Car giants rejected Rover

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The Independent Online

The chairman of Rover disclosed yesterday that BMW had tried unsuccessfully to sell the ailing car maker to the world's four biggest motor manufacturers and now saw option but to break up the business and hand Longbridge to the venture capital group Alchemy.

Werner Samann told MPs on the trade and industry select committee that BMW had approached General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen about Rover. But not one of the companies was interested in buying the business unless they could also take a stake in the German car maker.

The admission came as Tony Blair and William Hague clashed in the House of Commons over the sale with the Tory leader claiming that Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, knew before Christmas that BMW might close the Rover plant at Longbridge.

Challenged repeatedly at Commons question time, Mr Blair said that conversations with the company in December centred on the need to speed up EC aid.

Mr Hague condemned Mr Byers' handling of the Rover sell-off and accused him of failing to understand the seriousness of the situation.

But Mr Blair told him: "I'm sorry you should seek to make political capital out of this ... you have no alternative policy to offer at all."

Later, Professor Samann said that BMW was unlikely to receive a bid to rival that from Alchemy, which unions fear will lead to 30,000 job losses in the West Midlands. "We don't expect another offer. That's the real truth. There is nobody else in town," he said.

However, trade unions accused BMW of obstructing a rival offer which could salvage more of the Rover group by refusing to give potential bidders information about the company.

Garel Rhys, a professor at Cardiff University, also told the committee that, as a "long shot", the Government could approach Honda, which owned 20 per cent of Rover until BMW bought the business in 1994, and DaimlerChrysler, which could need extra capacity in Europe to build a new small car.