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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 07:57 GMT
Industry boom for Midlands car makers
Mark Foster
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By Mark Foster
BBC Midlands Today's business correspondent
As part of a series of special reports on the state of British manufacturing, BBC News Online looks at the Midlands car industry.

Morgan Motors, maker of quintessential British wood-framed classic sports cars, has announced that one of its cars will be competing at this year's 24-hours endurance race at Le Mans - after an absence of 40 years.

That is a bit like saying there is a chap from Worcestershire who is making an attempt on K2, armed with little more than a stout pair of brogues and a knapsack.

But you would be wrong. The car, a Morgan Aero 8, is powerful, modern and ready to line up alongside the likes of Porsche and Ferrari in one of the world's most gruelling events.

What is happening at Morgan is being echoed at other Midlands motor manufacturers who are enjoying a period of renewed vigour with improved sales, new products and sporting aspirations.

Sporting credentials

In line of sight from Morgan's home in the Malvern Hills, lies Longbridge and MG Rover.

The company is also competing at Le Mans, having returned there last year after an absence of 35 years.

Since escaping the constraints imposed by BMW, the sporting credentials of MG are shining through.

The MG range of saloon cars has received critical acclaim, the company has just launched a beefier version of the MGF and a high performance supercar is imminent.

This, though, is window dressing.

Although sales are ahead of last year, MG Rover needs a replacement for the ageing 25 and 45 models.

UK confidence

Many industry observers say the company cannot afford to go it alone but it recently unveiled its Tourer Concept Vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show.

The chunky car, with its large vertical grille, is said to be a real pointer to future Rovers. And that is a future that could involve the Chinese automotive group, Brilliance.

The conclusion of talks on joint projects from component supply to complete car construction is said to be imminent.

The French owners of Peugeot have also shown their confidence in their UK workforce and its quality by choosing the Ryton factory near Coventry as the sole site for its new 206 SW, an estate version of its best selling car.

Peugeot has invested over 150m in the plant which runs virtually round the clock, seven days a week, 49 weeks a year.

The summer shutdown has been scrapped to keep the assembly line moving as much as possible - employees can now take holidays when they like and a pool of 700 temporary workers have been recruited to provide cover.

Massive investment

Peugeot expects to produce over 200,000 cars this year - a target its neighbour, Jaguar, is aiming for.

Ten years ago, it was struggling to reach a tenth of that but now, thanks to massive investment by the parent group, Ford, and the 20,000 Liverpool-built X Type, sales are soaring.

So where is the oil leak in this apparent slick motor?

Despite strong growth by the car makers, the components industry is finding the going very tough. The motor industry is global and parts can be bought around the world.

Stuck with a strong pound, UK manufacturers have found it almost impossible to compete with low wage competition from abroad and dozens of small firms have gone under with hundreds of job losses.

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