PARIS - Rover Group has held discussions with a 'major carmaker' about providing a platform for the next generation of its medium-size cars, according to Chairman John Towers.
'A thorough planning operation has already been launched and we have been solicited by a major carmaker,' said Towers.
But Towers would not reveal the identity of Rover's potential partner.
Towers said the talks should start next spring and end by the autumn. The present-generation Rover 25 and 45 models will be built at Rover's Longbridge plant in the English midlands until at the end of 2004, he said.
In August, British newspapers speculated that Rover was holding discussions about a tie-up with Proton, the Malaysian carmaker that owns English sports car maker Lotus. Rover and Proton both denied the reports.
This spring, BMW sold its money-losing Rover business to Phoenix Group, a consortium of British businessmen led by Towers, for 10 (E16.5). Phoenix won out over rival Alchemy Group, a venture capital firm BMW had selected to take control of the Rover business.
Under Phoenix, Rover plans to build about 200,000 cars per year. About 75 percent will be Rover branded vehicles and 25 percent MGs. The company will be renamed MG Rover Group soon.
Rover will develop MG-badged sedans on the Rover 25, 45 and 75 platforms. The MG brand will be more performance oriented. This summer, Rover hired Peter Stevens, designer of the McLaren Formula One supercar, to design the new MG-badged cars. Rob Oldaker, former Rolls-Royce engineer, is product development chief.
Rover will produce a station wagon version of its 75 sedan at Longbridge next year.
Rover will also develop an MG race car to compete at Le Mans. The race car is being developed in cooperation with British performance engineering firm Lola.
But many analysts still believe that Rover's future as an independent car company is uncertain.
Charles Moss, analyst for JD Power-LMC in Oxford, England, said Rover hasn't shown enough urgency in finding a partner.
'They still haven't done the one thing they knew they had to do from day one,' Moss said. 'They need a major manufacturer to work with them - a Honda, a Toyota or a Volkswagen. Rover needs a big brother.'
All Rover's cars will be made at its Longbridge plant. Starting in late September, Rover will concentrate on four car lines at Longbridge. Now being installed is the assembly line for the flagship 75, which has been moved from BMW's plant in Oxford, England.
The Rover 25 and 45 are now being built on a single line, and the MGF sports car on another line. The last of the old Minis will be built at Longbridge in October. BMW will build its new Mini in Oxford.