Letter: Too late to lament Rover's sale to BMW: the battle was lost long ago

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Sir: Let's get the sale of Rover to BMW into perspective. We would all love there to be a British-owned company that was a real, global player. But we did not lose that possibility with the sale to BMW - we lost it in the Sixties and Seventies during the era of misguided government industrial strategies, allied to appalling labour problems, when British Leyland products became the butt of international jokes.

It is a real tribute to the workforce and management of Rover - and the benefits of reduced government interference - that they have managed to pull back from the brink of extinction. But Rover is still a very marginal player, with only a small share of the European market and minimal sales in the US and growing Asian markets. Even in Britain, Rover is in third place.

As for Land Rover, the so-called 'jewel' in Rover's crown, they have only just managed to push production up by a few per cent over a period when four-wheel-drive sales have increased many times over. This is in part a legacy of the industrial strategy of the Seventies, which saw Land Rover starved of resources to finance losses in volume cars, as well as the company's arrogance at a time when they could sell everything they produced. As a result, customers turned to the Japanese in droves. It is now a rarity to see a Land Rover in most developing countries. Land Rovers are outsold 7-1 by the Japanese in Europe and by a much higher margin in the US. That Land Rover is only just about to launch the Discovery for the American market, nearly five years after the European launch, is a story in itself.

The fact that a company such as BMW is buying Rover is testimony to the progress the company has made. Who could imagine anyone, let alone BMW, wanting even to be given Rover in the Seventies? That was when the battle to ensure a British-owned contender in world car markets was really lost.

Your sincerely,

PHILLIP OPPENHEIM

MP for Amber Valley (Con)

House of Commons

London, SW1

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