Mangusta deal drives MG Rover to luxury lane

MG Rover is to enter the luxury performance car market following its surprise acquisition this week of the manufacturing operations and design rights for the Qvale Mangusta sports car.

It plans to keep the chassis and drivetrain of the Italian-built Mangusta as the basis of a top-of-the-range MG model styled by MG Rover design director Peter Stevens and codenameds X80. It is the company’s first venture into the realms of high-performance, low-volume cars and outside its traditional territory of affordable sports cars.

MG Rover acquired the Modena-based subsidiary of the US-Italian Qvale group along with 70 staff. No financial details were revealed.

Crucially, because the Mangusta was designed to meet all US regulations, the deal gives MG Rover access to the US market after an absence of over 20 years. An MG spokesman said: ‘We’ve been doing a bit of under the radar work out there but we can now look seriously at the potential for MG.’

Mangusta production began in 1999. Qvale had planned to sell around 500 this year, split between the US, Europe and Asia and selling at $69,500 (£49,600). MG Rover is expected to aim for a similar volume and price with the X80, putting it in competition with the Jaguar XK8 and the lower end of the Porsche 911 range. Both coupe and roadster versions will be produced.

The Mangusta has a galvanised steel box chassis, all- independent wishbone suspension, and a composite body produced by Stratime Cappelo Systems in France. It uses a Ford 4.6litre V8 twin overhead camshaft, 32 valve engine developing 320bhp, though Rover executives were talking this week of a power output closer to 400bhp. The Qvale family has a long association with the UK car industry. It was once north America’s biggest importer of UK cars and owned Jensen in the 1970s. It is not clear whether MG Rover would use Qvale’s US distribution network for the new MG.

Garel Rhys, professor of motor industry economics at Cardiff Business School, said the addition of the new model would give the MG Rover range a halo effect. ‘It short-circuits the development of a new chassis and is probably a very cost-effective deal, with pretty minimal risk.

‘It’s a very big change and it’s taken people by surprise because it’s a sign of expansion and confidence from a company which many had predicted wouldn’t survive at all or would gradually decline.’

MG Rover is expected to issue a report on its finances, and to make a statement on plans to develop a new medium-sized saloon, in the next few weeks.

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