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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
The Longbridge revival
By Peter Plisner
BBC Midlands Transport and Motoring Correspondent

It was November 2004 and the MG Rover boss John Towers was showing the BBC around the Longbridge plant.

At the time he was upbeat about prospects for a joint-venture with the Chinese car giant Shanghai Automotive.

The deal would bring upwards of 1bn to the south Birmingham car maker.

A Chinese woman sits in a new MG as it is unveiled in Nanjing
The new MG was unveiled by Nanjing Automotive in March

That would mean funding to put new cars into production.

At the time the company made 110,000 cars each year, but most of them were old models that were already in production five years earlier when BMW sold the company.

But the much publicised deal never happened.

Early in 2005 rumours emerged that the Chinese were worried about MG Rover's financial liabilities.

There was also talk that, amid falling sales, MG Rover itself was running out of money.

Some of the company's suppliers stopped providing parts forcing MG Rover to suspend production.

It was not long before the deal with Shanghai Automotive collapsed and MG Rover was forced to call in the administrators.

It was a devastating blow for the 6,000 strong Longbridge workforce, some of whom had worked at the plant for most of their working lives.

Longbridge stripped

A government loan kept them in work for another week, while the administrators attempted to resurrect the deal with Shanghai Automotive.

But it did not happen and on 15 April the Longbridge plant finally closed.

In the months that followed several companies, ironically even Shanghai Automotive, expressed an interest in buying the MG brand and other Longbridge assets.

Land at Longbridge and the Rover name were not for sale. They were already owned by other companies.

In the end MG Rover was sold in July 2005 to another Chinese car firm, Nanjing Automotive, which paid around 50m.

Officials from Nanjing immediately talked about making cars in both China and at Longbridge.

Rover cars being made at the old Longbridge production line
About 250 people will be employed at the Longbridge factory

But there were concerns that the promise might not be kept as the Chinese firm began to strip the Longbridge site and ship thousands of tonnes of equipment to China.

Although much of the car making equipment did leave Longbridge, the Rover 75 production line and MGTF sports car assembly line remained.

In July 2006 Nanjing reaffirmed its commitment to produce cars at Longbridge when it purchased a 33-year lease for one third of the land at Longbridge.

The company also said it would be investing around 10m in the plant, but there would be far fewer jobs than in previous years.

By March this year, as the company unveiled its first China-built cars to the world's media at its factory in Nanjing, plans were well advanced in Longbridge too.

Several pre-production models of the MGTF had been completed and the old production line was being brought back into use.

It is thought that around 250 people are already employed at the factory. Staff numbers are expected to rise over time as production ramps up.

Nanjing has said it aims is to make 3,000 cars in the first year, rising to 12,000 by 2009.

It will ultimately have the capacity to make 15,000 cars a year.

The company also says it has had a good response from dealers who want to sell the new cars.


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SEE ALSO
MG Rover's Chinese reincarnation
27 Mar 07 |  West Midlands
In pictures: Chinese MG cars
27 Mar 07 |  In Pictures
Ex-Rover staff get Nanjing invite
28 Oct 05 |  Business
Rover sold to Nanjing Automobile
23 Jul 05 |  Business

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