Rover should be re-invented as a racing tour-de-force

Like most companies involved in the automotive supply chain we are concerned about the potential demise of the Rover brand, as well as the knock-on effect any reduction in throughput at Longbridge will have on a declining auto manufacturing base in the UK.

We think these events could signal an acceleration in an already headlong rush out of volume manufacturing in the UK. This can’t be allowed to happen, and we must make an immediate corrective action.

I’m constantly dismayed at the amount of manufacturing capacity which is now farmed out abroad. This has been happening since the early 1970s, but lately the size of the problem, reflecting our collective resignation in the face of competition or our inability to add value to goods, is staggering.

I am surprised to find a product that’s wholly manufactured in the UK. We’ve lost almost all our production skills in electronic components, optical parts, mechanical and electro-mechanical sub-assemblies, and recently even those skills associated with low added value, including moulding, casting and fabrication.

The scale of such losses is breathtaking – reflected starkly in the dismal 20 per cent figure that manufacturing now contributes to gross domestic product. Surely we can’t sustain an export level in manufactured goods currently standing at 70 per cent of the whole, if the decline continues.

We are all aware of the myriad of factors which have led us to this situation – lack of investment in new plant and equipment, lack of investment in skill development and new product design, too little spent on research and development, a lack of will to put a good idea into production, the recent shift in exchange rate fortunes and the perception that British engineering and manufacturing is expensive.

Exceptions, such as Triumph Motorcycles and Dyson Appliances, have bucked the trend and recently started manufacturing in the UK. For them, the perception was illusory. Their founders’ desire to make things overcame the traditional reticence and both businesses forged ahead on innovation, a clever strategy and a fair brand proposition.

It could be argued Rover has drawn on a heritage that few wanted to revive. The wood, chrome and leather of this retro-style owes nothing to a competitive edge or the winners’ laurels. The P series cars of the 1950s were solidly built, but dull and bought by doctors or clergymen. The later P and SDI series vehicles could have been the making of Rover, had the quality of manufacture met expectations. The SDI, based on the lines of the Ferrari Daytona, had the ingredients of style, innovative packaging and technical advancement, but more significantly it went racing. Rover now needs a heritage make-over and a claim to sporting success – it simply must go racing again.

Consumers have long memories, but they love winners – no one now worries that their Alfa Romeo 156 might rust away like the GTVs of the 1980s, they are seduced by the glamour of the marque and it’s racing glory. Rover shouldn’t be thrown out with the old production lines, it should be re-invented as a racing and technological tour-de-force – a marque with a quality background but with new pizzazz and competitive competence.

Bruce Renfrew

Rocket Studios

Leicester LE4 5DF

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