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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 10:55 GMT
MG Rover takes stock
Mark Foster
By Mark Foster
BBC West Midlands Business correspondent

The Rover plant in Longbridge
Drivers who pass through Longbridge on their way to Birmingham might be forgiven for thinking the school half term had moved into a second week.

Roads normally clogged with the cars of workers, vans of suppliers and huge transporters around the sprawling MG Rover car factory are likely to remain quiet.

The plant is being shut for five days as the group rebuilds its supply stock.

The car maker, saved from closure when it was bought by a consortium of Birmingham businessmen nearly three years ago, was badly affected when a fire destroyed its supplier of seats last year.

But its critics suggest the break is a convenient pause in troubled times.

Up in smoke

The huge Fehrer Great Britain factory burned to the ground in Smethwick last July, halting deliveries of foam seats to Longbridge.

The production of 2500 cars was lost as Fehrer switched to another factory in the north west.

Now Fehrer is ready to resume production in Smethwick but needs time to build up stocks to ensure a steady flow of supply.

While this is happening Rover has decided to stop production at Longbridge, to avoid another build up of cars waiting to have seats fitted.

Breathing space

The break will also give MG Rover a chance to reorganise its own seat operation for the Rover 75, which has caused production blockages.

Critics of MG Rover, however, say it is also a convenient breathing space for the company which saw UK sales in January slump by 30% compared with the year before.

Rover is also falling short of its target to reach an average production of 200,000 cars a year.

The company says this is due in part to a decision to withdraw some models from Europe because it was not prepared to sell cars at a loss simply to maintain volumes.

On the up

The car-maker insists sales are recovering, with good trading in December and a healthy start to February.

Rover's MG XPower SV
The new Rover MG XPower SV
Rover has a relatively small management team, allowing it to stay nimble and make some unusual moves, quickly.

It is starting production of a Metro size replacement in India, based on Tata's Indica, is about to clinch a deal to make cars at a former Daewoo factory in Poland and showed its monstrously powerful MG SV at the Birmingham Motor Show.

The group has also boxed in the back windows of its 25 model and called it a van.

The workers at Longbridge may also feel a little more secure when production of a new mid-sized car starts there in 2004.

But in the meantime there is remains the small matter of a strike ballot over pay to resolve.

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