LONDON - BMW is making a two-pronged attack on the mid-luxury market.
Rover Group's R40 sedan will join the BMW 5 series in the segment next summer.
Until now, the positioning of the new Rover hasn't been clear. But last week Rover pulled a corner off the front of the R40 in an effort to keep the Jaguar S-Type from getting all the publicity.
The new Rover is more than a replacement for the 600 and 800. As Rover's first new car developed after BMW took over in 1994, and as the flagship of the marque, it shows BMW's strategy for Rover cars.
Putting the R40 against the Jaguar S-Type also puts it against the BMW 5 series in the mid-luxury category.
For buyers with a technical preference, there is a difference. BMWs are rear-wheel-drive, and Rover cars are front-wheel-drive.
BMW invested £400 million in the R40, which will arrive in dealerships by the middle of next year. The Jaguar S-Type goes on sale next April.
The R40 car is essential for both the company and its dealers. Rover's sales and market share have been dwindling, and the Rover car name does not carry much power outside the UK market.
'We're working on a fresh strategy as opposed to being the mini car, etc.,' said Rover Group spokesman Vincent Hammersley. 'This car reinforces the heritage and values of the Rover marque.'
The car will be shown at the Birmingham auto show in October. At least 100,000 units will be produced annually in Oxford, UK, double the production of the 600/800.
Europe will be the major market for the car, but it has been engineered for North America. BMW has not yet decided on a distribution strategy for the USA and Canada, and the car would not arrive until after 2000.
'This car will be of the highest quality,' Hammersley said. 'If we have to delay the launch a month or so, that's OK, because quality is the top priority.'
Hammersley said all design and engineering of the car were done by a virtual reality computer program. The manufacturing stations were also designed by virtual reality.
The company will hire an additional 1,000 workers, bringing the entire workforce at the plant to 5,000.