Chinese plan to build MG in the US

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It may not be long before MG sports cars are once again burning up the highways of the United States after an absence of 26 years. The brand's new owners, the Nanjing Automobile Group of China, announced yesterday it plans to begin building them at a new factory in Oklahoma.

The group, which purchased the assets of the bankrupt MG Rover Group from receivers in Britain last year, said at a ceremony in Oklahoma City that the new factory, due to open and begin production in 2008, would produce a coupé version of its planned new TF Roadster. Nanjing, a relative upstart among the world's largest manufacturers, will become the first Chinese car company to make cars in the US.

But there was worry in Longbridge, where the former Rover plant remains shut. Dave Osborne, the national secretary of the Transport & General Workers' Union, said there had been "no consultation" with Nanjing, voicing concern that the group may be shrinking its plans for resumed production at Longbridge.

However, Nanjing executives said they were committed to producing a different version of the TF Roadster in Longbridge promising further details of plans for production in the UK at the start of the London Motor Show on Monday. Additional models are to be built at plants in China.

"We're positioning ourselves as a global car," said Duke Hale, a former executive of Mazda and Volvo, who will be chief executive of the revived MG company. "Our position is to try to create a world-class car in a world- class company."

Birmingham City Council's leader, Mike Whitby, told the BBC he was encouraged by the news from Oklahoma, calling it an "exciting boost". He said: "Adding more partners to the project can only help to open up new markets for their products, which means more jobs in the long run for Birmingham people."

Building a US plant at a site in Ardmore, 90 miles south of Oklahoma, none the less looks like a gamble. Even though Japanese companies such as Toyota and Honda have enjoyed success making cars in the US, quickly challenging the "Big Three" of Detroit, they are corporations with pockets far deeper than Nanjing's. MG pulled out of the US after years of flagging sales in 1980, disappointing American fans of the marque.

The company said Oklahoma would serve as its base of operations for all MG sales and manufacturing outside Asia and that research and development would be conducted at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman.

"A key ingredient in that effort has been to find the right home to build a completely new model for a global automotive enterprise," Mr Hale said. "I'm confident Oklahoma fits that description perfectly." The company said the coupé would compete in the US with cars such as the Mazda Miata and that it has gathered $2bn (£1.1bn) in financing for the US endeavour.