BMW to decide on Phoenix bid

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The Independent Online

BMW is expected to decide in the next 48 hours whether the Phoenix consortium has sufficient financial backing to buy Rover, safeguarding the Longbridge car plant and thousands of jobs.

The consortium, which is led by a former Rover chief executive, is said to have secured crucial funding from America's sixth-largest bank, the First Union Bank of North Carolina, enabling it to proceed with an offer.

But last night a BMW spokesman said that it still needed to investigate Phoenix's backing and its business plans. "We have to check on certain things and then perhaps we can say something more specific by the middle of the week," he said.

Talks took place all day yesterday between the Phoenix team and BMW representatives at the London offices of Norton Rose, the German car maker's UK lawyers.

Negotiations are expected to continue today.

A Phoenix spokesman said last night: "Progress continues to be made and things are still moving forward. There are no obvious stumbling blocks but there is an awful lot of detail to be got through."

The UK arm of First Union Bank of North Carolina is reported to have offered Phoenix £200m to plug a gap in its funding. It is also said to be discussing a further £500m facility to finance stocks held by Rover's dealer network. There is still some scepticism, however, about whether Phoenix will pull off a rescue of Rover. The rival bidder Alchemy, which stunned BMW by withdrawing from exclusive talks to buy Rover on 27 April, is standing by ready to restart negotiations.

Phoenix is proposing to maintain production of 200,000 cars at Longbridge and retain all but 1,500 of the 10,000 workforce. But BMW has to be satisfied that its plan is sufficiently viable to keep Rover alive for at least two years otherwise the German car maker could be exposed to a £2bn liability.

Separately, BMW last night rejected German press reports that it might be sold to Toyota of Japan, the world's third-biggest car maker.