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Rover sales soar in UK

Resurgence: Popularity of Rover's 75 flagship has reached record levels in the UK.

Rover's fate still hangs in the balance but the brand's popularity is at a high in its home market

26 Apr 2000

IN an ironic twist, sales of Rover cars in the UK have shot through the roof since news broke of BMW's decision to dispose of the loss-making British marque.

Dealers across Britain have revealed showroom traffic is at its busiest for months and some are even reporting record sales, according to UK web site Autoexpress.

Mr Neil Thomas, new car sales manager at Colliers dealership in Acocks Green, Birmingham, was quoted by Autoexpress as saying he had shifted two months' stock in just a fortnight.

"We sold 55 cars the week before last and even more last week. I've been here for 12 years and this is the best period we've ever had," he said.

Mr Thomas said the sales incentives announced since the crisis started, such as up to £2000 ($5405) cashback and three years' free servicing, were bringing in customers.

"There are some good offers at the moment and the 75 is making up half the sales," he said.

Meanwhile, agency reports suggest BMW is close to finalising the sale of Rover to British venture capital group Alchemy Partners.

However, a British consortium racing against time to launch a rival offer for Rover will plead its case with BMW on Wednesday.

British Trade and Industry Secretary Mr Stephen Byers made a last-ditch effort to delay the sale and buy time for rival bidder Phoenix to secure the financing it needs to present a viable counter-offer.

Mr Byers' office said in a statement that a meeting was being organised for Wednesday (today) between Rover chief executive Mr Werner Saemann and the leader of the Phoenix consortium, former Rover chief executive Mr John Towers.

"BMW had always said they would give detailed consideration to the Phoenix bid from John Towers. Now was the time for them to honour this commitment," the statement said.

Alchemy wants to rename Rover the MG Car Company and at least halve output from the current 180,000 cars a year. The company also wants to refocus MG as a niche sports car-maker.

Unions fear an Alchemy takeover could trigger thousands of job losses at Longbridge and in the Midlands area where Rover's suppliers are based.

Mr Byers said that after talking to Alchemy managing director Mr John Moulton he expected around 3000 job losses at Longbridge.

Phoenix has promised to axe a smaller number of jobs if it takes over Rover and has enlisted the support of the ruling Labour Party, which is gearing up for a general election that could be just a year away.

Phoenix submitted its bid for Rover on April 14, a month after Alchemy entered into six weeks of exclusive talks with BMW that are due to end on Friday.

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