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The Austin Rover Group (ARG) 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 MG, Triumph, Morris, Riley and Wolseley marques now effectively dead, the new, leaner car business was rechristened as the Austin Rover Group.
Following the collapse of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1975 and the infamous Ryder Report on the ailing firm, the resulting government bail-out and nationalisation saw the company being renamed to British Leyland (BL).
However, the huge industrial relations problems that had plagued the company up to the nationalisation continued to escalate 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 could bring the company to its knees at his whim. The Labour administration of the time ran out of patience, and appointed South African-born corporate troubleshooter Sir Michael Edwardes to turn BL around.
Edwardes' first job 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, and the Triumph plants in Speke and Canley. 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.
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 1995 by BMW, ARG was eventually sold back into private ownership and became MG Rover.
Austin Rover Group timeline
- 1981 Renaming of the BL subsidiary BL Cars Ltd to Austin Rover Group Ltd
- 1982 Launch of Austin Ambassador, a facelifted version of the discontinued Austin Princess
- 1982 Michael Edwardes steps down as Chairman, and is replaced by Harold Musgrove
- 1983 Launch of Austin Maestro, which replaces the discontinued Austin Allegro
- 1984 Launch of the second Honda-ARG joint venture car, the Mk.1 Rover 200-series, Triumph Acclaim and Morris Ital production ceases
- 1984 Launch of the Austin Montego
- 1986 Launch of the Rover 800-series, jointly developed with Honda; Rover SD1 production ceases
- 1986 BL renamed to Rover Group PLC
- 1987 Unipart, ARG's spare parts brand is sold off via management buyout
- 1987 Austin badges removed from Metro, Maestro and Montego for the '88 model year
- 1988 Rover Group PLC sold by British Government to British Aerospace.
- 1989 Austin Rover Group is re-branded Rover Group
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