There was a culture of "dreadful inertia" at collapsed car company MG Rover, its former design director said yesterday.
Peter Stevens (pictured) describes the workings of the board at Longbridge as 'the same old muddle you'd get in a corner hardware shop'.
On ITV1' s Why Rover Crashed: Tonight With Trevor McDonald, he talks of what he regards as costly errors and missed opportunities during the so-called Phoenix Four's management of the company, which collapsed with the loss of 6,000 jobs.
Mr Stevens, who designed the McLaren Formula One racing car before being appointed MG Rover's consultant director of design, says: "My experience of very large companies came originally from when I worked for Ford, which is a very sharp professional company there.
"When I had a chance to come to Rover and operate at board level I did think that I was going to learn an awful lot and meet startlingly experienced people.
"And I thought, 'Well, this is the same old muddle you'd probably get in your corner hardware shop."'
He said there were "little groups of extraordinary, dedicated people busying away making stuff happen, despite the inertia, the dreadful inertia of the fundamental culture."
He believes senior management were naive in the way they conducted negotiations with Chinese motor industry giants Shanghai Automotive in the failed attempt to cut a deal that could have saved the company.
There was never more than a 50 per cent chance of striking the deal, he believes.
"I'm not sure that it was ever going to work in the way that people would have liked to think. They weren't going to take on the factory here, continue production just as it was and send cheap seat frames from China or something to cut the cost."
The Chinese had certainly wanted to build Rover 75s in China, he says.
"I just don't think they had the money. I don't think the Shanghai Auto Corporation that had a 50 per cent drop in sales last year actually had the money itself to do the deal."
He believes an equally valuable deal could have been made with Italian car makers Fiat but the MG Rover management seemed to get cold feet.
"I wasn't party to the final discussion that must have taken place back at Longbridge which said, 'Oh, we don't want to do this. This is kind of you know, bit scary, bit real'."
A spokesman for the Phoenix consortium told the programme: "We are proud to have sustained 6,100 jobs and car making at Longbridge for five years, producing 800,000 cars. The SAIC deal promised an exciting future for MG Rover and we fought to the last moment to secure the partnership. It was tragic to lose when we were so close to success."
Mr Stevens was speaking after a creditors' meeting last Friday revealed that the 'Phoenix Four' of John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale, and John Edwards are set to receive almost nothing from the hundreds of millions of pounds they are owed by MG Rover.
All its creditors are likely to receive nothing if the company is broken up and sold off piecemeal, while they will only receive a 'negligible' amount if a buyer for the whole firm is found, administrators said.
* Why Rover Crashed: Tonight with Trevor McDonald, will be shown on ITV1 at 8pm tonight and Friday.