24 October 2003

The launch of MG Rover’s crucial new mid-size hatch has been delayed until spring 2005, the company will reveal next month. The delay is a fresh blow in the week that it announces its financial results – and means the vital replacement for the ageing 45, originally due next April, will go on sale 10 years after the current model was launched.

It also means official confirmation that the troubled Rover RD60 and MG X60 will finally be committed to production. Many observers and suppliers had begun to doubt if RD/X60 would ever reach showrooms after the collapse of consultancy TWR, which was engineering the car, in February. ‘There’s been silence from the company since work stopped in the spring,’ one Autocar source said. ‘At last we’re expecting to find out about their plans.’

The new model strategy will be revealed in a secret meeting of key suppliers on 6 November, hosted by Chris Millard, MG Rover’s strategy chief. The firm will also reveal facelifts of all three Rover models, the 25, 45 and 75.

These should be phased in during 2004 with detail changes to bumpers, grilles and interiors influenced by the look of the RD/X60. The facelifts are expected to be more than cosmetic tweaks and will feature some new body panels – an expensive change because of the high cost of re-tooling.

At the 6 November meeting, Millard and his team will unveil a running prototype of the new RD60 five-door hatchback, whose styling has evolved significantly from versions being worked on by TWR. That five-door hatch – scooped by Autocar back in August 2001 – had a very low roofline and fastback styling.

The design chosen for production is a more conventional shape, with styling evolved from the controversial TCV show car, below. However, MG Rover has abandoned plans for a range of bodystyles, leaving only a five-door hatch.

There is also a possibility that Pininfarina will help engineer the RD/X60 for production. The Italian coachbuilder is rumoured to have been in talks with MG Rover and prototypes have been seen at its Matra subsidiary. But insiders deny any involvement.

MG Rover had extensive talks with Matra last year, about the possibility of selling a reskinned version of the previous Renault Espace, to which Matra has the production rights, and a Smart-like city car, codenamed M72, that had been engineered by the French firm. Ultimately the discussions came to nothing, but the companies have apparently maintained contact.

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