Sean O' Grady: Chinese car torture

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

There's something almost cruel about the current round of stories suggesting that, against all the odds, the old MG Rover (and before that Austin) works at Longbridge may yet be "saved".

There's been something pretty heart-rending about such reports for a good few years now. Ever since BMW upped sticks and moved out in 2000, we have seen so many "leaks" of exciting new models apparently almost ready to be put into production.

We've been treated to a sort of Chinese water torture of hint after dripping hint that Shanghai, Nanjing, the Iranians, Tata or some other group was about write a cheque for £1bn to bankroll the old place into a more prosperous, secure future.

There have been so many false dawns and false hopes and "phoenix"-style recoveries that the most sensible thing for anyone with a sentimental attachment to the British car industry to do is to ignore them. So we should in the case of the present moves by Nanjing Automobile.

The Chinese have, in a sea of optimistic noises, signed a 33-year lease on part of the Longbridge site, declared their faith in the MG name and declared, yet again, how much they'd like to make cars there. However, they have also ensured that their lease has a six-month "break" clause, so that they can withdraw from the arrangement if things don't turn out quite as well as they had hoped. Now, what are the chances of that pull-out happening...?

Very high. Often the press get vilified by MG Rover fans for unnecessarily and unjustifiably running down the "home" team. We were never guilty of that here at Independent Motoring, and gave everything from the CityRover to the V8 MG ZT a fair trial. If you want to see how the media are blamed for the woes of MG Rover, I suggest you log on to and take a look at some of the forums.

However, any cool, dispassionate look at the prospects now for Longbridge doesn't give much cause for hope. There is one thing that will get the plant back to work again, and it isn't Brummie spirit, excellent design or even world-class products. It's money. Lots of it.

Nanjing has got it, be sure of that, but it is not about to expend it in Birmingham. If it had wanted to it would have done so by now. If a partner can find the cash to make cars in Birmingham, then Nanjing will be happy to help out.

The company is none too fussy, and will work with anyone - the Great Britain Sports Company, David James's Project Kimber, or the Uncle-Tom-Cobbleigh-Look-It's-A-New-Midget With-A-Folding-Electric Roof-Who'd-Have-Thunk-It-Company.

This is the precise opposite of where we we found ourselves just a year ago. Then it was the plucky British entrepreneurs (also known as the Phoenix Consortium) who were looking for funding from the Chinese, not the other way round.

Longbridge isn't a financially viable proposition, and wasn't even in the good old days when it was churning out millions of Minis and Austin 1100s.

We shouldn't be deluding ourselves. It's cruel.

Search for used cars