Axe signalled for thousands of Rover workers

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The Independent Online

The new owners of parts of car giant Rover today signalled the axe for thousands of workers at the huge Longbridge factory.

London-based venture capitalists Alchemy Partners said there were now two groups of workers at the Birmingham factory - those who will lose their jobs and others who will have a brighter future.

It is clear that the 9,000-strong workforce will be cut, probably by half, after the company revealed details of its plans today.

Jon Moulton, Alchemy's Managing Partner, said fewer than 100,000 cars will be built by the new MG Car Company - a fraction of the previous output.

A new sports car is expected to be built and there will be a family saloon but other Rover models are likely to decline.

A new management team, including people from outside Rover as well as some currently working for the car company, will be announced in the next few days.

But the agony for Longbridge workers could continue for weeks.

Mr Moulton told a packed news conference in London that the company would become a "medium volume business".

Mr Moulton said he had not asked for any Government aid before clinching the surprise deal and said none had been offered.

He said he had no plans to sell off any of the site at Longbridge and hoped that a new model could start production within 18 months.

He refused to say how many jobs were likely to be cut, adding: "There are two groups of workers at Longbridge. There are people who will lose their jobs which we bitterly regret but that it is inevitable.

"There is another group of workers who will have greater opportunities and they will not be staring over their shoulders fearing redundancy."

Mr Moulton said he was not concerned about the prospect of any industrial action which is considered to be unlikely.

He said one of his immediate priorities would be to cut costs at Longbridge although he pledged that a "significant proportion" of the current range of Rover models will continue to be built.

But there is a huge backlog of Rover cars and action will be taken to sell those.

Mr Moulton said he had no intention of trying to compete in the mass car market but pledged that his models would be "super".

Mr Moulton said there were 35 major investors behind the venture and repeated that aluminium body technology would be used in the new models.

He revealed that the company was likely to buy engines, gearboxes and other major components from other firms, which in itself will lead to heavy job losses at Longbridge.

He admitted that he expected Rover models to go into decline.

But he denied he was being "overconfident" in expressing hopes of producing cars which would become sought after.

Mr Moulton conceded that sales of Rover cars had "collapsed" and one of the first tasks of the new firm would be to restore confidence in the models.

He confirmed plans to offer shares to those workers who remained and he said initial feedback from the unions was enthusiastic.

Fellow partner Eric Walters was asked to describe Mr Moulton's management style.

He replied: "He is tough but fair."

Mr Moulton said of himself: "I am a master of subtlety."

The two men left the news conference, held close to their Covent Garden office, pursued by a posse of press photographers and TV crews.