Reliant Robin finds a saviour to rely on

Three-wheeler's rescue comes just as Tokyo unveils potential rival
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The Independent Online
WILL BENNETT

The Reliant Robin, nicknamed the Plastic Pig and for years an endless source of jokes for comedians, will soon be back in full production in Britain after the company was bought for more than pounds 300,000 by a former Jaguar executive.

It is the third attempt to secure the future of the Reliant company, which collapsed with debts of about pounds 1.5m last December. Its new saviour is Jonathan Heynes, who spent 25 years with Jaguar producing luxury cars .

Yesterday, Mr Heynes said that he would take on between 50 and 90 people, many of them former workers at the Reliant factory in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and promised a future for the fibreglass three-wheel vehicles.

"It took a lot of careful thought before bidding for the company and I am going into this with the ambition of making Reliant a profit-making company," said Mr Heynes.

"The skeleton staff of 12 will continue for the moment. I will be going in to speak to them after the Bank Holiday and then we will be speaking to former workers with a view to getting them back in. Reliant produces a good-quality product and there is no reason why it should not be successful again."

Reliant has been in financial difficulties for five years and went into receivership in 1990 when it was taken over by Beans Industries. In 1994 the receivers were called in again after the firm suffered pounds 2m of bad debts.

Avonex bought the firm in January 1995 but by December of that year Reliant was about pounds 2m in debt and was forced to lay off 100 workers and call in the administrators. The company said that it had never recovered from the cost of moving equipment to Tamworth.

Although Mr Heynes's bid is thought to have been about pounds 30,000 less than a rival one, the administrators regarded it as the best overall deal. He has purchased the British rights to produce the Robin and other Reliant vehicles while the overseas rights have been sold to an Indonesian businessman for pounds 500,000 .

Kevin Murphy, of the administrators Finn Associates, said: "We are very pleased and we think we have a good deal for the creditors. It means that the future for Reliant in south Staffordshire is secure and it is good news for jobs."

Asked whether creditors would get their money back, Mr Heynes said: "Certainly the preferential creditors, I believe, will be seeing the majority of their money back. At the moment we are not quite so sure about unsecured creditors."

Mr Heynes started with Jaguar in 1964 as an apprentice and spent 25 years with them before setting up his own business. That was sold in 1990 and he returned to South Africa, where he had previously worked for Jaguar, to start another company .

About 44,000 people own Reliant Robins in Britain, many of them keen members of owners' clubs. The car achieved television fame as the chosen mode of transport of Del Boy in BBC1's comedy series Only Fools and Horses.

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