Ten years ago this month, MG Rover went bankrupt. The event appeared to symbolize the end of the once proud British auto industry. But in April 2005 no one could have foreseen that:
- MG -- one of the world's most cherished sports car brands -- would move to China and be recast as a no-frills, entry-level economy brand. After a bumpy start, MG is on the road to success. The brand is launching a sharp-looking small SUV.
- Rover's technology would be shipped to China where it would spawn a knockoff brand, Roewe. Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. continues to build a version of the BMW-developed Rover 75 flagship, called the Roewe 750.
- India's Tata Motors could succeed where Ford and BMW failed by turning Jaguar and Land Rover into a profit-generating juggernaut with annual sales approaching 500,000 vehicles.
- In 2013, Britain would pass France and move into third place behind Germany and Spain in European auto production.
MG Rover's decline was nearly four decades in the making. The company emerged from the industrial mess that was British Leyland. British Leyland came about after a 1968 consolidation that saw the old British Motor Corp., whose brands included Austin, Morris, MG, Jaguar and others merged with Leyland, which controlled Triumph and Rover and Land Rover.
At its formation, the company was the world's sixth largest automaker and owned 40 percent of the British market. But labor strife, badge engineering, poor quality and intense competition gradually weakened the company until it was sold off in pieces.
BMW disposed of MG Rover for 10 British pounds in 2000 to a group of investors. The new company never made a profit and folded in 2005. That left tiny Morgan -- with annual production of around 1,000 cars per year -- as the largest British-owned automaker.
But three former Rover brands -- Mini, owned by BMW, and Tata's Jaguar and Land Rover -- are global success stories.
Britain's car industry is booming once again.