Sean O’Grady: It would never have happened in France

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The Independent Online

It is very difficult to suppress a suspicion of betrayal when you examine what happened to MG Rover. The treachery of the Phoenix Four is obvious, although it wasn't just their greed, but the way they squandered the time and resources they had available, that is, about £500m of BMW's "dowry" when the German group disposed of the business in 2000.

The Phoenix Four spent an awful lot of time and money on real fringe projects, such as engineering a Rover 75 kitted out with a massive V8 engine from the Ford Mustang, and the MG SV, a bizarre supercar a bit like a TVR with, at best, a tiny market.

True, they were unlucky with their Chinese partners, and a fire at their engineering partner, but the real failure was their inability to focus, if you'll pardon the play, on a new mid-range Ford Focus competitor. More than most, the motor industry is a product-led business, and MG Rover was weakest in that segment of the market.

The other betrayal, I have to say, was by our Government. In France, what happened to MG Rover would have been unthinkable. French local authorities and government agencies invariably buy French; the people do too, and their ministers feel not a moment's doubt about supporting their national champions, Renault and Peugeot, via subsidies of one sort or another.

By contrast, we had the most cussedly free-trading, free-market bunch running this country since the Peelites of the 1840s. A tiny fraction of the state support now being offered to banks and foreign car-makers might have saved Rover, either in 2000 when BMW were looking for funds, or later.

Our present scrappage scheme will have sent more than £200m to foreign car companies by the time it's over, without creating a single manufacturing job in this country. But there was never a hope that Gordon Brown's Treasury would approve even modest help for what was left of our motor industry.

Even now they are being picky about the help they are to give to Vauxhall and Jaguar/Land Rover. No wonder MG Rover never stood a chance.

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