The collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was catastrophic for the fragile economy of the West Midlands. When the Longbridge plant closed in the April of that year, more than 5000 people were made jobless (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 3), leaving a gaping vacuum in the economy of this area. Whilst MG is currently beginning to make inroads into the British market again (with the MG 6 to be assembled at the Longbridge plant) under the stewardship of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC ) (Car magazine, 2007).
This paper will look at the academic works surrounding this unfortunate development as well as looking at articles that looked into the relationship between the motor industry and the motoring press, both in the UK and abroad. The intention of this article is to provide a critique of these works and look at how they analyse the areas that I intend to look at. The amount of literature that I have found relating specifically to the relationship between the automotive media and the motor industry is severely limited, with very little that I have come across relating to this topic. There is, however, extensive material available relating to the reasons behind the collapse of the company and also looking at the economic, social and political fallout resulting from this collapse. Whilst these factors are not the main areas of study that I am interested in, they will provide a useful contextual understanding of the issues surrounding the decline of this fine motoring institution. This will not be an exhaustive list of all the works on this subject but merely a selective critique of the work on offer.
Holweg and Oliver’s Who Killed MG Rover? (2005) provides an in depth study of the who? What? Where? Why? And how? Issues that surrounded the collapse of MG Rover in April 2005: “In this report we seek to address two main questions: What are the reasons for MG Rover’s collapse. And who (or what) was responsible for Rover’s terminal decline?” (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 3).
Beginning (rather traditionally) with an introduction, the authors explain how they will assess the factors in hand and examine four possible interpretations of the collapse of MG Rover. These are firstly, whether the economies of scale were sufficient to keep the company going under different circumstances. Secondly, the perceived lack of good quality products and a confused brand image; would the company have survived, even if it had better products? Thirdly, they investigate whether the manufacturing capability was there to make products of sufficient quality to compete in the markets. Lastly, the authors look at the possibility of whether or not the decline of MG Rover was due to incompetence or malpractice (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 3). Whilst all of these issues are not central to what I am studying, it will be vital to have a good understanding of these issues when I come to write up the research project I am looking to do.
In looking at the first of these four questions, Holweg and Oliver have done a fine job of representing the dire straits that Rover found itself in, not just in recent years, but ever since nationalisation in 1975 (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 6) sales had been dropping quickly. In comparing Rover to other volume manufacturers, such as Ford and the Volkswagen group, they quickly expose just how pitifully the company was doing selling just 107,000 cars in 2004 compared to Ford and Volkswagen, who produced over 3 million cars in the same year (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 8). they also go onto explain that, in order to be successful, any production facility should produce between 200-250,000 cars per annum (Holweg and Oliver 2005), a target which Rover was missing by around 100% by the time the company ceased trading. This section therefore, shines an extremely useful light onto the state that Rover was in by the time it went into administration.
The second section looks at how and why Rover was unable to keep developing cars at the rate and to the quality required. It cites several reasons, most of which seem to point toward a lack of funds available to the research and development (R & D) department and unhappy relationships with its owners/partners Honda, British Aerospace and BMW, all of whom underestimated the company’s development capability (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 14-15) to a disastrous level. This section also looks at the group’s relationship with the motoring press which appears to be, in some part at least, positive: “Despite good response to the 75 by the motoring press, the same old pattern of sales that failed to meet aspirations reappeared” (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 15). There is, however, evidence of BMW (the owners of Rover 1994-2000) having an odd relationship with the press. Bernd Pieschetsrieder, CEO of BMW, publicly questioned the future of Rover at the press launch of the Rover 75 in 1998 (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 15). This section, therefore, gives us a good impression of why Rover was unable to develop the cars they needed to stay competitive and it gives us an idea of what the company’s relationship with the press was like.
The final two sections provide us with their take on the manufacturing capabilities of the marques and the authors’ final conclusions on why and how MG Rover failed and it provides a good idea of what these might be: customer satisfaction was at an all time low and the roots of the decline could be traced back to the chaotic mess that was British Leyland (Holweg and Oliver 2005: 21) and although there was a mini resurgence when they were building Honda designs and ‘europeising’ them, these models quickly aged and were still in production when the company went bust, almost 20 years after they were first introduced. This paper, therefore, provides us with excellent background information about the decline and fall of MG Rover. It includes some press relationship content which will be extremely useful to my studies.
Cowling and Isles’ (2005) treatise on what the redundant workers from Longbridge would do for work: Sent to Coventry? The re-employment of the Longbridge 5000 is not overtly useful, being more of an economics and sociological paper but it will provide my research project with some useful statistics regarding the impact upon the economy of the West Midlands. Whilst this is not central to my project, it will provide more useful background information on the situation surrounding the collapse of MG Rover and the closure of Longbridge which will be useful for the project.
The paper Industrial Restructuring and the State: the Case of MG Rover (2005) by Berkley (et al) provides similar information to Who Killed MG Rover? (2005) in that it provides reasonably in depth (although not to the same extent) analysis of the collapse of MG Rover. It does, however, add one thing of significance, in that it looks at the role of the British Government in the decline of its last independent volume motor manufacturer in far greater detail than Holweg and Oliver’s thesis ever does which means that it can provide us with some extremely useful information regarding how the Government helped (if at all) both in trying to keep the company afloat and in helping those who had been laid off. In this, it links back into Cowling and Isles’ Sent to Coventry? The re-employment of the Longbridge 5000 (2005) information about the sociological and economic fallout from the collapse of MG Rover.
Giving an even greater insight into the Government reaction (or lack thereof) is a report from the National Audit Office entitled The Closure of MG Rover (2006) which gives us a very in depth study of the economic cost that resulted from the closure of Longbridge. It concentrates on the impact that the collapse of the proposed deal with SAIC, which would have “offered the prospect of not only securing the company’s long term future but also stabilising its immediate financial position” (NAO 2006). It is in this that this work adds to the information already garnered from previous works, especially Holweg and Oliver’s Who Killed MG Rover? (2005) which only touches lightly on the subject, rather than giving it the space it required, given the fact that the deal was key to the survival of MG Rover. If I am to study this area properly, it is vital that I have a keen understanding of what the deal proposed and why it didn’t happen. This source is likely to be extremely well researched, given the fact that it was publicly funded. It must be remembered, however, that anything produced directly by the Government or a Government agency should be treated with a certain amount of cynicism as such documents can often be used for political advantage. Although, the same could be said for any publicly funded research.
David Bailey’s Globalization and restructuring in the auto industry: the impact on the West Midlands automobile cluster (2007) provides excellent insight into the British motor industry as a whole, showing that despite thoughts that Britain was no-longer a manufacturing power house, he shows how important this sector was and still is to this country’s economy “The West Midlands is still seen as the core of the British automotive industry and until 2001 accounted for just over 20% of UK jobs in manufacturing (i.e., assembling) cars” (Bailey 2007). He also states that: “Whilst Bentley (2000)put the number working in the three automotive industries in the region in 1997 as 76 000, taking a broader deﬁnition to include automotive-related industries gives a ﬁgure of around 120 000 people in 2001, some 17% higher than a decade before (DTI, 2001)” (Bailey 2007). This gives us a good impression of just how important the automotive industry is to the economic health of Britain (although the economy did seem to contract a fairly serious case of the ‘flu in 2009). This article contextualises the automotive industry in Britain and especially the West Midlands and reiterates, but in more detail some of the points made in Holweg and Oliver’s Who Killed MG Rover? (2005) about the potentially crippling costs of developing a new model and how, in order to recover, a company must produce new models but this is only possible if it has the finances in place to develop the products effectively (Bailey 2007).
Chang’s Auto trade policy and the press: Auto elite as a source of the media agenda (1999) is an effective tool for looking at the relationship between the press and the international motor trade. It gives a detailed analysis of how the press can influence the motor industry and how the press can be influenced by the auto industry: “The news media are potentially highly susceptible to external forces, including multinational corporations, such as automobile firms.” (Chang 1999). This article will prove to be extremely useful to my studies as it concentrates on a similar field to the one that I will be researching i.e. the relationship between the press and the motor industry and how the two interact with each other. Whilst the subject matter differs from what I intend, the template for and the aim is similar. The article also stipulates that it uses content analysis, a form of quantitative analysis, for the research whereas my thesis will utilise both quantitative and qualitative methods of research as much of the research will be looking at inherently subjective content and therefore will require a less restricted form of analysis.
Gauthier’s In defence of a supposedly outdated notion: the range of application of journalistic objectivity (1994) provides an in depth analysis of how and when journalistic objectivity is both possible and appropriate (Gauthier 1994). The author writes in defence of journalistic objectivity, claiming that most journalists and journalism scholars “denounce the concept in almost total unanimity” (Gauthier 1994) whereas he claims that, an end to journalistic objectivity would “spell the end of journalism itself” (Gauthier 1994). The author claims that objectivity is only possible in straight news reporting (Gauthier 1994) as this format is only supposed to convey hard facts. Gauthier (1994) and is only achievable through the medium of news stories, not news analysis or comment, both of which delve into the realms of subjectivity.
Many who do not subscribe to Gauthier’s theory suggest that absolute objectivity is nigh on impossible as the journalist always selects which stories are ‘news’ and which are not, thus removing an aspect of objectivity at the very conception of the story (Gauthier 1994). I would tend to agree with Monsieur Gauthier’s naysayers as, whilst it is possible for journalists to strive to be as objective as possible, there will always be limiting factors to this: what is considered ‘news’, what spin the editor wishes to put on it and however much journalists do not wish this to be the case, the political (or equivalent) leanings of the publication will always come through, no matter what the journalist desires, they must write for the audience. For example, if you look at the same story in The Daily Mail and The Guardian newspapers, they will often have entirely different slants because the papers have different audiences and different political leanings, thus, in my view, rendering objectivity a near impossible task. This is not to say, however, that the majority of journalists to not attempt to be as objective as possible, of course.
So, what conclusions can we arrive at after this analysis of the literary context concerning the collapse of MG Rover and press objectivity? For one thing, it is clear after my research that there are many works that concern the collapse of MG Rover and several that are concerned with journalistic objectivity but none that combine the two specifics which is deeply encouraging for my proposed project. This is not and should not be confused with, an exhaustive analysis of relevant works but merely a selection of interesting articles and books that caught my eye whilst researching the topic. They all have their uses, from explaining the financial context and the economic cost of the collapse of MG Rover to the reasons behind the closure of Longbridge. There are also works that look at the relationship between the motoring media and the auto industry and also one looking at the concept of journalistic objectivity. All of these things will be useful during my further research into this topic.
Adams, K (2007) ‘SAIC merges with Nanjing’ [online] at http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/News/Search-Results/Industry-News/SAIC-merges-with-Nanjing/
Bourne, J (2006) The Closure of MG Rover National Audit Office, London
Bailey, D ‘Globalization and restructuring in the auto industry: the impact on the West Midlands automobile cluster’ in Strategic Change 16:4
Berkeley, D; Donnelly, T; Morris, D & Donnelly, M (2005) ‘Industrial Restructuring and the State: the Case of MG Rover’ in Local Economy 20:4
Chang, K (1999) ‘Auto trade policy and the press: Auto elite as a source of the media agenda’ in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 76:2
Cowling, M & Isles, N (2005) Sent to Coventry? The re-employment of the Longbridge 5000 The Work Foundation
Gauthier, G (1993) ‘In defence of a supposedly outdated notion: the range of application of journalistic objectivity’ in Canadian Journal of Communication 18:4
Holweg, M & Oliver, N (2005) Who Killed MG Rover? A special report from Cambridge-MIT’s centre for competitiveness and competition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge