Nanjing-MG: Rover's return to Longbridge

Nanjing's plans to revive MG could also breathe life back into the plant
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One thing's for sure - within the space of a few weeks the chances of seeing Longbridge return to life have increased enormously. Nanjing Automotive Corporation intends to turn MG into a global brand, and not only will cars be built in volume in China, but also in smaller numbers in Oklahoma - and Longbridge.

In reviewing the last year of the MG Rover story, one has to start in China. With Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) beavering away at plans to launch, late this year, its own version of the venerable Rover 75, built in China, the story looks fairly straightforward. Unfortunately for SAIC, it has yet to secure the rights to the Rover name from current owner BMW. Rover's return to the UK remains in the balance, even though we'll be seeing something that looks and feels like a 75 in Ssangyong dealerships in 2007/2008.

The future for the MG marque, on the other hand, is looking a lot rosier now than it did several months ago, when no information was coming out of China, and there was nothing but an outflow of container crates, full of manufacturing equipment, leaving Longbridge. Nanjing, the successful bidder for MG Rover's assets back in July 2005, has been playing its cards very close to its corporate chest.

Pictures of an abandoned factory's interior gave plenty of ammunition for doomsayers to talk about the closure of Longbridge. Meanwhile, no spokesperson for the company stepped forward to deny rumours of the UK factory's imminent closure.

However, news started trickling out of Nanjing, and that soon became an outpouring. The company is all set for an international push for the MG brand, which it is repackaging as the "Modern Gentleman". A new factory in China is going up at a lightning pace, and Longbridge's former production lines are ready to go in.

The MG 7Z (formerly ZT) will be built over there - Chinese-built parts are already coming back to the UK to furnish depleted parts warehouses - in a brand-new facility, based a few miles from the centre of Nanjing city. The company has set itself a tough deadline to get full-scale production under way, as it wants new MG saloons to start rolling off the production line by Nanjing's 60th birthday, next April.

An intriguing three-pronged attack on the world's car markets was confirmed last week - and much to everyone's amazement, Nanjing announced that a brand-new production facility in the United States would be a kingpin in its ambitions to make MG a global player.

A coupé version of the TF convertible will be produced in Ardmore Airpark in south-central Oklahoma City, by MG Motors North America/Europe Corp.

After almost a year's silence from Nanjing, the company's strategy for the historic brand unfolded sensationally, and as well as announcing the first Chinese automotive plant in the United States, seasoned (some would say tactless) car executive Duke T Hale was confirmed as the chairman and chief executive.

Although the last MGs to be sold in the USA were 1980 MGBs, there's still a huge following for the company in the world's largest car market, and by producing the car over there, Nanjing-MG is hoping to cash in on the double-whammy of British heritage married to domestic production, thereby covering all the bases of the US car-buying public.

With Nanjing-MG about to live the American dream with new cars coming off the line by 2008, where does that leave the Longbridge factory and the fates of the still-unemployed factory workers, hoping to find work if and when production resumes?

Although there had been little communication from the Chinese regarding Longbridge, those close to the company's management remained confident that the factory would spring back to life.

Then, along with last week's Oklahoma announcement came the confirmation everyone was expecting - Longbridge would once again reverberate to the sound of car production.

Nanjing president Yu Jianwei said the company will invest £10m initially at Longbridge, assembling the TF. Although an output of around 5,000 MG TFs a year is no great shakes compared with Longbridge's heyday of 200,000-plus in the 1960s and 1970s, it's a significant development for a company that many people had written off as being deader than Julius Caesar.

Of course, that doesn't take away the pain of the current Motor Show being bereft of two of our best-loved marques, but if Nanjing Automotive - in China, America, and Longbridge - and SAIC are as good as their word, then we'll be seeing a Longbridge revival in 2008.

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