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Austin Rover Group Limited
Fate Renamed to Rover Group plc
Successor Rover Group
Founded 1982 (from BL's Austin Morris and Rover Triumph divisions)
Defunct 1989
Headquarters West Midlands, England
Key people Graham Day
Industry Automobiles
Products Austin Metro
Austin Maestro
Triumph Acclaim
Rover 800-series/Sterling
Employees ?
Parent BL plc (part of BLMC Ltd and ARG Holdings Ltd)
Rover Group plc
British Aerospace plc
Subsidiaries Unipart

The Austin Rover Group (ARG) was a British motor manufacturer. It was formed in 1981 as the mass-market car manufacturing subsidiary of British Leyland (BL). ARG was the end result of a comprehensive restructuring programme intended to rescue BL from almost-certain oblivion, and with the Triumph, Morris, Riley and Wolseley marques now effectively dead, the new, leaner car business was rechristened as the Austin Rover Group.

In 1989, ARG was rebranded as Rover Group, the name of its owner. In 2008, Tata Motors purchased the Rover marque, as well as former BL/Rover Group businesses, Land Rover and Jaguar Cars, and the former BL marques Daimler and Lanchester, from the Ford Motor Company. The Austin marque has been retired and the Mini marque is owned by BMW.


Rover 213SE

1986 Rover 820Si

Following the collapse of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1975 and the stark Ryder Report on the ailing firm, the resulting government bail-out and nationalisation saw the company being renamed to British Leyland (BL)[1].

However, the huge industrial relations problems, ineffectual management and product duplication that had plagued the company up to the nationalisation continued throughout the late 1970s. The problems centered around Longbridge union leader and shop steward Derek Robinson (nicknamed "Red Robbo" by the British press). Robinson had assumed a greater level of control over BL than any of its senior managers, and his network of union leaders in the various BL plants had the power to end production if he had instructed them to do so.

The Labour government of the time ran out of patience with Robinson, and appointed South African-born corporate troubleshooter Sir Michael Edwardes to turn BL around.

His first task was to curb the excessive amount of power that the trade unions had over the company. After discovering Robinson's links with various communist groups, the company amassed sufficient evidence claiming that his actions were intended to deliberately damage both BL itself and the UK economy. As a result of this, he was dismissed in 1979. Secondly, Edwardes began a ruthless programme of factory closures and sell-offs. The biggest casualties of this were the MG assembly plant in Abingdon, England, and the Triumph plants in Speke(Mersyside) and Canley. BL pulled out of entire markets - for example the large Leyland tractors range was sold off wholesale to Marshall. Thirdly, he entered into a collaborative agreement with Honda, which paved the way for the joint development of a range of cars which spearheaded the company's revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Lastly, the number of BL dealerships in the UK was trimmed down drastically.

The new, slimmer British Leyland was organised into a series of groups. Austin Rover handled the mass production of cars, with the lower- to mid-market cars being badged as Austins and the middle- to upper-market cars as Rovers. Light commercial vehicle production (4x4s and vans) was managed by the Land Rover Group, whilst full-size commercial vehicles were built by Leyland Trucks and Leyland Bus.

Sales of Austin Rover products were reasonably strong, though not quite as high as the sales achieved by some of the British Leyland products. The Austin/MG Metro was regularly among the top five selling cars in Britain throughout the 1980s, and in the early part of the decade it was the best selling supermini in the country. The Metro, which was launched in 1980, gave the firm a much-needed competitor in the entry-level hatchback market and filled a gap in the range vacated by a scaling down of Mini and Austin Allegro production.

The Austin/MG Maestro (launched in 1983), was initially very popular, but sales dipped towards the end of the decade and in 1989 it was the 19th best selling car new car in the UK. This was less of a problem thanks to the introduction of the similar-sized Rover 200 in 1984 — the product of a venture with Honda and one of the few strong-selling small family saloons of its era. So in effect, Austin Rover was selling around 100,000 cars of this size every year during the mid to late 1980s, regaining its share of the sector after the scaling-down of Austin Allegro production in its final years.

The Austin/MG Montego went on sale in 1984 and sold fairly well, though it was unable to match the sales success of the sector's established favourites — the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier. The car had been in the pipeline since the late 1970s when the company's main competitors in this sector were the Morris Marina and Austin Maxi, but the Montego actually replaced the Morris Ital that had been launched in 1980 as an updated version of the Marina. The Maxi continued until 1982, when it was discontinued in preparation for the launch of the Maestro and Montego.

Austin Rover's executive car, the Rover 800, was launched in 1986 as the second product of its venture with Honda, being based on the Honda Legend. This car also sold well, being a popular competitor for the likes of the Ford Granada and Vauxhall Carlton. It was also sold in America under the Sterling brand, but this project was quickly shelved due to low sales.

Austin Rover's decision not to replace sports cars like the MG MGB and Triumph TR7 was justified by the fact that such cars were no longer popular in the early 1980s, and many other manufacturers had also stopped - or were about to stop - production of such cars. Buyers were instead being guided to "hot hatchbacks", following a trend set by Volkswagen's Golf GTI in 1976. By 1985, Austin Rover had launched a line-up of performance variants of its Metro, Maestro and Montego hatchbacks. These cars all made use of a revived MG marque. They proved reasonably popular, though few enthusiasts regarded them as true MGs. The Rover Group continued production of these "badge engineered" models until 1991.

Following the renaming of its parent company, BL, in 1986 to the Rover Group, and the subsequent sell-off of its truck and bus businesses, and takeover in 1988 by British Aerospace, and then in 1994 by BMW, the combine now known as Rover Group was eventually sold back into private ownership and became MG Rover, which lasted five years before going bankrupt. MG production was revived in 2007 by new owner Nanjing Automobile, while the Rover marque was purchased by Ford in 2006, only to be transferred to ownership of Indian carmaker Tata in 2008, as Tata also took over Land Rover and Jaguar to form Jaguar Land Rover.

The Land Rover marque was removed from the combine at the time of the 2000 sell-off, becoming part of the Ford Motor Company, while BMW retained the rights to build the new MINI which was launched in 2001.

Austin Rover Group timeline

  • 1981: BL Cars Ltd is renamed Austin Rover Group Ltd. Launch of the Triumph Acclaim, successor the Dolomite and restyled version of the Japanese-built Honda Ballade.
  • 1982: Launch of Austin Ambassador, a facelifted version of the discontinued Princess.
  • 1982: Michael Edwardes steps down as Chairman, and is replaced by Harold Musgrove. MG badge is relaunched, two years after being discontinued, on the MG Metro 1300.
  • 1983: Launch of Austin Maestro, which replaces the 10-year-old Allegro. The MG badge is used for the MG Maestro 1600 sports model.
  • 1984: Launch of the second Honda-ARG joint venture car, the Mk.1 Rover 200-series. It succeeds the Triumph Acclaim, and in doing so spells the end of the Triumph marque. The MG Maestro 1600 is shelved after one year on sale, and replaced by the more powerful MG Maestro 2.0 EFi.
  • 1984: Launch of the Austin Montego as successor to the Morris Ital. This means the end of the Morris marque after 72 years. The MG Maestro 1600 is replaced by the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi, which has a fuel injected 2.0 unit in place of the previous 1.6 twin-carburettor.
  • 1985: Production begins at Cowley of the Honda Ballade, which is visually identical to the Rover 200 but uses some of its own engines and has a higher level of specification. The MG version of the Montego goes on sale.
  • 1986: Launch of the Rover 800-series, jointly developed with Honda and based on the Honda Legend; Rover SD1 production ceases after 10 years.
  • 1986: BL renamed Rover Group PLC.
  • 1987: Unipart, ARG's spare parts brand is sold off via management buyout.
  • 1987: The Austin marque is shelved, with the Metro, Maestro and Montego ranges now selling under just their model names. The Rover badge is not used on these cars in the UK market.
  • 1988: Rover Group PLC sold by British Government to British Aerospace.
  • 1989: Austin Rover Group is re-branded Rover Group. Its final launch was the MG Maestro Turbo, powered by a 2.0 turbocharged engine and one of the fastest hatchbacks in the world with a top speed of nearly 130 mph (210 km/h).

See also


  1. Alan Pilkington, Transforming Rover, Renewal against the Odds, 1981-94, (1996), Bristol Academic Press, Bristol, pp.199, ISBN 0951376233

External links

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