Outlook: Rover

TRUST ROVER to lower the tone on the opening day of the Paris Motor Show. Renault and Michelin may be celebrating their centenaries and Porsche its half century but the mood over at BMW, Rover's German owners, was anything but festive.

Bernd Pischestrieder, the urbane chairman of BMW, has every reason to be glum. He bought Rover in a haze of sentimental attachment to its illustrious predecessors, the Wolseley and Riley, but quickly discovered that the current model is not in quite the same league.

The R75 - the successor to the uninspired 600-800 series - is Rover's next great hope and goes on show in Birmingham in three weeks' time. But as luxury executive saloons go, it will be a pale imitation of the real thing, the latest Mercedes S-class, which is also getting its first outing in Paris.

Four-and-a-half years on, all BMW has to show for its pounds 4bn of investment in Rover is mounting losses of perhaps as much as pounds 500m this year and a faint hope that its purchase will turn the corner some time in the millennium with the aid of a revamped version of a 40-year old car, the Mini.

Meanwhile, the Rover workforce is being fed on a diet of bad news, with more cutbacks due in the next fortnight on top of the 1,500 job losses and four-day week announced in July. Amid the wreckage, the one consolation for Mr Pischetsrieder is the performance of Land-Rover. But at some point his shareholders have to ask whether BMW might not have spent their money better building its own entry into the 4x4 market from scratch.

It is hardly time yet to press the panic button, and BMW remains a highly profitable brand. But with the millstone of Rover around his neck, Volkwagen's Ferdinand Piech knocking at his door, and Daimler married to Chrysler, Mr Pischetsrieder must be starting to feel the heat.

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