12 May 2005

A team of ex-Rover engineers is being assembled in secret to help Chinese car-maker SAIC shift production of the Rover 75 to China.Key personnel who were part of a 40-strong team seconded to China are being targeted by SAIC.The plan is to base the team at automotive engineering consultancy Ricardo’s Warwickshire site.Ricardo denies any knowledge of the project, which is in the early planning stages, although industry sources confirm that approaches have been made to several engineers and that Ricardo is the project’s planned home.‘The idea is to corral a few key engineers so the project can go forward,’ said a source.But the team faces a massive challenge. Under the joint-venture plan, Chinese production of the 75 was scheduled to start in mid-or late-2006, though MGR’s collapse could push this to early 2007.A key problem is the press tooling for the 75 bodyshell. Although most of the press dies are owned by MG Rover, a significant number are jointly owned with suppliers which are owed substantial sums and are likely to play a tough bargaining game.Because of this, SAIC is understood to be looking at completely re-tooling for the 75 in China.Meanwhile details have emerged of the relationship between SAIC and MGR. SAIC paid around £2m or £500,000 a month for consultancy work in the first four months of the year to ease MGR’s cashflow.Julian Rendell

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