Car firms pin hopes on new models

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The Independent Online
THE MOTOR industry will try to dispel the gloom caused by global economic turmoil when the United Kingdom's biggest motor show opens today at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham.

Ford, Rover and Jaguar, three of the largest foreign-owned car-makers with plants in this country, will unveil their new models at the show, which is expected to attract 700,000 visitors over the next fortnight.

But even as the show gets under way, Rover and its parent company, BMW, were being forced to deny reports that the British car-maker was planning job cuts.

Rover admitted yesterday it was under pressure to cut costs and raise productivity. "We have said we would like to reduce costs and are looking at further measures, but reports of job cuts are pure speculation," a spokesman said.

The company announced plans to cut its workforce by 1,500 in July through voluntary redundancy. The company has a standing agreement not to carry out compulsory redundancies. Other cost cuts could include a wage freeze, or bans on overtime and weekend work. Rover has been one of the companies hit hardest by a strong pound, which has undermined export and domestic sales.

Both Ford and Rover have announced cutbacks in production because of a combination of the strong currency and the economic downturn in the Far East. Industry chiefs will be pinning hopes on new product launches and design innovation to inject fresh momentum into sales.

Jaguar will today unveil its 150mph mid-sized S-Type sports saloon. The car, which is creating at least 1,300 jobs at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham, will go on sale next March and almost double Jaguar's annual production level compared with the 1997 figure. "The launch of the S-Type signals the dawn of a new era in the history of Jaguar," said Nick Scheele, company chairman.

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