News : May 2008

Design sketch of upcoming Rolls-Royce unveiled…

Keith Adams

THE second model in Rolls-Royce range, currently codenamed the RR4 is due to go into production in the next couple of years, and to act as a little teaser, the Goodwood-based company has released a couple of teaser renderings to give you an idea of what the new 7-Series based car will be all about. Despite the design being long signed off and the car being well into its testing and development programme, these sketches are meant to whet the appetites of potential owners and enthusiasts.

Based on the sketches, it looks like the RR4 will retaining the same proportions as the current Phantom, although it’ll be a relatively affordable option, perhaps going head-to-head with the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, which currently retails at £117,000. Commenting on the upcoming addition to the range, Chief designer, Ian Cameron, said, “Effortless performance and standard-setting levels of comfort and efficiency, executed with the utmost care and attention, remain fundamentals of Rolls-Royce design. The RR4 has a more informal presence than the Phantom models with a greater emphasis on driving. In design terms this is expressed through its slightly smaller dimensions and more organic form, yet with powerful, purposeful proportions. It is a true and uncompromising Rolls-Royce in every sense.”

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Gordon Brown’s role in Rover crash questioned by Phoenix Four

By Russell Hotten, Financial Times

THE group of controversial Midlands businessmen blamed for the collapse of MG Rover are to fight to clear their names in a campaign they believe will reveal the role played by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and one of his senior advisers in the demise of the car company.

MG Rover was Britain’s last major independent car maker. After its spectacular collapse in April 2005, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) called in inspectors to probe the affair. The report, by BDO Stoy Hayward and a barrister, is not expected to be published until the end of this year at the earliest.

Frustrated at the delay, the so-called Phoenix Four are discussing with advisers and lawyers a strategy to uncover what happened in the final days of MG Rover. It could be embarrassing for Mr Brown, the then Chancellor, and Shriti, now Baroness, Vadera, then one of his most powerful advisers at the Treasury. Both are expected to be targeted to find out what they knew about Rover’s last few days.

John Towers, Peter Beale, John Edwards and Nick Stephenson were vilified for their role in the collapse. The unions said they had taken tens of millions of pounds out of the company while 6000 workers lost their jobs.

The men, who have refused to discuss the collapse publicly, may break their silence to highlight how some people in Government killed off Mr Towers’ plan to save Rover and sell it to a Chinese company. A number of Freedom of Information requests are being prepared by lawyers, and the Phoenix Four have recruited a public relations team.

Jack Irvine, chairman of Media House, instructed by the Phoenix Four, said: “We want to know a bit more about the role of the Treasury in the final days, and whether Mr Brown and Shriti Vadera [now a Government minister] were involved in taking decisions on Rover’s future. We would particularly like to see some email exchanges. It seems odd now, that Gordon Brown can throw billions of pounds at Northern Rock, but it would have taken only a few million to save Rover.”

A Department of Business and Enterprise spokesman said: “The inspectors, who are independent of the Department, are seeking to complete the report as quickly as possible, with due regard for the fairness of procedures, and to the thoroughness of the task.”

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David Hood
Calgary, Canada
05/30/2008
Yet another smokescreen from the Phoenix 4/5. Whatever HMG may have done or not done at the end, they were certainly very helpful in making sure that Phoenix was handed Rover on a plate. If Phoenix had not been such particularly incompetent managers, the role of the government at the end would not have been an issue. Considering that this group could not even stay sober enough to avoid giving away valuable intellectual property to SAIC and ensure their CEO didn’t go on vacation during the same critical negotiations, I find their indignation now a bit of a joke!
Having said that, the delay in publishing the results of the enquiry is inexcusable. We need to hear the results!
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Merlin Milner
05/30/2008
Agree in part to David Hood’s comments. However successive governments have little knowledge or interest in UK engineering / manufacturing. The Phoenix lot were amateur and made many poor decisions. However the government could not see the big picture. This would never have happened in Germany, France or Italy. Until HMG have politicians who understand business and we have a public who stops thinking that Carling and Kellogg’s are UK brands, then this will continue to happen. In other word tolerate poor management, lack of investment and government tied to the idea of destroying / selling our indigenous engineering / manufacturing industry. we cannot rely upon financial services alone.

MINI by Agent Provocateur…

KEITH ADAMS

THE Agent Provocateur special edition MINI Clubman might not be your common or garden example of the breed, but it’s certainly an eye catcher that’s going to raise some money for a good cause.

The lingerie manufacturer makes no bones about the target demographic of this piece of eye-candy, which debuted at the recent Life Ball 2008 event in Vienna. Add-ons to the Clubman include bars, blacked out windows and hand-to-wall handcuffs. Should you wish to get hold of this one-off, left-hand drive, edition, we suggest you head on over to ebay.at where the car will be auctioned off on behalf of Austria’s Life Ball AIDS and HIV charity from 5-15th June.

To take a look at the original gallery, assuming your kids aren’t around, go to the Autoblog gallery, here…

Sophie Ellis Bextor and MINI
Sophie Ellis-Bextor adds some much needed sex-appeal to the MINI Agent Provocateur…

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

1) Jaguar and Land Rover

Range Rover in line for full electric makeover
John Cranage, Automotive Correspondent, Birmingham Post 22nd May, 2008

An electric-powered Range Rover is being developed for drivers prepared to pay up to £125,000 to reduce their carbon footprint. Liberty Electric Cars Limited, a company based in Oxford, said it was investing £30 million in a project to re-engineer large luxury cars and 4x4s into emission-free, high performance electric vehicles.

The company, run by American entrepreneur Barry Shrier, a former managing director of Deutsche Bank in the UK, is not yet in production; nor has it yet settled on a site for a factory. But it said that it already had potential customers for its first vehicle, a Range Rover with an advanced battery-powered engine and transmission. According to specification, the cars will cost between £95,000 and £125,000 compared with between £56,000 and £72,700 for conventionally powered vehicles from Land Rover.

Liberty announced ambitious plans to build tens of thousands of cars a year by 2012 and to create 250 jobs. It is planning the electric Range Rover independently of Solihull-based Land Rover, which is currently working on its own plans for electric and electric-diesel hybrid powertrains. The Oxford company will buy Range Rovers in the retail market, strip out the engines and gearboxes (which will be recycled) before retro-fitting its own zero emission technology.

Mr Shrier is holding out the prospect of expanding Liberty’s operations globally and of eventually converting thousands of taxis in smog-bound conurbations such as Mexico City to electric power. A taxi driver currently spending £200 a week on diesel could in future be recharging his vehicle for just £40 a week. “This has the global potential to convert hundreds of thousands of vehicles and remove hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere,” Mr Shrier said.

He added: “The Liberty Electric Range Rover takes electric vehicle technology into a new sector, to large luxury cars that people aspire to drive, particularly in cities and urban environments where environmental controls are becoming increasingly tighter. It will drive cleanly and quietly around roads and cities, free of tax and congestion and parking charges, making less environmental impact that even the smallest, most fuel-efficient car, yet still offering the comfort and security of a luxury 4×4.”

Liberty says its technology can be adapted to suit Range Rover drivers who go in for serious off-roading as well those who never get their wheels muddy. The cars will travel 200 miles before needing a recharge, although on-board generators can extend the range. Advanced recharging equipment, which is becoming available at more and more sites throughout the country, including multi-storey and supermarket car parks, means electric cars can be back on the road within ten minutes.


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Sales of Jaguar XF surging in Europe
Duncan Tift, Business Staff, Birmingham Post 17th May, 2008

Sales of Jaguar’s new XF model have helped to make the Midland luxury car company the best performing automotive manufacturer in Western Europe in terms of percentage growth, new figures have shown. According to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the number of Jaguar’s being registered in Western Europe in April rose 70.3 per cent year-on-year – way above any other volume manufacturer.

The data shows that during April Jaguar sold 3,949 vehicles – the majority thought to be new XFs although there is no breakdown of models. In April last year sales stood at 2319. The news will be welcomed by the company’s soon-to-be owner, India’s Tata Motors and is likely to leave a sour taste in the mouth of current parent, Ford.

Ford’s group sales – which include Jaguar and Land Rover – were up 6.1 per cent and until Tata’s acquisition is complete Jaguar and Land Rover’s figures will remain in the Blue Oval’s stable. Jaguar’s main rivals were left trailing in its wake with Audi up 9.5 per cent, BMW 26.7 per cent and Mercedes 14.7 per cent. However, things were not quite so good for Land Rover. The ACEA data shows that sales of the 4x4s fell 15.8 per cent year-on-year in April. In all, the company saw 5,783 new vehicles registered in Western Europe last month compared with 6867 in 2007.

Ernst & Young’s UK Automotive specialist based in Birmingham, Eric Wallbank, said: “The ACEA’s figures give a clear indication that the region’s automotive manufacturers are back on track. “The popularity of Jaguar’s new XF model is starting to show in the statistics.” As far as the slump in Land Rover was concerned, he added: “The reasoning behind this is unclear, but could be the result of increased competition from a number of volume producers who have recently launched small SUVs. The results could also perhaps be the first signs that we are starting to see a drop off in the demand for SUVs.”

There was further good news for the region’s automotive industry with the continuing healthy performance of MINI. The ACEA figures show new registrations up 17 per cent in April at 14,006 units compared with 11,970 last year. For the year to date, sales are up more than 27 per cent. “This is further boosted by the announcement that the manufacturing capacity at the Hams Hall engine plant, which produces engines for the new Mini, is set to be increased as the same engines are soon to be used in the next generation BMW 1-Series,” said Mr Wallbank.


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2) LDV/Maxus

Maxus to replace LDV in company branding
Tom Seymour, AM Online 19th May, 2008

LDV is shifting its branding and marketing away from the LDV name to focus on the Maxus. The van manufacturer’s stand at the recent Commercial Vehicle Show was plastered with Maxus signage and the LDV letters were missing from all models on display. The change will lead to the gradual rebranding of signage and new models at LDV’s UK network of 75 retail dealers and 132 servicing and parts centres, according to Chris Shenton, head of LDV for Thomas Hardie, which has seven LDV dealerships.

He said: “I think the focus on the Maxus is a positive move for the brand. It marks a new generation of models and the next step for the company. The Maxus name is well known throughout Europe. It’s only in the UK and Holland that the LDV name is on the models.”

Shenton said: “The change in signage isn’t something that’s a major priority at the moment. It will be a gradual process and the change will be almost seamless.” Industry observers believe replacing the LDV brand is an attempt to distance the present business from its chequered history. One told AM: “LDV was refinanced in 2003 and went into administration in 2005. Then it was rescued by private equity investors and sold to GAZ, its current owners. All those changes caused a lot of uncertainty in the market. Now GAZ has got it into profit and is moving forward so it makes sense to quietly bury LDV as a retail brand in favour of Maxus.”

LDV had not returned AM’s calls as we went to press. Maxus’s presence at the Commercial Vehicle Show was marked by a number of bespoke variants, hinting at LDV’s targeting of a market segment worth £4 million for vehicles going to the Home Office, Ministry of Defence and UK emergency services. It also demonstrated its ability to custom-fit vehicles for retail buyers, and detailed the Maxus One customer support programme.

Evgeniy Vereshchagin, LDV Group’s newly-appointed chief executive, said the company had made solid progress since its acquisition by Russian group GAZ in 2006, including introducing 51 derivatives of Maxus, expanding the UK network by a quarter and increasing UK Maxus registrations by 30 per cent. Vereshchagin added that the Birmingham plant will export around 5000 vehicles this year, and sales in Asia are improving.


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3) China Watch

TX4 taxi to make Chinese debut
John Cranage, Automotive Correspondent, Birmingham Post 20th May, 2008

Manganese Bronze, the Coventry-based manufacturer of London taxis, has spelled out the potential of its Chinese joint venture. A “notable achievement” in the past month has been the listing of the TX4 taxi in the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission Gazette. “This means the TX4 can now be officially sold in China,” the company, which trades as London Taxis International, or LTI, said in a trading statement.

The company has said previously that it is looking to China to secure its long-term future. It has set up an operation in conjunction with Chinese carmaker Geely to build TX4s in Shanghai. None of the vehicles built in Shanghai will be imported into the UK, but the venture is regarded as a potential springboard into other Asian markets. LTI is, however, looking to China as a source of cheaper components to ship into its Holyhead Road factory in Coventry.

The company said: “Our joint venture in China, Shanghai LTI, offers the greatest potential to secure the long-term profitable future of the group. “We are very pleased to report further excellent progress with the start of prototype production on schedule and just weeks away. Contracted procurement savings are in line with market expectations with the impact of lower cost Chinese parts generating a positive contribution in the second half of 2008. Significant progress has been achieved in developing the sales infrastructure in China and elsewhere in the Asian region with Geely appointing its extensive network of dealers to sell our joint venture TX4 product.”

Manganese Bronze and Linkstate Overseas, a wholly-owned Geely subsidiary, have set up an interlinked shareholding structure and the British company has realigned its financial year to match that of its Chinese counterpart. Manganese Bronze went on to say that strong demand for its iconic London taxis and lower-than-expected launch costs of its scheme to make the cabs in China should help to keep full year profits at least in line with expectations. Uncertainty in the financial markets is, however, denting sales in London, the company’s core market.

Cabbies in the capital are hearing so much about the credit crunch from their City-based passengers that they are putting off buying new vehicles, the company said last month. Although the market doubts pulled first quarter sales below levels seen in the same period last year – which benefited from the UK launch of the TX4 – April trading continued in line with the group’s expectations and its balance sheet remains strong.

It recently signed memoranda for an additional 2500 vehicles over a period of three years with deliveries due to start in early 2009. “Shanghai LTI remains on plan to deliver a step change in the group’s prospects and financial performance, with significant profit contributions for 2009 and onwards from procurement savings and international sales,” the statement went on to say.

Manganese said it had made encouraging progress with international orders. It said it had recently signed memos for 2,500 vehicles over three years with first deliveries beginning in early 2009, in addition to memos for 500 vehicles with a similar timeframe and delivery schedule that it announced in April. “There remains a significant pipeline of further potential customers,” it added.

It said it has signed a development agreement with electric commercial vehicle manufacturer Tanfield Group to develop a battery powered, zero emission urban taxi, the TX4E.


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China Car Times Round-up
Ash Sutcliffe

MG7 Sports – We love it

MG TF to get Japanese competition

Ssangyong SUV spotted out with Roewe front, transition complete!


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The Maestro/Montego is back… again

KEITH ADAMS

THE subject of Chinese Maestros is well known on this website, but since 2005 when Etsong of Qingdao sold its production line, and sold the factory to SAIC/Wuling, the thread has been dropped. It was assumed these cars would trickle on and go to a quiet death, as there’s no place for them in a rapidly modernising Chinese car market. However, under new management, a further model variation (of sorts) has been unveiled…

Sichuan Automobile Industry Group Co. Ltd., based at Longquan in the Chengdu Economic Development Zone of Sichuan Province, acquired the IPRs and production line and has since started building Maestro vans under the company’s Yema brand. However, to complement the existing range of limited-volume, Isuzu-based, Yema SQJ6470 SUVs, a multi-seat version of the ‘Monstro’ van has been introduced. The new vehicle, known as the Yema SQJ6450, looks utterly familiar but, at least, the long-lived line still remains in use.

The current status of the hatchback remains unknown, and there’s no mention of any of these cars on the company’s website, www.yemaauto.cn. Thanks to Erik Ingen Van Schenau of the China Motor Vehicle Documentation Centre for the head’s up…

Original piece in Chinese, see here…

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Rhydian Edwards
Machynlleth, Cymru
05/19/2008
If anything this means that there will always be a supply of Maestro van rear doors…
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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

1) Jaguar and Land Rover

Jaguar has first sales rise in almost two years
John Revill, Automotive News Europe 16th May, 2008


Is Jaguar’s recent success down to the XF or the stability new ownership has brought?

Jaguar is seeing the benefit from its pending takeover by Indian automaker Tata Motors with its first monthly sales rise in nearly two years. The British sports car brand appears to have turned around its sales decline last month with a nearly 70 percent increase in sales across Europe.

It sold 4047 cars in Europe during April, up 69.6 percent from the 2,386 it sold in April 2007, according to figures from vehicle manufacturers’ association ACEA. The figures were the first monthly sales increase for Jaguar since July 2006. Jaguar sales rose in the first four months by 0.4 percent to 12,629 units. Don Hume, Jaguar and Land Rover spokesman, said Jaguar was helped by the launch of the new XF medium-premium sedan and an end to the uncertainty over the company’s future.

Ford Motor agreed in March to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata for $2.3 billion. Hume said: “The clear future for Jaguar is helping us rebuild the brand, underlined by new products like the XF.” Hume said there had been a global improvement in Jaguar sales, including in the UK, its biggest market, where sales rose nearly 85 percent in April.

“We have got an order book for the XF for 18,000 units, which is at least as good as we hoped,” Hume told Automotive News Europe. “We are working flat out to meet the demand.” He said there had also been an increase in sales of the X-Type lower-premium sedan and XJ upper-premium saloon. While Jaguar sales rose, Land Rover sales fell by 14.6 percent in April to 6,023 units, and were down 12.9 percent to 30,573 in the first four months.

Hume said Land Rover was doing well in markets outside Europe. He said: “April was a record month for Land Rover globally and our global sales continue to rise. Land Rover is continuing its growth pattern of the last three years.”


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EU could hit Land Rover with huge emissions fines
Jonathan Walker, Political Editor, Birmingham Post 16th May, 2008

Land Rover and Jaguar face devastating EU fines – up to nearly £17,000 for each car off the assembly lines – following their sale to Tata Motors next month, under a tough new emissions regime. Birmingham MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) condemned the “illogical” proposals which would penalise smaller manufacturers, as he called for the Government to intervene.

He won a pledge from ministers to monitor the rules when he raised his concerns in the House of Commons. The European Commission is drawing up plans to fine manufacturers unless they meet tough new targets for carbon dioxide emissions. But businesses will be judged by the average level of pollution created by the cars they manufacture. It means Jaguar, in Castle Bromwich, and Land Rover, in Solihull, would escape fines if they were still owned by motoring giant Ford, which also produces a number of small cars with low emissions – giving it a company-wide average within the EU limits.

However, as Ford is selling the businesses to Indian firm Tata – with the sale expected to be finalised next month – the Midland carmakers’ models are set to attract massive fines. The EC is working on plans to force manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions to an average of 130 grammes per kilometre by 2012. Under the current proposals, carmakers will be fined up to £68 for every gramme per kilometre over the limit from 2015.

Land Rover and Jaguar’s most fuel-efficient vehicle, the X-Type two-litre diesel, currently emits 149 g/km – which means the company would face a fine of £1,292 per vehicle. Other vehicles would be hit harder. The Range Rover V8 emits 376 g/km and would attract an EU fine of £16,728 per vehicle. The company has invested £700 million in new, cleaner technologies, and recently unveiled its new LRX diesel hybrid, which could meet the 120 g/km target.

However, it has warned it would not be possible for existing models to meet the EU target. Mr Burden told ministers: “I hope we will continue to keep a close eye on some of the EU regulations being shaped that enable manufacturers that produce lots of models – some with quite poor environmental performance – to be subject to fewer penalties, as long as they also produce other cars that have smaller engines. “Such would be the impact because those penalties are measured across the fleet of the manufacturer. A penalty is imposed on manufacturers not for producing less fuel efficient cars, but for being a smaller company producing less efficient cars.

“In other words, a company such as Fiat, the Italian company that produces Ferraris, would be hit less under that regulation, unless certain safeguards are built in, than Aston Martin, a British company based in the UK. Why? Because Fiat owns Ferrari and Aston Martin is an independent company. That would be the only difference. That is illogical.” The EC is proposing to exclude firms producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles per year, which would help smaller manufacturers such as Aston Martin, based in Gaydon, Warwickshire, Mr Burden said.

However, Jaguar/Land Rover produces 286,000 vehicles a year at its sites including Castle Bromwich in Birmingham and Lode Lane in Solihull. “Unfortunately, that exemption does not meet the needs of another important British company: Jaguar Land Rover, on which thousands of jobs depend in my region and the North-west,” said Mr Burden. “It will face big penalties as a result of those regulations simply because it is becoming independent of Ford and is therefore not part of a bigger group.”

A spokesman for Land Rover and Jaguar last night said: “We are ahead of the industry in improving CO2 emissions. Least year we announced the £700 million investment in developing new technology and vehicles. However, the targets proposed by the Commission are not achievable. “There is a lot of lobbying by the industry at the moment, in terms of gaining recognition from the EU and from ministers that many specialist manufacturers will be unable to meet these targets.”

Treasury Minister Angela Eagle told Mr Burden the Government was committed to meeting the EU targets but added: “I am happy to assure him that the Government are aware of the points that he makes and are keeping a close eye on the progress of discussions about the development of EU regulations in Europe.”

The German government is also reportedly lobbying for the proposals to be toned down, following concern from BMW and Mercedes.


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2) SAIC Motor/MG and Roewe

Chinese MG is unveiled
Jon Griffin, Business Editor, Birmingham Mail 12th May, 2008

IN China the Chinese MG TF is to make its worldwide debut in just over a week – 6000 miles away from Longbridge. Longbridge owners Nanjing today opened their doors to the British press to reveal that the two-seater MG TF would finally roll off the Nanjing production lines from May 20 onwards.

The Chinese launch of the sports car paves the way for the long-delayed introduction of the two-seater in the UK in early August. SAIC-Nanjing’s confirmation of the production launch came in response to the No More Chinese Whispers campaign by the Birmingham Mail, calling on the Chinese to come clean over their intentions for Longbridge.

And today SAIC-Nanjing’s confidence in the MG brand was under-lined as plans were revealed for 1000 new jobs at the Chinese plants. The success of the Chinese factory is critical to the relaunch of Longbridge, where production lines have remained at a standstill for more than three years since MG Rover closed in April 2005 with the loss of 6500 jobs.

The Nanjing plant is already supplying engines and other body parts to the UK for eventual assembly at Longbridge. Yang Junhu, vice general manager of Nanjing MG, told the Mail today: “The MG TF will be produced here from May 20 onwards. It is a very exciting time for us – we started work on this in 2005 and we think the car will be popular.”

The 800,000 square feet complex on the outskirts of Nanjing was launched in March last year and up to now has produced only one model, the MG 7. Now the launch of the MG TF – with the promise of more models to follow – is playing a key role in kick-starting the Longbridge project after more than three years.

Nanjing executives said several hundred advance orders were already in the pipeline for the MG TF. Emma Tian, manager in Nanjing’s international operations department, said: “At this stage we have only got one shift but in the future we will have three. “That will give us a 50 to 60 per cent increase in jobs, creating around 1000 new positions at the plant. People love MG. It is not only a money issue, it is a love and passion for the brand.”

The Nanjing plant, around 15 miles from the city centre on a sprawling industrial complex, currently employs around 2000 people. The factory will eventually produce a range of four MGs, with replacement models due over the next two years. Nanjing said the MG TF will sell for between £19,000 and £23,000 in the Far East, with 81 dealers already appointed across the giant state.

UK prices have not yet been announced.


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Why Nanjing is a crucial cog in China
Jon Griffin, Business Editor, Birmingham Mail 12th May, 2008

NANJING is a city of seven million inhabitants with an increasingly important role to play in the Chinese economy. The city, home of Nanjing MG Motor Company, is seen as a growing business sector, located to the west of its giant neighbour Shanghai, which has a population of 20 million. Its importance as an industrial and cultural centre in its own right is growing, and it is emerging from the shadows of Beijing and Shanghai as a centre for tourism as well as business.

Last Monday morning saw thousands of Chinese workers inch their way through heavy traffic to try to beat the rush hour as they travelled to work in the industrial complexes across the huge Yangtze River. The Chinese, despite the still oppressive nature of the country’s regime, are general happy and eager to help western tourists. Dominic Phinn, general manager of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said the emergence of an affluent professional class was playing a big role in the westernisation of China.

He told UK journalists today the process, called “kai fang”, could also drive forward sales of MG in China. “People are getting more and more sophisticated tastes,” he said. “You see a lot of young affluent people and this could mean that MG could really take off. This is a famous brand, a British car known throughout the world. People in China like foreign brands and they like the status.”


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MG TF China Pricing: 250k to 300k RMB
China Car Times 15th May, 2008

Link: China Car Times

The MG TF is about to be launched in China (third time lucky, eh?) just in time for summer. The 1.8l two seater soft top seems to be popular with the Chinese motoring press, but will it be popular with consumers, after all, the price is far from low for a car of its age (although some would argue age equals heritage)

MG dealerships are currently accepting deposits on the MG TF, and MG expect that Shanghai based customers will be able to pick up their motors in the first days of June, the rest of the country may have to wait a little longer!


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AC Schnitzer’s hot MINI Clubman S

KEITH ADAMS

The MINI Clubman is certainly controversial, upsetting traditionalists through the use of the heritage nameplate, while Brits have been vociferous in their condemnation of the Clubdoor – as it’s set-up for left hand drive. However, the fashion tricket is a great drive, but that hasn’t stopped AC Schnitzer from doing its best to make the car even more annoying to its detrators.

AC’s re-interpretation of the Clubman S sees the power output boosted to 226bhp through the use of a new sports exhaust system. A useful boost in torque to 210 lb/ft is achieved – and the twin sports rear silencer system means that the turbocharged PSA engine will be allowed to sing. The chassis has been tweaked, too, and customers can choose between a simple spring kit or a height-adjustable racing suspension.

The wheel/tyre package has also been optimized for maximum visual appeal – AC Schnitzer is offering a choice of 17×7.5- or 18×7.5-inch wheels. A new bonnet including a power bulge completes the external transformation, while aluminum pedals do the same inside. With all that power on tap, AC’s taken the necessary step of fitting a limited slip differential.

For more information, visit the AC Schnitzer home page.

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MG’s industrial revolution

Jon Griffin, Business Editor, Birmingham Mail

SIX thousand miles from Longbridge and the home of MG, a 21st century industrial revolution is under way which could bring a major jobs boost to Birmingham. These pictures – taken inside the nerve centre of the MG manufacturing plant in Nanjing – reveal the hi-tech processes at work which have enabled Nanjing Automobile to finally take the wraps off the two-seater MGTF in China.

The first Chinese-made sports car will roll off the production line in Nanjing next week. Three months later, production lines at Longbridge will burst into life at last after more than three years of inactivity following the closure of MG Rover and the loss of 6500 jobs in April 2005. The long-awaited rebirth of Longbridge has been made possible by the work under way on the other side of the world at the 800,000 sq ft complex which opened its doors in March last year.

The Chinese revival of MG in their own backyard is helping kick-start the return of production to Longbridge – and sales successes in China will be closely watched in Birmingham, where Nanjing says 1200 jobs could be created. So far, only 150 workers have been taken on at Longbridge, but with a string of new models promised in China and Birmingham, the potential for a world-renowned motoring brand dating back to 1929 is limitless.

In Nanjing, 2000 workers have been recruited to drive the MG project in China, with the MG7 – a version of the Rover 75 – so far the only model off the tracks since last year’s launch. Next week the MGTF will make its worldwide production debut in China and Yang Junhu, vice general manager of Nanjing MG, told the Mail during a visit by the British press this week that hopes were high for the sports car.

The mood at the factory appears quietly optimistic after several false dawns at Longbridge cast doubt on the entire MG project in the UK. The eyes of the legions of MG lovers across the world are now on the Nanjing factory situated on a sprawling industrial complex around 12 miles from the city centre. Robots which are now a key element in car production jerk in line to the tune of waltzes, to the amusement of the UK press.

But the production lines pictured here show that the Chinese are deadly serious about MG – with the next chapter of Longbridge’s rollercoaster history waiting to be written as a result.

[Editor’s Note: AROnline understands that, while NAC MG UK Limited’s former Chairman, Mr. Wang Hong Biao, did say some time ago that 1200 jobs might be created at Longbridge, the company’s new owner, SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, has yet to give any public indication of how many vacancies are now likely to arise as a result of the latest plans for the facility].

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

1) SAIC Motor/MG and Roewe

Nanjing confirms MG production at Longbridge from August
Duncan Tift, Business Staff, The Birmingham Post 8th May, 2008

The Chinese owner of MG is planning a whole series of new models for production at Longbridge, it has emerged. The announcement by NAC MG UK will go some way towards reassuring workers at the plant that the factory has a long-term future.

The short-term future has been assured with final confirmation that production of the MG TF sports car will resume at the beginning of August, with the first cars being delivered to showrooms a month later. Quite what the new models will be remains to be seen but there is speculation that they will include a new luxury saloon, possibly based on an updated Rover 75, plus a replacement for the aging TF, which first emerged onto UK roads in 1995.

There has also been recent speculation that a mid-range model, possibly a European version of the Roewe 550 – which was recently displayed at the Beijing International Motor Show, could be introduced to take advantage of spare capacity at the Longbridge plant. In a statement, NAC said: “Whilst production efforts at Longbridge are focussed on the LE500, designers at the SMTC facility in Leamington are already planning exciting new MG models that will capture the essential qualities of the MG brand and extend the range into additional sectors.”

For the moment, NAC, now part of the larger Shanghai Automotive group, will be concentrating its attention on the TF. Chairman of NAC MG UK, He Xiao Qing, who visited Longbridge last month to inspect facilities and talk to workers, said: “I am delighted to be in a position to talk about a launch date for the TF LE500 following a process of planning, re-organisation, active quality improvements and parts optimisation that we recognise resulted in frustration for our stakeholders.

“We are now fully focussed on bringing our hard work to fruition.” The new car, which made its faltering debut last summer, has been beset with problems. There have been concerns over the quality of some of the Chinese-made components, which initially delayed production, while the merger of NAC into SAIC also held up the manufacture of the cars.

Then last month, UK supplier Stadco withdrew from its contract to make body shells for the car, citing “commercial reasons” for its decision. It is thought the new cars will have body shells manufactured in China. NAC is hopeful that when the model finally arrives in showrooms it will still have a market.

In its publicity, the firm said it expected the TF to: “appeal to a wide range of car buyers looking for the authentic sports car driving experience, as well as existing small sports car owners looking to upgrade, current owners and the large band of MG enthusiasts”. The company also fired a broadside against detractors who had been speculating that the MG marque was finished. “The commitment planned by MG and the level of investment underwritten by SAIC will persuade doubters that the MG brand is being re-launched with the support to make it successful again,” it said in the statement.

“The fact is that in 2008, desirable and competitive British made sports cars will once again be rolling off a production line in Longbridge. A sight that many thought they might never see again.” Director of sales and marketing Gary Hagen added: “The open top sports car is an iconic image of British motoring and forms the basis of the MG marque’s long pedigree.

“The launch of the TF LE500 signals our determination to keep this class of car at the heart of the brand as we take it forward.”


Jobs hope at Longbridge after production targets revealed
Duncan Tift, Birmingham Post 9th May, 2008

The prospect of hundreds of new jobs being created at Longbridge has been held out by MG’s owner under plans to dramatically increase car production at the plant. It emerged with the announcement from Nanjing Automotive (sic) (NAC) that it is developing new models for the European market. The firm’s official spokeswoman Eleanor de la Haye said at least 50,000 vehicles a year could be rolling off the production lines within the next few years.

Professor David Bailey, of Birmingham Business School, said the volumes were realistic but employment levels would have to double or even treble. However, there was still a healthy amount of scepticism surrounding the new models and one industry insider said: “Nanjing has made promises like this before and not delivered on them so people are adopting an attitude that they will believe it when they see it.”

The latest figure is way above the 5000 TF sports cars which were originally planned to be produced and would require a significant increase in manpower. About 140 people are currently employed at the plant but this would have to increase significantly if the 50,000 target was to be achieved. Prof Bailey said: “The figure of 50,000 cars sounds about right to me. There is certainly capacity at the plant to do that but it would require several hundred new jobs.

“50,000 vehicles isn’t a significantly high amount, in fact it’s quite small for an assembly plant – 250,000-300,000 vehicles are around the figure for a full assembly plant.” At its peak, Longbridge was producing 345,000 cars annually. The firm collapsed in 2005 throwing 6000 people out of work. The CBI in the West Midlands said on Thursday it was dubious about predicted production levels because of the small number of people employed at the plant.

But Prof Bailey said: “The TF operation is relatively small and will have a minimal impact but this could change significantly when the new models are introduced. “What has to be borne in mind are costs and so the question has to be, how much manufacturing will there be or will these cars just be bolt-togethers.” NAC, now merged with larger Chinese company Shanghai Automotive (SAIC), announced on Thursday that production of the MG TF LE500 would restart in August with the first cars arriving in dealer showrooms a month later.

But the firm said its designers were also working on new models and it is thought that at least four could be in the pipeline – an updated TF roadster and coupe, a large car, possibly an updated Rover 75, and two mid-range cars that share the same platform as the Roewe 550, which was unveiled at the Beijing motor show last month. Initially TF bodies will be shipped to Longbridge from China and then assembled but long term it is thought the next generation of vehicles will be fully manufactured in the UK. The announcement brought to an end to months of uncertainty regarding the future of the car plant.

There were fears at one stage that it had no future because of increasing delays to the TF project, caused firstly by poor quality Chinese components and then from NAC’s merger with SAIC. Now the merger is complete, SAIC appears far more serious about producing cars at the plant than NAC ever did. Professor Bailey added: “I don’t think Nanjing would ever have been able to pull off this kind of thing but SAIC is far more committed and I think the appointment shows its intent.

“It also shows that SAIC is exerting control over the situation and is making a firm commitment to the site, which again is a good thing.” St Modwen, the main developer behind the £750 million Longbridge Area Action Plan, last night welcomed the commitment from the Chinese company. Mike Murray, senior development manager for St Modwen, said: “We are fully supportive of NAC looking to commence car production at Longbridge.”

Part of SAIC’s commitment has seen it integrate its Leamington research and development centre with the factory at Longbridge. It is thought the company sees the plant as a hub from which to enter the European market, although what the cars will be marketed as remains to be seen. NAC cannot market them as Rover as the rights to that name lie with Tata following its acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover.

Ms de la Haye has said that neither would they be branded Roewe, as they are in China. This leaves MG as the most likely option.


2) XPart

Press Release issued via Newspress 12th May, 2008
Quicker identification of parts and service specialists for MG Rover and MINI owners

MG Rover and New Mini owners can now find details of their nearest specialist XPart service and repair provider more easily than ever before, following the launch of an expanded and updated website, www.xpart.com . The site’s improved design incorporates a new centre locator, which allows visitors to search for their nearest MG Rover specialist, New Mini specialist, or MG Rover parts distributor. Once identified, the site provides comprehensive directions and maps.

“With programmes such as servicing of New Mini’s, XPart now has a much wider offering than its original MG Rover service and repair,” explains Don Lindsay, service marketing manager, XPart. “The new website reflects these developments and ensures that visitors know about all of the services available and can easily locate their nearest provider.”

XPart’s AutoService centre network has been established for three years and provides high-quality servicing at competitive aftermarket rates. Garages receive technical support and ongoing data from XPart ensuring they can continue to service vehicles in an efficient and effective manner. Parts are received daily from one of XPart’s 110 MG Rover parts distributors who receive overnight deliveries from its central distribution centre which houses a parts inventory in excess of £20 million.

As well as giving the locations of its 240 AutoService centres, the new website also provides details of XPart’s 110 MG Rover parts distributors. The distributors continue to offer ‘genuine’ MG Rover parts to owners who wish to purchase parts directly and then carry out repairs themselves. XPart is a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Logistics Services UK Limited, one of the automotive industry’s leading supply chain management companies.

It has established a network of more than 240 XPart AutoService centres across the UK, providing franchise-quality repair at aftermarket rates. Its product range contains more than 35,000 parts for all makes of vehicle and since 2001 it has been responsible for the supply of genuine MG Rover parts.


NAC MG UK: TF LE500 set for August production start

CLIVE GOLDTHORP

NAC MG UK Limited’s new Chairman, Mr. He Xiao Qing, 44, has today announced that production of the MG TF LE500 will commence at Longbridge at the beginning of August and that the first cars will reach NAC MG’s new Dealer Network in September.

Mr. He (pronounced Hurr), who succeeds Mr. Wang Hong Biao as Chairman, said: “I am delighted to have been appointed Chairman at such an exciting and busy time in this young company’s history (and) to be in a position to talk about a launch date for the TF LE500 following a process of planning, re-organisation, active quality improvements and parts optimisation that we recognise resulted in frustration for our stakeholders. We are now fully focused on bringing our hard work to fruition.”

Gary Hagen, NAC MG UK Limited’s Director of Sales and Marketing, added: “The open sportscar is an iconic image of British motoring and forms the basis of the MG marque’s long pedigree. The launch of the TF LE500 signals our determination to keep this class of car at the heart of the brand as we take it forward.”

The launch of the TF LE500 will be followed by full scale production of the TF and a family of “exciting new MG models that will capture the essential qualities of the MG brand and extend the range into additional sectors.” The new models are already being developed by the Designers and Engineers at SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited’s (SMTC’s) facility in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire and will be built at Longbridge.

AROnline hopes to have much more information about SAIC Motor’s plans for the MG marque and for Longbridge in the near future…

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News digest

Compiled by CLIVE GOLDTHORP

1) SAIC Motor/MG and Roewe

Mail brings down the wall of silence
Jon Griffin, Birmingham Mail 2nd May, 2008

SAIC/NANJING has promised to break its silence over Longbridge – just seven days after the Birmingham Mail launched a ‘No More Chinese Whispers’ campaign. The secretive Chinese car firm has taken a step towards openness by planning a series of one-to-one interviews with various UK journalists next week, it was revealed today.

Briefings will be held with the Birmingham Mail and other selected news organisations next Thursday in London and Birmingham in the first public statements of intent from the Chinese for almost a year. The news comes after the Birmingham Mail publicly challenged Nanjing last Friday to come clean by answering 10 key questions over the historic car plant’s future.

Initially the paper was met with more silence, so we took the questions to the door of Longbridge and then to the Chinese embassy in London to show the car firm that we would not accept broken promises and changing details from secondhand sources. A direct approach to SAIC/Nanjing’s headquarters in China was the next plan if the company had not responded.

Editor Steve Dyson said: “There was some fear that the Birmingham Mail’s new ‘No More Chinese Whispers’ campaign would antagonise the company but this sudden turnaround is proof that SAIC/Nanjing has listened to the free press.” Politicians and unions today also welcomed the long-awaited decision by SAIC/Nanjing to come clean over the car plant. Its future has been at the centre of speculation since the Birmingham Mail revealed body shell assembly by West Midland firm Stadco was being scrapped before a single car had been produced for sale.

Dave Osborne, of Unite, the most senior car industry negotiator in the UK, today praised the Mail’s campaign – and welcomed the prospect that SAIC/Nanjing would end the speculation over Longbridge at last. “The Birmingham Mail has been saying what people have been thinking and I am very pleased journalists are now going to get the chance to talk to SAIC/Nanjing on a one-to-one basis on the back of its campaign. Let’s just hope that there is a new beginning and more openness about the relationship.

“We want to see tangible evidence that the original plans from 2005 – 100,000 cars a year within five years – come to fruition and offer quality employment to former MG Rover workers who have been unable to find the calibre of employment they had at Longbridge.” Mr Osborne has been pressing in vain for a meeting with SAIC/Nanjing bosses since last November – while Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart revealed she too had been unable to pin down the Chinese for talks despite requests dating back nine months.

She said: “Well done and good luck to the Mail over this. “I have been trying to meet with them since August. This is just the first step, but it is a welcome first step.” Nanjing’s UK Director of Communications Eleanor De La Haye confirmed that one to one interviews would be held with news organisations, including the Mail, next Thursday.

She said a total of 15 newspapers and broadcasting groups were to be offered 35-minute slots in London and Longbridge with senior Nanjing management. “We intend to answer a variety of questions,” she said.

[Editor’s Note: AROnline understands that NAC MG UK Limited’s Corporate Communications Manager, Eleanor De La Haye, was planning the above-mentioned series of media interviews well before Jon Griffin launched the Birmingham Mail’s “new ‘no more Chinese whispers’” campaign on the 25th April, 2008…]


New man in the driving seat
SAIC/NANJING is replacing its top man at Longbridge in a boardroom reshuffle, it was revealed today.
Birmingham Mail, 2nd May, 2008

He Xiao Qing will take over as chairman of NAC MG UK later this month in an apparent new change of direction. The new chairman takes over from Wang Hong Baio, who has been the man in charge since 2006. It is understood that Mr Baio is to return to China.

Dave Osborne, senior UK car industry negotiator for Unite, said: “Mr Baio has said that for personal reasons he is going back to China.” He revealed that the new chairman had agreed to a face-to-face meeting for talks over the plant’s future. “He says he would like to meet and update me on plans for Longbridge,” added Mr Osborne.

Unions believe the change at the top at Longbridge signals the shift of control to SAIC. SAIC President Chen Hong flew to Birmingham for high-level talks with city council leader Coun Mike Whitby last week, and pledged that production lines would be rolling out MGs in the second half of 2008.


2) Jaguar and Land Rover

Daimler prepared to sell components to Jaguar & Land Rover
Auto Industry.co.uk, 6th May, 2008

Daimler AG is prepared to supply components to Jaguar and Land Rover Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche told the German Auto Motor und Sport magazine in an interview last week. Daimler has a 7 per cent stake in Jaguar & Land Rover’s soon-to-be new owner Tata Motors. While Mr Zetsche said Daimler had no plans to increase its Tata Motors stake, it could potentially replace engines and other units that have to date been sourced from Ford Motor Co.


3) China Watch

COMMENT: To build domestic brands, don’t rush
Yang Jian, Managing Editor, Automotive News China 7th May, 2008

SHANGHAI — Chinese automakers displayed a wide array of new models at the recent Beijing auto show. But the one that attracted the most attention was the mid-sized Roewe 550 sedan. It was voted the best new car by Chinese media at the end of show. I also like the car, for its fine materials and graceful styling. But what I appreciate most about it is the measured and focused approach that Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is taking to build a premium brand. In this aspect, other Chinese automakers can learn from SAIC.

SAIC’s executives are not rushing to build the brand. The first step it took back in 2006 was to muster a strong r&d force. It now runs r&d centers in Shanghai, South Korea and England. SAIC is the only Chinese automaker that has a sizable r&d team outside China. Next, it launched its first self brand model, the Roewe 750. The car was developed on the Rover 75 platform it acquired from MG Rover. In 2007, it sold more than 16,500 units of Roewe 750 at a starting price of 230,000 yuan ($33,000) — solid sales for a new model.

Thereafter, it took SAIC another one year and a half to launch the Roewe 550, a completely new model jointly developed by its r&d teams in Shanghai and England. SAIC has yet to disclose the price of this new model, but industry observers believe it will succeed after it hits the market in June. Says Yale Zhang, director for emerging markets at CSM Worldwide: “I believe it can compete with any international brand in the same segment.”

To date, Chinese automakers have launched more than 80 models of their own brands, but most of them are low-priced cars selling for below 100,000 ($14,500). Some domestic car manufacturers have been striving to upgrade their image by launching vehicles labeled as premium brands. But due to a lack of a measured and focused approach, they have not made much progress.

With the GT sporty car, shown at the Beijing auto show, Geely is seeking to leapfrog from a low-price automaker to a luxury maker. It will have a hard time to do so. China FAW Group Corp. aims to build its own premium brand, the Red Flag, but it only sold 2,584 mid-sized Red Flag sedans with a starting price of 160,000 ($23,000) in 2007, according to Asia Automotive Resources (ARA), an affiliate of J.D. Power & Associates.

Obviously FAW needs to spend more to make the Red Flag a marketable brand. But at the Beijing show it displayed an SUV carrying the Red Flag brand along with 11 new models under its two other self brands–the Besturn brand and the FAW Tianjin-Xiali brand. That makes one suspect how much marketing dollars FAW can allocate for the Red Flag brand. SAIC has to date only launched two models under the Roewe brand. It still has a lot to do to build up the brand. But judging by the market responses that the two Roewe models have received, its approach towards building a premium brand has generated positive results.

It is time for the likes of Geely and FAW to rethink their strategies.

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Rover’s Return? Not quite, but still good news for Longbridge.

DAVID BAILEY, Birmingham Post

RECENT news in the Post that Shanghai Auto (SAIC) remains committed to the Longbridge site comes as welcome news given the uncertainty created in the wake of the recently announced Stadco pullout from MG TF production.

That MG TF production will finally restart in July this year also comes as some relief after lengthy delays given concerns over the quality of parts coming from China. Let’s get things in perspective, though. The TF is basically a 15-year old design with nearly all of the parts brought in from China. It is not a sustainable project beyond the very short term. And with Stadco leaving, we now basically see a screwdriver operation with very few linkages into the local economy and fewer benefits than we’d hoped for in terms of economic development.

That Shanghai are going ahead at all is the crucial thing, though. This keeps them interested in a site whether further production and R&D may come in time. It’s here where the case needs to be made to SAIC. And there is a strong case to be made.

Indeed, despite recent plant closures, the West Midlands remains the heart of the UK car industry.

Of particular relevance, after Shanghai bought MG Rover’s intellectual property rights in late 2004, it continued to develop the replacement for the R45 through its joint venture with Ricardo here in the West Midlands.

This is now well advanced and the Roewe 550 as it’s called in China was unveiled at the recent Beijing motor show (for images click here). An MG version (preferably with a better looking front end) could be produced both in China and at Longbridge. The latter really could bring benefits to the area. Launch aid, within EU state aid rules, could encourage such production being brought to Longbridge. A replacement for the aged MG TF is the next priority. Ricardo could again be a key partner here.

There is also a strong case to be made for Shanghai locating its European R&D base here, especially in environmental technologies where the West Midlands has a real lead (for example see an interesting piece here on the development of electric taxis in the region).

A more imaginative vision for the old Longbridge site (featuring environmental technologies, education facilities, an eco-town…) could actually attract R&D from SAIC. Tackling climate change and reducing car pollution is a key challenge for the future. Tougher European CO2 emission targets are on the horizon and manufacturers will need to invest heavily to meet these targets. Ford realised as much when it invested £1 billion in the UK in environmental technologies back in 2006, much of it at the time here in the West Midlands. SAIC could similarly tap into such expertise.

In the short-run, EU regulations will impose extra costs on manufacturers in Europe. Longer-run, though, they could well stimulate new technologies and processes that could give manufacturers in Europe a competitive edge as the rest of the world catches up on the need to tackle climate change. That offers an opportunity for the West Midlands, and for Longbridge, if the investment (both domestic and foreign) can be encouraged in the region. Again, there is a role for government here in stimulating and encouraging this.

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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