Phoenix is vague on 'ambitious' plans

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The Independent Online

Details about the Phoenix consortium's plans to save the Longbridge car plant are scarce. To the frustration of supporters and advisers, it refuses to say exactly how it plans to rescue Rover.

The furthest Phoenix, headed by John Towers, former Rover chief executive, will go is to claim it believes it can save up to 7,000 of Longbridge's 10,000 jobs. Yesterday, with hours to go to its first detailed talks with BMW this morning, Phoenix sources would say only that their plans were "bold and ambitious".

The bid's supporters assume Phoenix will have to maintain production of Rover's present fleet, despite £2m-a-day losses, although the range is likely to be trimmed or relaunched. Rover recently launched the executive 75 model, the 45 mid-range saloon and the new 25 hatchback. It would be too expensive and time-consuming to design a new range and retool Longbridge to build a new fleet.

Phoenix members say its reticence is mainly due to the sensitivity of negotiations. Its business planning has also been hampered by BMW's refusal, until Sunday, to hand over Rover's books.

Then there is the question of the sum BMW will pay Phoenix to take Rover off its hands. Because it would otherwise have to spend millions on redundancies, pensions and contract cancellation penalties if Longbridge were closed, BMW reportedly offered the previous bidder, Alchemy, £500m.

But the Phoenix consortium, which includes the busmakers Mayflower, former Rover executives such as Mr Towers and Rover main dealers, has irritated influential trade unions and some of its own advisers by refusing to brief them, even in strict confidence, on its plans.