The recent banning of the ‘Phoenix Four’ – the men who took over MG Rover from BMW – from being company directors centred on the tens of millions they paid themselves over the company’s five-year life span.
For me, however, the biggest crime of Messrs Beale, Towers, Stephenson and Edwards was the scale of their ineptitude in trying to turn MG Rover around. But perhaps ineptitude is the wrong word. It was outright neglect, according to one senior MG Rover player who saw the slow collapse from the inside.
He claims MG Rover bosses were offered a life raft shortly after they bought MG Rover for a tenner. Realising that Rover’s L-series diesel engine was hopelessly outclassed, they approached Fiat about buying in its JTD diesel.
Fiat, the insider claims, came back with an amazing offer. MGR could have the diesel, but it could also license the Fiat Stilo platform. Fiat had installed at least double the capacity that the slow-selling Stilo needed and had capacity to spare.
This could have been MGR’s lifeline. Okay, the Stilo platform wasn’t the best on the market, but updates were on the way and replacing the ancient Rover 45 was the company’s number one priority.
John Towers and engineering boss Nick Stephenson both had first-hand experience of taking base Honda products and polishing them up into Rovers. The Fiat deal was a near-identical plan. Come up with a new exterior and interior skin, tune the chassis and MGR would have had a competitive product at minimal cost.
The fact that the Phoenix Four didn’t return Fiat’s call suggests that they never really intended to turn MGR around by their own efforts. Selling MGR on in short order may have been the original plan. But they didn’t manage that either.