Proton emerges as possible Rover partner

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The Independent Online

Rover, the car maker, said yesterday it would not open talks with a partner to develop a new model until next year, after it emerged that it had been approached by Proton, the Malaysian car maker that owns the Lotus sports car company.

Rover, the car maker, said yesterday it would not open talks with a partner to develop a new model until next year, after it emerged that it had been approached by Proton, the Malaysian car maker that owns the Lotus sports car company.

The British car manufacturer, rescued from collapse earlier this year by a consortium led by John Towers, its former chairman, must sign up a partner to develop a new platform to replace the current one used for its small and mid-sized Rover 25 and 45 models. The platform for the Rover 25 and 45 needs to be replaced in 2004.

Rover and Proton both make family saloons and hatchbacks. Proton's ownership of Lotus could have synergies with Rover's own MG sports marque. However, Proton would be a surprise choice of partner for Rover, as it is not one of the larger car groups.

The cost of developing a car platform can reach £1.5bn. The platform is the basic structure on which a number of models can be built. Car makers often create platforms jointly to share costs. The arrangement is made easier by the fact that car manufacturers tend to share suppliers anyway.

Rover admitted in July that it had received an approach from another car maker to develop a platform together, but it has not named the party.

Previously Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler and Vauxhall had all been speculated upon as possible partners for Rover. The revelation that Proton is the company in question is likely to disappoint analysts, who were anticipating a tie-up with a major name in the industry.

Gordon Poynter, director of public affairs at Rover, refused to confirm that Proton was the company behind the approach.

He said Rover did not plan to start negotiations with possible partners until the beginning of next year - even though it wants to seal the deal by March.

It is thought that Rover is hoping other interested parties will emerge by then. Rover has itself made an approach, in the last few months, to Honda, its partner before it was taken over by BMW in the mid-1990s, although it was rebuffed.

Car platforms typically last around eight years before they are overtaken by new developments and regulations. BMW spent £800m developing the platform for the top-of-the-range Rover 75, and its platform is considered good until 2006.

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