BIRMINGHAM, England - The Phoenix consortium, the new owner of Rover Cars, plans to use the MG brand to give the ailing company a complete image upheaval - a move which could even lead to the end of the Rover name.
'We have a living brand in MG which has very much underachieved,' said former Rover product chief Nick Stephenson, now back at Rover as a member of the Phoenix consortium. 'We see a future in producing very credible sporting sedans. There is a rich history in MG sedans as well as sports cars and we have no problem in producing them again - but they will have to be credible.'
Stephenson said Phoenix plans to develop a range of MGs based on the Rover 75 - including a future coupe. 'I believe the 75 is the perfect car on which to build the MG brand. It has been developed and produced to exacting BMW standards.
'We must make cars which will broaden our appeal,' he said. 'There has been a lot of damage done to the brand over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons which I will not go into. The Rover brand has its limitations and we want to produce cars with zest and youthfulness.'
Phoenix currently has an agreement to use the Rover name on existing models (the 75, 25 and 45) but will have to renegotiate the name as and when new models are developed.
'At the moment we are still Rover Group Ltd. but we will step back and see if that is what we want to be called in the future,' said Stephenson.
Key to producing 'credible' MGs in the future will be the consortium's links with Lola Cars. Stephenson is projects director of the racing car manufacturer while fellow Phoenix member David Bowes is managing director.
Lola's main business is building race cars for the US IndyCar series and Stephenson sees 'mouth-watering' prospects for the future.
'There is an explicit link with Lola Cars and its IndyCar technology is broadly the same as Formula 1. We will be looking at opportunities to bring Lola technologies into MG and we are talking about cutting-edge technologies.'
Areas the two could work together include aerodynamics, chassis and powertrain. Stephenson added: 'Lola has one of the finest moving-road wind tunnels in Europe, if not the world, and a no-holds-barred MG could benefit from this.
'Lola has long held a dream to produce a supercar like the McLaren F1. Between the two of us we may have the means to make this a reality. We will certainly not resist doing something like that - it is the last thing anyone would expect us to do in the circumstances.'
Given the limited financial resources - a 500 million (A826 million) loan from BMW along with a similar amount from financial institutions - just how would the company fund such a project?
Stephenson said: 'We recognize we are a small company and we will never make the mistake of thinking we are a large company. As a small company we will have to leverage as much help as we can from our suppliers who now have highly sophisticated development capability.
'We will be looking for shared investments in much the same way we developed the MGF with Mayflower Corp., which helped bring that car to market and still produces the body-in-white. There will be lots of opportunities to operate effectively in harness with our supplier base.'
Powertrains and stampings still come from BMW. 'We would like to do this ourselves,' Stephenson said, 'and we are currently looking to see if we can come up with a valid offer to make to BMW.
'We want to be a complete car company so I am recruiting 500 to 600 engineers from Gaydon [the research and development center being sold to Ford with Land Rover]. These negotiations are quite well advanced in cooperation with BMW and Ford. We have to find a new home of course, and this will be at our Longbridge plant where there is plenty of room.'