest at the closure of the Longbridge factory in 2005.

There are other car brands out there, many of them far more successful, that would kill for such an enthusiastic fan base. Indeed, there are more forums, fan groups and social media networks for fans of the former MG Rover car brands than there are for any other marque. Even the Rover 45, once Britain's least desirable second hand car, has its own Facebook Appreciation Group. When you consider that this April will see the 12th anniversary of the end of Rover production at the iconic factory, it's astonishing to see that there's still so much love out there for the now defunct brand.

So, with the last chaotic, crisis-ridden days of MG Rover a fading memory, and a factory now standing completely idle, is the time ripe for Rover's return? Has enough water passed under the bridge for the Viking flagship to return untarnished? Indeed, could the scene be set for someone to come in, make a bid for the still more-or-less intact car assembly buildings at Longbridge and let the production lines roll again?

There are many out there who believe so. They believe the brand could retun as part of the Tata portfolio that has made such a success with Jaguar and Land Rover, taking the premium build and advanced consumer technology found on the luxury brands and bringing them to a more accessible level.

It's a lovely idea - but it's as flawed as the cars themselves once were. Why would JLR take the quality and technology it can make a fortune from, selling cars to fabulously wealthy buyers all over the world, and cheapen it? There's a lot more profit to be made out of a Range Rover Autobiography than a modern day rehash of a Rover 45. And there are plenty of perfectly good players in the mainstream market to make the landscape difficult for any new or returning brand. If you don't believe that, just ask any MG dealer...

It pains me to say it, as I, possibly more than anyone else, would love to see the Viking longship set sail again. But it's over for Rover, and it was 12 years ago. Let sleeping dogs lie. 

Comments

oldroverboy.    on 30 January 2017

It pains me too! i was a parts manager in a dealership, and would still buy one, but must be realistic, any future models would have to beat Dacia pricing to succeed.

Edited by oldroverboy. on 30/01/2017 at 17:35

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