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Rover was a British automobile manufacturer and later a marque based at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham. In recent years it was part of the MG Rover Group. However, in April 2005, production stopped when the company became insolvent. In July 2005 the Nanjing Automobile Group acquired the assets, with plans to resume production in China, and possibly also at Longbridge, in 2006. On September 18, 2006 Ford bought the rights to the Rover name from BMW for approximately £6 million. Ford had acquired an option of first refusal to buy the Rover brand as a result of its purchase of Land Rover from BMW in 2000.

History

The first Rover was a tricycle manufactured by Starley & Sutton Co of Coventry, England in 1883. The company was founded by John Kemp Starley and William Sutton in 1878. Starley had formerly worked with his uncle James Starley (father of the cycle trade) who began in manufacturing sewing machines and switched to bicycles in 1869.

In the early 1880s the cycles available were the relatively dangerous penny-farthings and high-wheel tricycles. J. K. Starley made history in 1885 by producing the Rover Safety Bicycle - a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, making it more stable than the previous high wheeled designs. Cycling Magazine said the Rover had 'set the pattern to the world' and the phrase was used in their advertising for many years. Starley's Rover is usually described by historians as the first recognisably modern bicycle. In 1888 Starley made an electric car, but it never was put into production.

In 1889 the company became J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd and in the late 1890s, the Rover Cycle Company Ltd. Three years after Starley's death in 1901, the Rover company began producing automobiles with the two-seater Rover Eight to the designs of Edmund Lewis who came from Daimler. During the First World War they made motorcycles, lorries to Maudsley designs and not having a suitable one of their own, cars to a Sunbeam design. Bicycle and motorcycle production continued until the Great Depression forced the end of production in 1925. The business was not very successful during the 1920s and did not pay a dividend from 1923 until the mid 1930s. In 1929 when there was a change of management with Spencer Wilks coming in from Hillman as general manager. He set about reorganising the company and moving it up market to cater for people who wanted something "superior" to Fords and Austins. He was joined by his brother Maurice, who had also been at Hillman, as chief engineer in 1930. Spencer Wilks stayed with the company until 1962 and his brother until 1963.

Golden years

The 1950s and '60s were fruitful years for the company, with the Land Rover becoming a runaway success (despite Rover's reputation for making up-market saloons, the utiliarian Land Rover was actually the company's biggest seller throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s), as well as the P5 and P6 saloons equipped with a 3.5L (215ci) aluminium V8, the design and tooling of which was purchased from Buick, and pioneering research into gas turbine fuelled vehicles. In 1967, Rover became part of the Leyland Motor Corporation, which merged with the British Motor Holdings to become British Leyland. This was the beginning of the end for the traditional Rover, as the Solihull based company's heritage drowned beneath the infamous industrial relations and managerial problems that beset the British motor industry throughout the 1970s. In 1970, Rover combined its skill in producing comfortable saloons and the rugged Land Rover 4x4 to produce the Range Rover, the first car to combine off-road ability and comfortable versatility. Powered by the ex-Buick V8 engine, it had innovative features such as a permanent 4 wheel drive system, all-coil spring suspension and disc brakes on all wheels. Able to reach speeds of up to 100 MPH, yet also capable of extreme off-road use, the original Range Rover design was to remain in production for the next 26 years.

The Rover SD1 of 1976 was an excellent car, but was beset with so many build quality and reliability issues that it never delivered its great promise. A savage programme of cutbacks in the late 1970s led to the end of car production at the Solihull factory which was turned over for Land Rover production only. All future Rover cars would be made in the former Austin and Morris plants in Longbridge and Cowley, respectively.

Rover and Honda

In 1981, Austin Rover Group was formed in 1981 as the mass-market car manufacturing subsidiary of BL. In the 1980s, the slimmed-down BL used the Rover badge on a range of cars co-developed with Honda. The first Honda-sourced model, released in 1984 was the Rover 200, which, like the Triumph Acclaim that it replaced, was based on the Honda Ballade. (Similarly, in Australia, the Honda Quint (known in Europe as the Quintet) and Integra were badged as the Rover Quintet and 416i.) In 1986, the Rover SD1 was replaced by the Rover 800, developed with the Honda Legend. By this time Austin Rover had moved to a one-marque strategy and was renamed simply Rover Group. The Austin range were now technically Rovers, though the word "Rover" never actually appeared on the badging — there was instead a badge similar to the Rover Viking shape, without wording. These were replaced by the Rover 400 and Rover 600, based on Honda's Concerto and Accord.

BMW takeover

This was to prove to be the turn-around point for the company, steadily rebuilding its image to the point where once again Rovers were seen as upmarket alternatives to Fords and Vauxhalls. The 1994 takeover by BMW saw the development of the Rover 75, before the infamous de-merger in 2000. BMW retained the rights to the Rover name (and the associated portfolio of brands such as Mini, Triumph and Austin-Healey) after it sold the business, only licensing it to the Phoenix consortium while it was in control of Rover.

The BMW management knew that Rover needed a new product lineup to be competitive with Opel/Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Ford and the other leading mainstream volume manufaturers. The 75 was the first part of this lineup. The MINI was the second. To replace both the 200 and the 400 with a more direct successor to the 1980s 200 was the Rover 55 (R30 project) intended to combat the Opel Astra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf in the competitive and lucrative European small family car segment. This high volume semi-premium vehicle was cancelled in 2000, just as the Rover group was sold. The BMW 1-Series is considered by some to be the result of this project. BMW has the rights to the R30 project's engineering and design.

Nanjing Automobile and Ford

The company continued as the MG Rover Group but production ceased on April 7 2005, when it was declared insolvent. In July 2005 the entire company was sold to the Nanjing Automobile Group, who indicated that their preliminary plans involved relocating the Powertrain engine plant to China while splitting car production into Rover lines in China and resumed MG lines in the West Midlands (though not necessarily at Longbridge), where a UK R&D and technical facility would also be developed.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, who were also bidding for MG Rover, planned to release their own version of the Rover 75 in late 2006. On July 16th, Shanghai Automotive announced their intent to buy the Rover brandname from BMW to whom it reverted after the collapse of the MG Rover Group. However, due to Ford's relationship to BMW in regards to the Rover name, Ford took up their option on the company name and bought it on September 18, 2006, in part to protect their right to the use of the name Land Rover. The Rover name will become part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group (PAG), but Ford has no immediate plans for producing any cars with the Rover badge. Due to Shangai's inability to gain the Rover name, they created their own brand with a similar name and badge, known as Roewe.

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