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The string-back gloves are off... MG Rover is aiming to knock its rivals for six with a sensational reinvention of the Midget. Inspired by one of the most successful cars the firm has ever built, the drop-top is aimed at the likes of the Ford Streetka and Smart Roadster - both of which were revealed to international acclaim last year.

Other rivals include the forthcoming Volkswagen Polo Spyder and SEAT Tango, but, to guarantee success, it's thought the newcomer could cost as little as 10,000 when it goes on sale in 2005. Measuring around 3.5 metres long and 1.6 metres wide, the all-new Midget is a pure two-seater. Stowage space will
be at a premium, and to keep costs as low as possible, the car will only sport a basic roof.

Initially, entry-level models are likely to be powered by a 1.6-litre engine producing around 100bhp. This edition of the no-frills roadster will put driver thrills ahead of outright performance - just like the 1961 original.

Tuned versions to rival more powerful opposition, including the likes of the Toyota MR2 and Mazda MX-5, could also be produced, although MG Rover would probably be keen to avoid competing with its own, bigger MG TF - Britain's best-selling roadster.

Another possibility is a 1.4-litre car, which would slash the Midget's price even further. Offering less than 90bhp, this machine would combine light weight with a high-revving engine to offer a first-rate driving experience.

Despite its British pedigree, the new Midget will be a truly international affair. Based on the TATA Aria concept car, which made its debut at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show, and designed by the IDEA Institute in Italy, the project is currently being pushed forward by TATA Engineering, the automotive arm of the Indian conglomerate, TATA.

MG Rover's involvement is likely to be restricted to development work on honing the chassis and ensuring that the engine range will meet strict emissions standards. TATA, meanwhile, will take care of production, building the car in India and selling it across the world. The success of the proposed link between TATA and MG Rover will be put to the test later this year when the Longbridge company begins to import a new supermini made in

Developed by the firm from TATA's Indica, the car is expected to cost around 7,000 and will be powered by an MG Rover-sourced engine. It's thought the work the company does on this model might be used to help build the Midget, which may feature an updated Indica platform when it goes on sale.

The real attraction of the deal for TATA is not MG Rover's engineering skill, or brand value, but its European sales and servicing network. The firm has around 250 outlets which TATA is thought to be interested in.

By: Murad Ali Baig

MG Rover has denied that it is planning to introduce a cheaper roadster based on the Tata Aria concept car. Speaking in response to a story published in Auto Express today suggesting the company would revive the MGMidget name on a small mid-engined roadster, a company spokesman said that "there is no plan at present to bring a Midget to market, nor is a feasibility study being carried out".

The Aria concept was developed for Tata by IDEA, the Italian design house behind the Indica supermini, and was displayed at the Geneva Motor show in 2000. But while Rover is to sell a modified version of the Indica later this year, it would be a major project to develop the Aria, which is little more than a fibreglass mock-up at this stage.

Nevertheless, there is a developing market for models pitched below the established MG TF and Mazda MX-5, which currently dominate the budget roadster market. Among them are the Ford Streetka, the Smart Roadster, possibly the Daihatsu Kopen, the Nissan Micra C+C, the Citroen Pluriel and the Vauxhall Tigra, so the temptation must be there. MG Rover is of the view that the market is unlikely to be big enough to warrant developing a model
to slot below the MGF, which, in car supermarkets at least, can be had for under 13,000. Though it would benefit from the lower costs of manufacture in India, the Aria roadster would be unlikely to sell for significantly less than the TF. A more important priority for the company will be to replace the TF itself, which is heavily based on the old MGF, launched in 1995.

From: 4car.co.uk


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