20 May 2005

Two aggressive new British bidders for MG, both claiming powerful backing and extensive industry connections, have dramatically escalated what now seems certain to be a full-scale bidding war over the name and assets of one of the world’s most famous sports car marques. Both envisage continuing MG as a sports car company, maintaining TF production, and launching more models in the future. The bidders are Chapman Automotive Ltd, a successful Essex-based automotive consultancy fronted by ex-Lotus design director Colin Spooner, and UK Sports Cars Ltd, a newly formed company with former Powertrain boss Fraser Welford-Winton and a retinue of ex-MG Rover managers on its board.

The moves are welcome news for MG enthusiasts concerned that Jon Moulton’s Alchemy partnership, which bid unsuccessfully for MG Rover five years ago, has withdrawn as a bidder. Keep MG British lobbyists are concerned at gathering signs that SAIC, the Chinese group with which MG Rover had intended to merge, will soon bid for the collapsed company’s remaining assets, including the MG interests. SAIC has just signed a ‘significant contract’ with the UK engineering consultancy Ricardo.Bid one

Chapman Automotive, named after the famed Lotus founder Colin Chapman, is bidding for the MG brand, the MG TF and the plant to manufacture it. It claims funding from ‘a consortium including an overseas vehicle manufacturer, a US-based investment fund and a wealthy investor.’ The Chapman plan involves reviving TF production and moving it to another West Midlands facility, but not producing any more MG saloons. Production would begin ‘later this year’ and cars would be sold through a revived dealer network in right-hand-drive countries. A return to the US would also be on the cards. Chapman was involved in the production of the seductive but unsuccessful Tommy Kaira, and MD Colin Spooner was a leading light in the production of the Mk2 Lotus Elan.

Bid two

Six ex-Powertrain bosses have banded together, led by MD Fraser Welford-Winton, to form a company called UK Sports Cars Ltd, aiming not only to resurrect MG but the Austin-Healey marque as well with a V8-powered rear-wheel drive roadster. The consortium’s first move will be to restart MG TF production at Longbridge and soon afterwards launch a coupé version of the car, first revealed in Autocar last November. The company is also believed to be planning an entry-level MG Midget. If its bid were successful, UK Sports Cars would aim to have the Austin Healey 4000 in production by 2010. The plan would be to give the car an extruded aluminium box-section chassis, of the type used by the Lotus Elise and Aston Martin range, and to use superformed aluminium body panels.

Bid three

Jon Moulton, the venture capitalist whose Alchemy Partners group was the unsuccessful bidder when BMW quit Rover five years ago, originally showed renewed interest in the sports car marque this time round, but has now withdrawn from the race. His objectives in 2000 were very similar to those being drawn up now by the other bidders — to discontinue the Rover side of the business but build up MG as a specialist, low-volume, sports car manufacturer. He had a similar plan on the drawing board this time, though he was always doubtful that it could succeed. He is believed to have withdrawn because of the sale of intellectual property rights to SAIC, and the loss of Xpart, the Xpower parts business, which he considered vital to the success of any revived company.

Bid four

MG Rover’s proposed Chinese partner of 2004, which has already acquired rights to several MGR models and to some K-series engines, is believed to be a bidder for much that remains at Longbridge. Other bidders fear that it may be interested in some of the MG properties — perhaps not all, but enough to make revival of the sports car company an impossibility. The seriousness of its intentions in the UK were underscored last week by a cryptic announcement from the Ricardo engineering consultancy late last week, which stated it had ‘signed a significant contract’ with SAIC. The Chinese have yet to approach BMW to negotiate the rights to use Rover’s name. The fortunes of those negotiations will affect how SAIC views bidding for MG.

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