Plans for a massive boost in car production at Cowley as exclusively forecast in the Oxford Mail were unveiled today, writes David Duffy.

A new range of small BMWs will be built alongside the new Mini and Rover 75 models bringing production to 200,000 cars a year.

The move is a huge endorsement for the city and a significant boost to job security.

With long-term production at Longbridge in Birmingham of 100,000 vehicles a year planned by venture capitalists Alchemy Partners, the combined output of the two plants would be little changed on recent levels. Alchemy is advised by former Rover executive Kevin Morley, of Boars Hill, and currently in the lead to buy the British car maker.

As reported in the Oxford Mail last month, the new Mini is believed to be part of a family of small cars, including the forthcoming BMW 2 Series.

The Cowley-built cars will be designed to act as a lower-priced introduction for car buyers to the BMW range. BMW, which is selling Land Rover to Ford as well as disposing of the Longbridge plant, has always said it wanted to keep the state-of-the-art Cowley car plant, which has been the focus of 700m investment in recent years.

The news of the boost to production at Cowley came after the Government announced 10m of aid for firms hit by the sale of Rover.

The task force set up to examine the impact of the shock sale of Rover warned that thousands of jobs in the West Midlands would be hit.

The number of jobs affected by the expected cutback at Longbridge could range from 11,000 to more than 20,000 if volume car production ended.

As the report was being published, former Rover group chief executive John Towers was preparing to meet BMW officials to discuss a rival bid for the car company.

The German car maker was holding a board meeting today in Munich as speculation grows that a deal for the sell-off of the Longbridge plant to Alchemy was nearing completion. Production at Cowley is currently at a standstill, while the sell-off talks continue.

But in a letter to workers, the firm said that plans for the transfer of the Mini, which was originally to be built at Longbridge, Birmingham, will have started by the time they return on Monday May 8.

A letter to employees said the workforce faced a "massive challenge" to launch the new car in an "unprecedented timescale."

BMW will unveil the new Mini at the International Motor Show in Birmingham in October, start production by the beginning of next year, and begin selling worldwide by next summer.