Austin Rover Group

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Austin Rover Group Limited
Industry Automotive
Fate Rover Group / Jaguar Cars (British Leyland)
Successors Rover Group / British Aerospace
Founded 1982 (1904 Austin Motor Company)
Defunct 1989 (2005 Rover Group)
Headquarters Longbridge, Birmingham, West Midlands, England
Key people Graham Day
Products Automobiles
Parent British Leyland (1982–1986)
Rover Group (1986–1989)
Subsidiaries Unipart

The Austin Rover Group (abbreviated ARG) was a British motor manufacturer. It was formed in 1981 as the mass-market car manufacturing subsidiary of British Leyland (BL). It was the result of a comprehensive restructuring programme intended to rescue BL from almost-certain oblivion, and with the Triumph, Morris, Riley and Wolseley marques then effectively defunct, the new, leaner car business was rechristened as the Austin Rover Group and focused primarily on the Austin and Rover marques.

In 1989, ARG was incorporated into the Rover Group, the new name of its parent company. In 2008, Tata Motors purchased the Rover marque, as well as former BL and Rover Group businesses, Land Rover and Jaguar Cars, and the former BL marques Daimler and Lanchester, from the Ford Motor Company. The Austin marque has been retired and the Mini marque is owned by BMW.

History[edit]

Following the financial collapse of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1975 and the stark Ryder Report on the ailing firm, the resulting government bail-out and nationalisation saw the company being renamed to British Leyland (BL).[1]

However, the huge industrial relations problems, ineffectual management and product duplication that had plagued the company up to the nationalisation continued throughout the late 1970s. The problems centred on Longbridge union leader and shop steward Derek Robinson (nicknamed "Red Robbo" by the British press). Robinson had assumed a greater level of control over BL than any of its senior managers, and his network of union leaders in the various BL plants had the power to end production if he had instructed them to do so.

The Labour government of the time ran out of patience with Robinson, and appointed South African-born corporate troubleshooter Sir Michael Edwardes to turn BL around.

His first task was to curb the excessive amount of power that the trade unions had over the company. After discovering Robinson's links with various communist groups, the company amassed sufficient evidence claiming that his actions were intended to deliberately damage both BL itself and the UK economy. As a result of this, he was dismissed in 1979. Secondly, Edwardes began a ruthless programme of factory closures and sell-offs. The biggest casualties of this were the MG assembly plant in Abingdon, and the Triumph plants in Speke and Canley. BL pulled out of entire markets – for example the large Leyland tractors range was sold off wholesale to Marshall. Thirdly, he entered into a collaborative agreement with Honda, the first product of this alliance being the Triumph Acclaim, which paved the way for the joint development of a range of cars which spearheaded the company's revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Lastly, the number of BL dealerships in the UK was trimmed down drastically.

The new, slimmer British Leyland was organised into a series of groups. Austin Rover handled the mass production of cars, with the lower- to mid-market cars being badged as Austins and the middle- to upper-market cars as Rovers. Light commercial vehicle production (4x4s and vans) was managed by the Land Rover Group, whilst full-size commercial vehicles were built by Leyland Trucks and Leyland Bus.

Sales of Austin Rover products were reasonably strong, though not quite as high as the sales achieved by some of the British Leyland products – the Maestro and Montego for instance did less well in the marketplace than their respective predecessors, the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina, despite being fundamentally superior vehicles for their time. The Austin/MG Metro was regularly among the top five selling cars in Britain throughout the 1980s, and in the early part of the decade it was the best selling supermini in the country. The Metro, which was launched in 1980, gave the firm a much-needed competitor in the entry-level hatchback market and filled a gap in the range vacated by a scaling down of Mini and Austin Allegro production.

The Austin/MG Maestro (launched in 1983), was initially very popular, but sales dipped towards the end of the decade and in 1989 it was the 19th best selling car new car in the UK. This was less of a problem thanks to the follow-up of the Triumph Acclaim with the first generation Rover 200 of 1984 – the second product of the Honda alliance and one of the few strong-selling small family saloons of its era. So in effect, Austin Rover was selling around 100,000 cars of this size every year during the mid to late 1980s, regaining its share of the sector after the scaling-down of Austin Allegro production in its final years. The similarly sized Austin Maxi had already been discontinued in 1981 to allow the Triumph Acclaim to take over its production lines.

The Austin/MG Montego went on sale in 1984 and sold fairly well, though it was unable to match the sales success of the sector's established favourites – the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier. The car had been in the pipeline since the late 1970s when the company's main competitors in this sector were the Morris Marina and Princess, but the Montego actually replaced the Morris Ital and Austin Ambassador which were the respective facelifted versions of those two cars.

Austin Rover's executive car, the Rover 800, was launched in 1986 as the third product of its venture with Honda, sharing its development with the Honda Legend. This car also sold well, being a popular competitor for the likes of the Ford Granada and Vauxhall Carlton/Opel Omega. It was also sold in America under the Sterling brand, but this project was quickly shelved due to unacceptable product quality issues that led to low sales.

Austin Rover's decision not to replace sports cars like the MG MGB and Triumph TR7 was justified by the fact that such cars were no longer popular in the early 1980s, and many other manufacturers had also stopped – or were about to stop – production of small two-seater sports cars. Buyers were instead being guided to "hot hatchbacks", following a trend set by Volkswagen's Golf GTI in 1976. By 1985, Austin Rover had launched a line-up of performance variants of its Metro and Maestro hatchbacks and the Montego saloon. These cars were badged as MG models and proved popular, especially in the form of the MG Metro. MG models accounted for approximately 10% of Metro, Maestro and Montego production between 1982 and 1991. The Rover Group continued production of the MG Metro until 1990 when it was replaced by the Rover Metro GTi. MG Maestro and Montego production continued at Cowley until July 1991 when they were discontinued to make way for the GTi variant of the Rover 200 & 400. However, the last Maestro and Montego examples survived in production until the end of 1994, just months before the 200 and 400 ranges which had been expected to replace them were discontinued.

Following the renaming of its parent company, BL, in 1986 to the Rover Group, and the subsequent sell-off of its truck and bus businesses, and takeover in 1988 by British Aerospace, and then in January 1994 by BMW. The combine now known as Rover Group remained in BMW ownership for six years before being sold to the "Phoenix Consortium" in May 2000, incorporating the MG and Rover marques and becoming MG Rover, which lasted five years before going bankrupt. The ownership of the Mini brand, however, remained in BMW ownership, as did ownership of the Cowley factory, which began production of an all-new Mini in 2001. Land Rover, meanwhile was sold to Ford, who had already purchased Jaguar in 1989.

MG production was revived in 2007 by new owner Nanjing Automobile, while the Rover marque was purchased by Ford in 2006, only to be transferred to ownership of Indian carmaker Tata in 2008, as Tata also took over Land Rover and Jaguar to form Jaguar Land Rover. The Rover marque has yet to be re-used nearly a decade after the last car wearing the badge was made.

Timeline[edit]

  • 1981: BL Cars Ltd is renamed Austin Rover Group Ltd.
  • 1981: Launch of the Triumph Acclaim, successor the Dolomite and re-badged version of the Japanese Honda Ballade, built in Cowley, Oxfordshire.
  • 1982: Launch of Austin Ambassador, a facelifted version of the discontinued Princess.
  • 1982: Michael Edwardes steps down as chairman, and is replaced by Harold Musgrove. MG badge is relaunched, two years after being discontinued, on the MG Metro 1300.
  • 1983: Launch of Austin Maestro, which replaces the 10-year-old Allegro. The MG badge is used for the MG Maestro 1600 sports model.
  • 1984: Launch of the second Honda-ARG joint venture car, the Mk.1 Rover 200-series. It succeeds the Triumph Acclaim, and in doing so spells the end of the Triumph marque.
  • 1984: Launch of the Austin Montego as successor to the Morris Ital. This means the end of the Morris marque after 72 years. The MG Maestro 1600 is replaced by the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi
  • 1985: Production begins at Cowley of the Honda Ballade, which is visually identical to the Rover 200 but uses some of its own engines and has a higher level of specification. The MG version of the Montego goes on sale.
  • 1986: Launch of the Rover 800-series, jointly developed with Honda and based on the Honda Legend; Rover SD1 production ceases after 10 years.
  • 1986: BL renamed Rover Group PLC.
  • 1987: Unipart, ARG's spare parts brand is sold off via management buyout.
  • 1987: The Austin marque is shelved, with the Metro, Maestro and Montego ranges now selling under just their model names. The Rover badge is not used on these cars in the UK market.
  • 1988: Rover Group PLC sold by British Government to British Aerospace.
  • 1989: Austin Rover Group is re-branded Rover Group. Its final launch was the MG Maestro Turbo, powered by a 2.0 turbocharged engine and one of the fastest hatchbacks in the world with a top speed of nearly 130 mph (210 km/h).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alan Pilkington, Transforming Rover, Renewal against the Odds, 1981–94, (1996), Bristol Academic Press, Bristol, pp.199, ISBN 0-9513762-3-3

External links[edit]