MG Rover's old Longbridge car plant is set to comeback in a big way when SAIC / MG begins building its first all new car in 15 years at the end of the year. The plant will start producing the MG6 mid-size model from knocked-down kits imported from China, preceding the UK relaunch of MG as a "value brand" in 2011.
The all new car will be available initially as a five-door fastback, with a four-door saloon to follow later on. The automaker optimistically told the Financial Times that customer clinics have compared the MG6 with the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia and even with small BMWs. Prices in the UK are said to range between £16,000 to £20,000 (US$25,425 to US$31,780).
Shanghai Automotive (SAIC) bought the intellectual property rights to some of MG's cars and engines after the collapse of parent company MG Rover in 2005. Meanwhile, Nanjing Automobile bought much of the production equipment back in 2007.
The latter's 2007 estimate of selling 50,000 cars a year appears to have been rather optimistic, with actual sales being more of the order of, "hundreds, not thousands". The two companies are now merged under the SAIC name.
MG's Birmingham office employs some 300 engineers and 30 design staff, who provide design and engineering services to parent SAIC. MG Birmingham has previously contributed its extensive knowhow to the development of the Roewe 550 and 350 sedans and the MG Zero concept car that was shown at the Beijing Auto Show earlier this year.
Chinese automakers have had no success exporting cars to Western Europe and the United States in the past. MG Birmingham's input is especially important for SAIC, with the Chinese still struggling to make large cars that are competitive with the Europeans. David Lindley, Head of SAIC's Technical Centre explains:
"There's still a lack of capability in Shanghai, and probably will be for years, to design a new vehicle from a clean sheet of paper."
The success of the MG6 is essential for the future of Longbridge and for MG's European operations. At present, Longbridge only builds small numbers of the outdated MG TF roadster.
Only time will tell if MG can buck the trend and recapture the hearts and minds of British consumers. The MG6 will hopefully be the first step in this difficult process.
By Tristan Hankins
Source: FT (sub. req.) , Kudos to Aikiv for the tip!
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