Longbridge, MG Rover’s infamous Birmingham plant, has a new owner, and it’s the very company that the British company was trying to strike a neck-saving deal with when it went down in April 2005.
Yes, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, aka SAIC, has now acquired the remains of the plant it bid for during the MG Rover receivership sale, losing out to its smaller Chinese rival Nanjing, which got the plant, the tooling and ownership of the MG name. SAIC got the intellectual property rights to all the Rover designs, the end result, absurdly, being that the ageing Rover 75/MG ZT has gone into production in two different factories, reborn as the Roewe 750 and the MG 7. Sense has finally been applied, however (by the Chinese government), and the much bigger SAIC has taken over Nanjing, together with its Longbridge asset.
Nanjing has been struggling to restart production of the 12-going-on-13-year-old MG TF at the Birmingham plant, a process SAIC says it will complete, with the possibility of additional models being built there. SAIC plans to use Longbridge both as an R&D base for new model development and as a bridgehead into Europe. That may sound fanciful, until you consider that SAIC already has almost 18 per cent of the huge Chinese car market, and has been instructed by the Chinese government to take on VW and Toyota, and raise production to two million cars annually.
It’s early days, but Longbridge looks like it could play a small but significant role in reaching that target. Though we’re unlikely to see the revival of the Rover name out of Longbridge, that brand currently owned by Ford as part of Land Rover, and presumably about to go to Tata.