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The Christchurch Press - New Zealand; Mar 27, 2002

Two years after being discarded by ***, it appears Rover might be on the verge of a resurgence with a new Chinese partner. DRIVE has a look.

One of the few surprise showings at the Geneva Motor Show recently was the appearance of a completely new concept car, that Rover -- with help from proposed new partner CBIH of China -- may have in production by 2004.

Named the TCV, the new Rover was shown as an external full-size model, combined with a dynamic virtual-reality demonstration of its ingenious interior package capabilities. It was created to show the company's styling and design vision for upcoming vehicles.

Although the concept was innovative and free- thinking, Rover insisted that it been designed for genuine production feasibility, and is intended to replace the current "45" model, which is known in New Zealand as the 200.

Rover explained that recent developments in world car markets reflected a growth in new categories of car, such as MPVs, van-based estate cars, and various "cross-over" hybrid vehicles. The Rover TCV demonstrated the combination of luxury, style, and driving enjoyment with exceptional practicality and adaptability. Although the car is fashionably high-riding, it does not have four-wheel-drive and is expected to use refined and improved versions of current Rover drivetrain technology, which currently only encompasses conventional transverse front-wheel-drive engineering.

As a starting point, the TCV is a stylishly modern "lifestyle" estate car with a roomy five-passenger cabin. Key features include a highly adaptable seating plan where the rear three seat squabs each fold individually to lie flush with the normal rear load floor. The front passenger seat squab is able to follow suit.

This allows several combinations of passengers and loads, and any folded seats can also be used in "table-top" mode for business or leisure. The centre rear seat squab can be replaced with various "slot-in" modules, including a child seat, an entertainment centre, a fridge/food warmer, and a business desktop unit.

In addition to a special hatch door hinged well forward to give access to the loadspace, the lower bumper section also hinges open, revealing a large secure box-shaped underfloor storage compartment. Current and future development in puncture management is expected to render a spare wheel redundant.

The main load floor is designed so that it can be removed from the normal position and stowed on the floor of the lower compartment, thus creating an exceptionally deep cargo space with full-depth access from the rear.

One package objective was to be able to stow a normal front-loading washing machine in the upright position. Rover's rationale for this was not to create a delivery van, but to provide a universally recognisable demonstration of the remarkable capability of the package.

To help with the insertion and removal of such bulky and heavy loads, the lower drop-down bumper has been engineered to form a flush loading platform when open.

The first step towards finding a production base for the TCV and other future products took place last Thursday, when MG Rover Group Limited and China Brilliance Industrial Holdings entered into a partnership to finance, develop, manufacture, and market cars for the mutual benefit of each partner.

The alliance would provide the potential for MG Rover-derived cars to be manufactured in China, including those that will be jointly developed including the TCV.

Plans are also in place for the joint development of a new small car and additional models, as well as for MG Rover to manufacture and market CBIH- derived vehicles.

The companies will cooperate on the supply and manufacture of engines, as well as development of new ranges, said MG Rover, which would provide "considerable technical support" and assistance to establish manufacturing processes and systems in China, including the establishment of a joint Research and Development centre in China.

Central to the alliance are the cost benefits from larger manufacturing volumes. Joint component sourcing strategies would be established to maximise the economic benefit of the companies' combined purchasing.

The alliance should enable both partners to grow more quickly and benefit from each other's strengths, says MG Rover.

"This is a wide-ranging global alliance that spans the full breadth of both company's activities, and presents many opportunities," said Kevin Howe, MG Rover's chief executive.

"Brilliance has achieved outstanding results in a very short space of time and demonstrates world class standards in everything it does. It is clearly the leading automotive manufacturer in the world's fastest growing car market.

"China will be one of the most important markets. It is the world's fastest growing market for cars. The alliance can move quickly into a position where it can fully exploit this market's potential," said Mr Howe.

Dr Brian X. Sun, chief executive of CBIH, said that from the beginning it was clear that Brilliance and MG Rover had a similar philosophy and operating style.

"MG Rover and CBIH do not have products that compete directly, which means we can take the full benefit from our alliance, without our plans conflicting in any way," he said.

He added that benefit would come from large economies of scale, which would spread development costs for new products over bigger volumes, and increase purchasing power for components, which would in turn make the products more competitive.

Market territories have been assigned to each partner. Vehicles can be manufactured and sold exclusively by CBIH in China, and the majority of Asia and Africa.

MG Rover will have exclusivity in all other markets, although consideration would be given to combining efforts in the United States where Rover planned to return after some ignominious experiences in the 70s and 80s.

At Geneva, Rover confirmed that several parties were interested in continuing the brand in New Zealand -- one of its most loyal markets -- but would not be drawn on the timing of moves to establish a new distributor here.
 
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