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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: December 2015

5 - Rover: Inside a failing car company


In this chapter we describe the evolution, decline and ultimate collapse of the Rover Car company, a UK auto firm that collapsed in 2005. Although the collapse occurred in 2005, Rover remains a very interesting example of crisis and resilience in the auto industry. The company, in various guises, had been around for a long time when it collapsed – over 100 years. At its peak it was large (producing around a million vehicles a year and employing approximately 200,000 people) and its decline occurred over a very long period – at least 40 years. Although there are many features of the story that are unique to Rover and the UK auto industry, there also many lessons from Rover's failure for other car companies.

Although the title of this chapter is ‘Rover’, ‘Rover’ or, strictly speaking, ‘MG Rover’ was in fact the brand name that was used on the company's vehicles only in the final years of its life, and before that was one of several brands offered by the company. The company was formed through a succession of acquisitions and mergers between smaller, independent producers, the last and most significant of which occurred in 1968 when the ‘British Leyland Motor Corporation’ (BLMC) was formed. BLMC was re-named a number of times over the years, with names that included British Leyland, BL, the Rover Group and eventually MG Rover. In the interests of simplicity we shall generally refer to the company as ‘Rover’, apart from when we are discussing specific events or periods in the company's history when we will use the name that applied at the time.

There have been several very comprehensive accounts of the history of Rover and the UK auto industry more generally. It is not our intention to replicate these here, but interested readers may wish to consult Williams et al. (1987), Church (1994) and Pilkington (1996).

We shall refer to various sources as we recount the Rover story, but we will draw most heavily on around 45 interviews that the authors personally conducted, along with Mike Carver, with key participants in the Rover story, a number of whom were CEOs of the company at various points in its history.