My other car is certainly not a BMW

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The Independent Online
SOMETHING pretty basic has been left out of the wall-to-wall coverage of BMW's takeover of Rover. It astounds me how little notice has been paid to us, the people who buy and drive Rover cars. The only reference to British buyers was one rather patronising line: we are apparently more staid than those with BMWs. I think that BMW's chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, as the ultimate Rover buyer, could benefit from a few insights. I offer these views amazed that I should care so much about the cars. But I suppose it shows what a good product can do to you.

I drive a Metro, have done for six years, love it and will trade it in for another. My parents drive a Rover saloon, and their only dilemma is whether to trade it in for a newer estate version. My sister and best friend drive Rover convertibles - these are lovely but unflashy objects of desire, far cheaper than BMW's equivalent and with proper back seats which fit in three children with ease. Two partners of friends have prospered enough to buy Range Rovers.

What marks us all out is that these are not company cars: they are bought with our own money. This is because they are competitively priced, good value and great performers. BMWs are seen by us as expensive company executive cars, costly to service and repair. It is not a marque I aspire to. I was shocked, discussing the takeover this week with a top British industrialist whose company actually makes auto parts, to hear him reassure me that my next Metro would carry a BMW badge. No thank you.

And I note that Mr Pischetsrieder has been careful enough so far to stress that the brands will be kept separate. Please do.

Second, and again I've canvassed opinions on this point, we have bought Rovers because they are British. It was certainly an important factor swinging the judgement in the cases I know about. This is why those of us who are concerned about Rover's long-term future should not be dismissed as narrowly nationalistic.

It may be that Rover needs to belong to a larger car-making consortium, rather than acting as a fringe division of a large industrial conglomerate such as British Aerospace. But Rover has been a shining example of how we can be enabled to act as mildly patriotic consumers, buy British and at the same time do ourselves a favour. It is regrettable that there are so few good consumer products like this.

I have read with some dismay that Mr Pischetsrieder, in his desire to placate British public opinion, has even suggested reviving other British car names such as Riley, Morris and Triumph. I say desist. Stick with Rover. Not all of us equate being British with living in some kind of theme park where we can draw inspiration only from past glories. The whole point about Rover is that it has transformed itself into a modern brand of the here and now. This is why it seems so pathetic that, with the company taken over, the only British-owned makes of car left are sidelines. They range from Rolls-Royce - a grotesque dinosaur - through the elegantly elitist Bristols to the toy-town Morgans,

appealing to the Noddy and Biggles instincts of grown men who ought to know

better.

To my mind, BMW has got a terrific deal. For the company's real failing is that it lacks a credible range of small cars, such as the Metro, which is where much of the future lies. I also see that Mr Pischetsrieder is planning to revive the Mini, but I note with dismay that BMW seems to think it should be sold as an up-market small car. Why be so snooty with this classic product of British forward thinking? Why not promote it instead as a pragmatic green option for the 21st century?

There's more to this than simply pledging to take advantage of our cheaper wage rates and revolutionised factory practices. After all, BMW wouldn't want to drive all us staid Britons away, would it?

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