Nanjing's Longbridge plan falls short of expectations

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The Independent Online

Nanjing Automobile, the Chinese car maker, has unveiled long-awaited plans to resume production of MG cars at Birmingham's Longbridge plant. However, the £10m investment and limited number of jobs on offer fell well short of expectations for a resumption of full-scale production.

The Longbridge plant is iconic to the British motor industry. When it closed last year, it employed 5,000 workers and produced 110,000 MG Rovers a year. Nanjing Automobile, China's fourth-largest car maker, bought the assets of MG Rover for £53m last year, providing hope for thousands of UK workers.

Yet Nanjing will initially employ fewer than 200 people at the plant with production set to begin in the first half of 2007. It said about 15,000 MG TF sports cars will be assembled in Birmingham from parts constructed in Nanjing's new plant in China. The two-seater cars will be available to buy in the second half of 2007 and Nanjing is in talks with UK car retailers. Nanjing said sales of the MG ZT range could resume in the UK in 2008.

Nanjing was not explicit about the amount of new jobs available at Longbridge, but suggested fewer than 200 will initially be employed. The Transport and General Workers' Union said the news failed to live up to expectations. "This is in stark contrast to earlier public indications from Nanjing of 100,000 units and 1,200 jobs," it said. Dave Osborne, the T&G national secretary, said: "Former MG Rover workers have been led to believe there were more ambitious plans than these which is why today is a disappointment."

Yu Jianwei, president of Nanjing Automobile, told a press conference in London 57 people have already been employed at Longbridge and the Chinese company has signed a 33-year lease at the site. "The MG brand will once again be a great one ... we would like to enhance production capacity more," he said. Mr Yu added that the UK plant will lead the revitalisation of the MG brand and a research and development facility will be established at Longbridge.

Mr Yu said current plans for Longbridge were not reliant on additional funding but sent out a signal that Nanjing would welcome further financial aid from the UK government.