Task force maps car industry future without MG Rover

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MG Rover, the only remaining British-owned volume car maker, has been left out of a high-powered government task force set up to promote the motor industry and influence policy across Whitehall.

The automotive innovation and growth team, appointed in April to develop a long-term vision for the industry and advise ministers on ways of boosting car production, contains representatives from Nissan, Peugeot, Ford, BMW and Jaguar. Major component suppliers such as GKN and Perkins Engines are also represented.

However, the task force contains no executives from MG Rover, either on its steering group or the four individual project groups. This is despite the fact MG Rover was rescued from closure in May last year after a campaign supported by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, to persuade its former owner, BMW, to sell the company as a going concern.

Sir Ian Gibson, the former head of Nissan's UK operations who is chairing the task force, stressed that MG Rover executives had not been deliberately excluded. He said: "They are fully loaded running the company. MG Rover does not have the same kind of corporate operation as other car makers."

Ironically, one of the objectives of the task force will be to foster better relationships between industry and government to avoid the communication breakdown which preceded the Rover crisis when ministers were kept in the dark about BMW's decision to pull out.

The four project groups also contain members drawn from Whitehall and academia and have been asked to devise policy initiatives on the environment, new technology, manufacturing and distribution of cars spanning the next 15 years.

Their initial recommendations are due to be discussed at a one-day seminar next month and then presented to ministers early next year before the task force is wound up in April.

Sir Ian said he did not intend to present a 200-page report which would then be left on a shelf but would produce a limited number or recommendations on key areas of policy.

Among the ideas he floated yesterday were tax breaks for motorists who wanted to lease rather than buy cars and experiments with the use of LPG-powered and hybrid cars in city centres.

Outlook, page 17