From the despondency following its closure in 2005, Longbridge came back to life just two years later under the ownership of Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC), which put the popular MG TF back into production.
It ended up being a short-lived venture leading into the protracted launch of the MG6, following NAC’s takeover by SAIC. However, at least it kept Longbridge on life support until the great revival followed. Well, that was the plan.
Here’s how we reported it at the time…
The 2007 revised MG TF LE500 features a re-profiled front bumper, and new instrument pack
Longbridge re-opens and MG fever takes over
As recently as a year ago, no one within Birmingham would have dared believe that the iconic car factory, affectionately known as ‘The Austin’ by locals, would have re-opened amidst scenes of triumphant optimism – but, thanks to China’s millions and a little British know-how, the dream of car production re-starting at Longbridge has now been realised.
In July 2005, Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC) purchased the MG brand, the rights to produce the company’s model range, as well as other assets for £53m – and, since then, has invested over £250m into the venture, although mainly in China.
Initial plans for Longbridge appear modest with the only product confirmed for production is a very lightly warmed-over version of the TF Roadster. However, NAC’s Chief Executive Officer, Yu Jian Wei, confirmed that the next stage of the MG rebirth would involve further product lines, depending on how well received the TF is in the marketplace.
European development to be centred in Birmingham
Longbridge will also encompass the European Research and Development Centre for MG, and it will also recruit personnel for both the UK and China. As well as being the manufacturing base for the UK and Europe, Longbridge it will also become the sales and marketing centre for Europe. Currently 130 people are employed in the factory which had 6000 workers when it closed in April 2005.
Not much additional flesh was put on NAC’s production plans for the West Midlands’ factory, but the company has previously been reported as saying that “it initially planned to invest £10m to produce 15,000 cars a year” at Longbridge. Major body pressings will be sourced in-house within the factory complex, which occupies less than a quarter of the old Longbridge site. However, the Euro IV version of its K-Series engine (now known as the N-Series), along with other important componentry, would be imported from China.
Yu Jian Wei (centre): ‘The TF will be back on sale later this year…’
Longbridge is part of NAC-MG’s global expansion plan – and, although no comment was made about its venture in the USA (as well as possible plans for Kaliningrad in Russia), the will seems to be there at the highest level to make this happen. NAC-MG is talking in terms of future annual production capacity of 250,000 cars per annum, which will be achieved following the arrival of further new sports cars (including the TF2 hardtop), and the MG7 saloon.
Light facelift for the MG TF
The new TF, which features a new and sleeker bumper pressing and an all-new instrument pack but retains the existing chassis settings unchanged, was shown to the press emerging from the end of the vehicle assembly line. Three examples then led a cavalcade of classic MGs through the Longbridge site, in the shadow of the iconic Conference Centre.
NAC-MG’s Quality Director, and amiable media front man, Paul Stowe, was there to see the re-opening, just as he had been in Nanjing’s Pukou production facility back in March. He summed up his own feelings by saying: ‘It’s incredible just how much work has been achieved in such little time. Two years ago, when it looked like it was over for MG, Nanjing stepped in with little financial assistance, and got the job done.’
Cautious optimism surrounded unveiling
Unlike previous brand re-launches at Longbridge, there was a definite sense of cautious optimism this time around, despite there being no new metal on show.
The marque’s new Chinese overlords were not ones for making promises that they weren’t sure they could keep, and that meant that there were no solid launch dates given (other than ‘…sometime in September/October’); no claims about the dealer network being in place; and certainly no hints about what would be rolling off the line next at Longbridge.
As Yu Jian Wei joked, ‘If all of you today buy one of our new TFs, we’d be well on the way to reaching the next phase of our plan for the UK.’
Minutes before the off…
…and the wraps come off