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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 03:41 GMT 04:41 UK
MG Rover's Chinese reincarnation
By Peter Plisner
BBC Midlands Transport Correspondent

It's almost two years since MG Rover went bust.

The company had been desperately trying to form an alliance with China-based Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), but when the deal collapsed it took MG Rover with it and some 6,000 workers lost their jobs.

Workers at Nanjing Automotive
Chinese workers are paid about 150 a month

In the months that followed administrators talked to several companies interested in buying the failed car firm's assets and eventually a sale was agreed with another Chinese firm, Nanjing Automotive.

After buying the company, Nanjing spent several months removing machinery and other items from the former MG Rover factory at Longbridge in south Birmingham.

Described by some as a "lift and shift" operation, it involved removing thousands of tonnes of equipment, including complete production lines.

Much of it has now been re-assembled in China and has been used to produce Tuesday's historic first car.

Officials at Nanjing quickly decided that the first car it would make in China would be the MG 7.

Big seller

It's a carbon copy of the old MG ZT, which is based on the award-winning Rover 75 saloon car model.

It was a big seller in the UK and Nanjing is hoping that the Chinese love of large cars will mean that the model it's producing will be just as popular in China.

Nanjing Automotive has spent many millions of pounds preparing for Tuesday's launch.

It's constructed four new factories to house the new MG brand. In the future it wants to produce other cars formerly made at Longbridge.

There are also plans for completely new models, although production of these is thought to be some years away.

Nanjing scene
Close links have been forged between Birmingham and Nanjing

Tuesday's ceremony, marking the production of the first car, was attended by a variety of visiting dignitaries.

The Mayor of Birmingham was there highlighting the fact that over the last couple of years close links have been formed between the two major cities. Another guest was Richard Burden, the MP whose constituency includes the Longbridge factory.

The new car will go on sale later in the year. But Nanjing faces tough competition. Sedans, as they are called in China, are popular cars.

Larger vehicles are ideal for the growing number of owners who can afford to employ a chauffeur.

Rival SAIC has recently launched a similar car, again based on former MG Rover designs. Called the '750' it has already gone on sale under the 'Roewe' branding.

Lower pay

China is said to be the second biggest car market in the world. Previously, many Chinese car manufacturers entered into joint-ventures with car firms based in the West.

Nanjing itself already makes vans and minibuses with Fiat of Italy. Buying MG Rover gave Nanjing the designs and expertise it needed to create it own models.

It's unclear how much the new car will cost in China, although it's expected to be cheaper than the Rover 75.

Chinese car workers are paid less than their counterparts in the UK. The average employee earns about 150 per month.

The Longbridge plant
About 6,000 workers at the Longbridge plant lost their jobs

The cheapest Roewe 750 is reported to be costing around 15,000 in China. Prior to collapse of MG Rover, you could have bought an equivalent Rover 75 for 16,500.

Back in the UK Nanjing has signed a 33 year lease for part of the Longbridge factory site.

The company has said it will restart production there later this year. It has already been working on prototype versions of the old MGTF sports car.

There are also proposals to assemble the MG 7 at Longbridge using kits imported from China.

Although many of the components for the new MG cars have been made in China, some parts have been manufactured in the Midlands by companies that previously supplied MG Rover.

Firms here are providing specialist parts, which at the moment, aren't made in China. There had been fears that UK components firms would not be able to compete with their Chinese counterparts.




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