BMW has been to hell and back in the last six years.
It was the best car company in the world at the end of 1993. BMW had great products, huge margins, the most able executives, the most loyal customers and the purest automotive brand in the world.
In 1992, it passed Mercedes-Benz in sales for the first time and had defined the market for sporty luxury sedans.
Then in January 1994, British Aerospace unloaded Rover on BMW for $1.3 billion.
BMW executives never quite understood what they had bought and never came close to fixing it.
At one time, it appeared they might. Eighteen months ago, 3-series project leader Wolfgang Ziebart went to England with 80 technical specialists.
Ziebart's turnaround team swiftly concluded that the Rover 75, due to debut in January 1999, wasn't ready. It was far below the quality standard Ziebart had demanded for the 3 series. He postponed the launch to June and ordered a long list of fixes, though it meant Rover's Oxford plant would sit idle.
The 75 finally arrived last summer and sold well at the beginning. The facelifted 25/45 followed last October, and executives argued that BMW/Rover was back on track.
As recently as the Geneva auto show this month, Ziebart - by now head of product development for both BMW and Rover - sounded upbeat.
But Rover wasn't really getting better. The strong pound, which increased United Kingdom component costs, made exports more expensive in continental Europe and allowed such Europeans as Renault SA and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA to raise market share in the United Kingdom, was killing Rover.
The February 1999 ouster of Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder and the departure of No. 2 man Wolfgang Reitzle was supposed to have been the turning point.
The new executive team led by former machine-tool professor Joachim Milberg gave up any pretense of Rover autonomy.
'Rover no longer exists as an independent company,' said Carl-Peter Forster, the new production chief.
That was a huge change from the 'hands-off Rover' policy of supervisory board chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim.
Von Kuenheim ran BMW for 23 years, and Pischetsrieder adhered to von Kuenheim's rules about protecting Rover's independence. He told an interviewer in July 1994 that two-thirds of all mergers or acquisitions failed because synergy effects were realized too soon.
Insiders claimed that the strategy affected everything, even BMW product planning. Marketing executives were shown the X5 sport-utility in 1993. They were enthusiastic, and the vehicle was planned for 1995. But after the Rover purchase, the X5 was reconsidered. Pischetsrieder eventually postponed the project out of fear that it would compete with Land Rover.
The toll at BMW and Rover headquarters has been brutal. With Rover losing ground in the United Kingdom market, Rover boss Walter Hasselkus resigned in December 1998, taking the responsibility for heavy losses. Pischetsrieder and Reitzle were gone a few months later.
Later in 1999, Rover marketing director Martin Runnacles, design and engineering director Nick Stephenson and manufacturing director Paul Kirk left. Others in lower-level positions followed.
Meanwhile, Reitzle - now at Ford as head of Jaguar, Volvo, Lincoln and Aston Martin - began employing former BMW executives. He hired BMW Great Britain marketing boss Dieter Laxy, BMW North America President Victor Doolan and Land Rover chief designer Gerry McGovern.
Stunned by the talent drain, BMW said it would break with tradition and hire senior managers away from other companies.
That still hasn't happened, and now three more board members - Ziebart, Forster and Henrich Heitmann - are gone in the wake of last week's 'reorientation' of BMW.
Soon after joining Ford, Reitzle said that in the Rover calamity 'every detail turned out the way I wrote it some years ago and tried to convince my colleagues.'
'They invested for growth (at Rover cars) on the basis of such a weak foundation,' he said. 'I always said it can't work. Why should the miracle happen? Only because they are owned by BMW? It's not enough.'