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THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON) March 09, 2002, Saturday


Copyright 2002 Telegraph Group Limited
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)


March 09, 2002, Saturday

SECTION: Pg. 14

LENGTH: 1628 words

HEADLINE: An embarrassment of riches There was no chance this year of whizzing round the Swiss motor show and choosing one star car before going for a long lunch. As reporters Andrew English and Peter Dron discovered, there were too many important cars being launched

BYLINE: By ANDREW ENGLISH and PETER DRON

BODY:
With the American car market on its knees, Europe is under close scrutiny. But motor manufacturers still can't get their heads around the concept of building cars for markets that show little or no growth, and always get greedy when they size their factories. That's why they are searching for signs of sales growth that Europe is unlikely to supply; most pundits were predicting a steady state or a gentle decline. In those circumstances, the factories inevitably over-supply the market, which in turn means discounting or even unsold cars and low profits.

Into this picture comes Britain, with the pound's value soaring above that of the euro. Honda UK MD Ken Keir held his head in his hands when he talked about the economics of producing cars in Britain and selling them in Europe. "We're pretty good at making cars," he said, "but when I see a transporter of Civics headed for Europe I'm looking at a total loss to us. Don't you find it strange how some companies have gone strangely silent about calling for Britain to join the euro?"

Keir reckons some European car makers are making up to 20 per cent of their overall profits in Britain simply through the favourable exchange rate. ***, for instance, issued strident calls for Britain to join the euro when it owned Rover, but has developed a sore throat recently.

The situation is complicated by the American and some Far Eastern markets, which, although depressed, have higher-value currencies than the euro. Wherever possible Honda has diverted Swindon's Civic production to Japan, the Far East and America, and makes European countries import Civics from Japan; it makes sense, but only to accountants.

In a similar way, *** is hoping to offset potentially loss-making sales of its new MINI to Europe with profitable sales to Japan and North America. Apparently these Byzantine arrangements do work, but only if people want to buy your cars in the first place

ROVER TCV

DON'T ask too many questions about the good-looking Rover Tourer Concept Vehicle (TCV) as there aren't many answers, as yet. The Peter Stevens design cries out to be built and there could also be a four-door saloon, a five-door hatchback and an MG coupe based on the same platform. But which platform?

The TCV is based on a Rover 75, but it could also go on top of a Rover 45, or possibly an all-new platform that might be the result of secret negotiations that were taking place with unnamed parties as the covers were swept off the TCV.

Rover says the car is a public indication of its future design thinking, a shop window in other words: "This is what we could do if we had a partner." Against all odds, it was good to see the auld firm coming up with something so good looking, modern and innovative. We might know more about it in a few weeks, when the results of those talks become clear.
 
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