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Friday, 5 May, 2000, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Rover celebrates sales boost
Rover 75
The widely-acclaimed Rover 75 was dubbed the 'last chance saloon'
A dramatic rise in Rover new car sales in April has given the troubled firm reason to celebrate as talks continue to try to assure its future.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that Rover car sales rose by a startling 116.5% to 22,665 units.

April's favourites (units sold)
Rover 25 (9,910)
Vauxhall Astra (7,422)
Ford Focus (7,412)
Ford Fiesta (6,014)
Rover 75 (5,704)
This means the firm had a 13.47% share of the new car market - second only to Ford and more than twice the share it achieved in March.

The Rover 25 was April's top-selling model for the first time since 1995, with 9,910 cars sold, while the widely-acclaimed top-of-the-range Rover 75 was in fifth place with 5,704 purchases.

The leap has been partly attributed to discounts, although Rover officials will be hoping it reflects a wave of loyalty from car buyers in the face of the threatened demise of the marque.

Firm 'grateful'

Rover UK managing director John Parkinson said the firm had introduced strong offers in April to assure customers.

"The response has been phenomenal and we are grateful for the support and loyalty expressed, in convincing fashion, by the British public to Rover," he said.

There is a very clear message that Rover has a future if someone will back them

Alan Pullman, of the National Franchise Dealers' Association
Rover's performance is in marked contrast to the market as a whole which saw new registrations slip 8.1% following the rush to buy cars in March when the latest "W" plate was introduced.

Rover figures also contrast with those of its parent firm BMW which saw its market share fall from 3% to 2%.

Registrations of British-built cars bucked the general market trend and recorded strong growth.

The SMMT said the size of the increase was surprisingly strong and reflected consumers' willingness to support British-built products, especially when very attractive deals were offered.

Pricing 'right'

Alan Pullman, of the National Franchise Dealers' Association, representing car showrooms, said the figures should encourage banks to back the Phoenix bid.

"It just goes to show that when you get your act together, you can deliver in the market. Rover got the pricing right in April and the dealers delivered," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There is a very clear message that Rover has a future if someone will back them," he added.

Phoenix, under the leadership of former Rover executive John Towers, wants to continue full scale production at the Longbridge factory, safeguarding thousands of jobs.

Negotiations which began following the collapse of a deal with rival bidders Alchemy have been less than smooth.

Mr Towers has met Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers to update him on the progress of this week's talks.

Talks 'deadlock'

BMW said it could not rule out the possibility that it would break off talks with with Phoenix because it was concerned that the consortium lacked adequate financial backing.

"The financial backing is not yet in place," a BMW spokesman said.

On Thursday, British banks were reported to be blocking the rescue effort, despite government support.

BMW has said it will close Rover within a month if a deal cannot be reached.

The consortium, which includes a director of UK car bodies firm Mayflower, two Rover dealers and racing car group Lola, has refused to discuss publicly the financial details of its bid.

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See also:

05 May 00 | Business
The right formula?
15 Mar 00 | Business
Nice cars, shame about the name
02 May 00 | Business
Phoenix optimism on Rover talks
28 Apr 00 | Business
Can Phoenix turn Rover around?
16 Mar 00 | Business
Alchemy shies away from Rover risk
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