News : April 2006

SAIC spells out plans for its own brand; exports may include US market

ALYSHIA WEBB, AutoWeek


SAIC evaluating 75s in China right now – mysteriously, it’s disguised…

SAIC has spelled out plans to produce its own brand of car for China and for export, possibly to the United States. The company already assembles cars for China through partnerships with General Motors and Volkswagen AG.

The first model will be a large sedan based on the Rover 75 platform. SAIC acquired the intellectual property rights to the Rover 75 and 25 platforms last year before MG Rover’s collapse. Prototypes of the sedan, which will come with an automatic transmission and V-6 engine, are undergoing safety testing, says David Lindley, chief engineer of SAIC Automotive Engineering Academy. Lindley, a former MG Rover engineer, also is general manager of SAIC Motor Overseas (Europe) R&D Center in England.

Production of the sedan will begin in late 2006, and the model will be launched in 2007. Exports also will begin in 2007.

“Initially, we will target the markets which are former MG Rover markets – the United Kingdom and maybe Spain,” says Andy Chen, spokesman for SAIC Motor Manufacturing Co. “In the long-term, (we will export to) the United States and Japan.” SAIC Motor Manufacturing is the unit set up to manufacture and market SAIC’s brand.

The second model will be a family sedan based on the same platform. It is being developed at the r&d center. At the end of the concept phase, which will be soon, development will pass to SAIC’s engineering academy in Shanghai, Lindley says. As for the name, SAIC hasn’t decided on one but should announce its choice by the end of June, SAIC managers say. Sources say the names “Shanghai” and “Phoenix” are being considered.

SAIC aims to introduce five product lines over the next four years, including a hybrid vehicle. More than 30 variations on the various models will be offered, SAIC says. Prices will range from 65,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan, or $8,110 to $37,500 at current exchange rates. “Our products will not be niche products,” says Wang Xiaoqiu, general manager of SAIC Motor Manufacturing. “They will appeal to a wide segment of the population.”

By 2010, SAIC plans to sell more than 200,000 of its own brand cars, including 50,000 exports. European sales will be through a wholly owned sales subsidiary. An overseas dealership network will be established in the second half of 2006, SAIC said without providing details. The cars will be assembled at an existing plant in Yizheng in Jiangsu province, a few hours from Shanghai. SAIC also is building a plant in the Shanghai suburbs near the Shanghai Volkswagen plant.

Total annual vehicle production capacity will reach 300,000 by 2010, and engine production capacity will hit 400,000, SAIC says. That will include the ability to produce 10,000 alternative-fuel vehicles such as hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Current vehicle production capacity is 120,000, and engine production capacity is 170,000.


Congratulations!

KEITH ADAMS

Congratulations to austin-rover.co.uk Sixties Technical Editor, German correspondent and general right-hand man, Alexander Boucke and his partner Karin Lukaszewicz. At 3.09am this morning, Karin gave birth to their baby daughter Christina – both mother and baby are doing just fine.

We wish them all the best, and hope there aren’t too many sleepless nights ahead…


Longbridge Rally springs a surprise

KEITH ADAMS, all pictures Ian Robertson


Hundreds of enthusiasts converged on Longbridge to show their support for MG Rover…

TO mark the first anniversary of MG Rover falling into administration last April, The Rover Community Action Trust organised a rally to the ill-fated Longbridge plant, but as well as the hundreds of enthusiasts who made the pilgrimage, were a number of very distinguished guests…

Headed by the Trust’s chairperson, Gemma Cartright, the Rally took the same form as last year’s understandably downbeat event – it was an occasion of two halves. Hundreds of enthusiasts driving an amazing selection of MG Rover themed cars convened at Longbridge’s most local motorway stop-off, Hopwood Services, its car park becoming a monument to the carmaker’s long and illustrious career.


Wang Yaoping, the legal and commercial director for NAC in the UK,was keen to hear the views of enthusiasts…

However, as well as hundreds of members of the enthusiast community, and former factory workers, officials from Nanjing Automotive (NAC) stunned everyone by making a surprise public appearance in the service station car park. Wang Yaoping, the legal and commercial director for NAC in the UK said through an interpreter that MG cars would be manufactured in Longbridge by the same time next year.

The Chinese delegation seemed very passionate about the cars that had turned up, and the people who made the trip. They took several pictures of the cars, and were keen to see the owners to feature in the pictures also. One observer commented: “What was good was that they didn’t hurry off at all, and listened to all of the speeches, and took everything in.”

Once everyone was ready, the impressive collection of cars headed for Longbridge, where a further surprise was in order. St. Modwen Properties PLC, who own the Land and Buildings, had graciously given the Rally permission to enter the factory at Powertrain car park. As a result, hundreds of cars poured into the Powertrain car park, offering many enthusiasts their first glimpse inside the factory they all so deeply cared for…

The big news of the day was certainly that NAC had shown its human face, and won over many of the crowd who turned up on the day by publicly stating its intention to restart production. The company has recently been keen to see itself as wanting to create a future at Longbridge – and on a sunny morning in Longbridge, the first steps seem to have been taken…


A member of the NAC delegation gives the thumbs up to local celebrity, John Bull…


Nanjing cash plea over Longbridge

TIM WEBB, The Independent


Nanjing are well underway with their plans for Chinese production – Longbridge production is still in the balance…

NANJING Automobile Corporation (NAC) will warn ministers that without tens of millions of pounds of government funding it will not be able to restart significant car production at the former MG Rover site at Longbridge.

It is understood that NAC will ask Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for between £10m and £50m in financial support when it submits its final business plan for the West Midlands site next month.

Wang Yaoping, the legal and commercial director for NAC in the UK, said that car production would still restart next year, as promised, even without government assistance. But he admitted that in this scenario NAC would have to scale back production levels and the number of workers to be employed.

“Whether the Government gives support will have influence on our plans,” he said. But he confirmed he would suggest to the Government that without its support the company would not be able to employ as many people. “It will influence the amount of our activities,” he said.

NAC, which bought the failed car maker MG Rover for £53m last July, needs £50m to restart production. It has already secured an unknown amount from Hong Kong banks. Mr Wang said its plan is to make, from next year, around 1,000 MG TF sports cars per month at Longbridge, employing up to 400 workers. But he admitted for the first time that this business plan assumes the Government will provide a significant amount of financial support.

Days before MG Rover went into administration, a year ago yesterday, the Government promised a bridging loan of up to £150m to try to ensure the proposed takeover by NAC’s rival, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), went ahead, securing Longbridge’s 6000 jobs.

Mr Wang, who made it clear that he was not threatening the Government, said: “We had the message that before MG Rover went into administration, if there was any rescue plan the Department of Trade and Industry would give the company very big financial support. Of course, we hope that the DTI will give us support.

“Our company has made a commitment to resume production here. Compared with SAIC our company has already taken one step further. If they were committed to provide financial support to SAIC why not give us some kind of support? After reviewing our business plan they should know our needs.”

A spokesman for the department refused to comment on Nanjing’s planned request, but he stressed: “The proposed bridging loan was an unusual situation. There was still a pos-sibility that the deal with SAIC could be done. MG Rover was still a going concern at the time.”

The public spending watchdog – the National Audit Office – questioned last month whether the loan represented “sufficiently good value”.


How the mighty have fallen…

KEITH ADAMS


Longbridge’s art-deco buildings remain silent – and it seems even the road sign has come out in sympathy. (Picture: Richard Porter)

EXACTLY one year ago, the worst day in MG Rover’s short and frought history manifested itself, and the company most of us know and love fell into administration, and a chapter of British automotive history came to an end.

Since that fateful day, we’ve all been speculating as to whether cars would actually roll off the line, and workers move back in, restoring the pride of Birmingham. It has been a long and winding road, and it seems that twelve months on, we’re no closer to knowing the answer to that question…

MG Rover’s new owners, Nanjing Automotive moved into Longbridge, and instantly began removing vital production components, leading many comentators to think the worst – including, it has to be said, ourselves.

But in January this year, Nanjing’s UK high-up went on record as saying he had an ambition to re-start production at Longbridge, and was well aware of the strong feelings the MG marque name invokes in car buyers across the world. However, what Nanjing lacked, was the financial clout to make it happen. Getting up and running in China would be child’s play in comparison…

But with over 70 per cent of Longbridge’s workers re-settled in new employment is getting the factory up and running again really necessary? For some, the answer may be ‘no’, but Nanjing would say a ‘yes’ to this, even though the costs of production are much lower back in China.

But what Nanjing needs is cash to invest into Longbridge, and the race is on to find this. Without the required stipend, it’ll not happen, and we’ll see MG ZTs rolling off the line back in China and not in the UK – and to see how quickly Chinese production can be implemented, one only has to look at the remarkable progress of SAIC and its plan to get the Rover 75 in production in Shanghai. Within months, we’ll be seeing these cars churned out in the far East…

No, one year on, the jury’s still out as to whether Longbridge will see the resumption of car production – Nanjing is making noises about hiring staff in the near future, and the intel from Longbridge (what there is) seems to be positive…

This time last year, MG Rover watchers were in mourning, feeling their world had collapsed – now with 12 months’ hindsight, acceptance has kicked in, and if production does restart it’ll be a bonus.

If not, we’ll still have our memories.

Here’s to the next 12 months…

Posted in: AROnline News
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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