AM Online

The Big Picture: Problems loom at Longbridge

Nanjing’s much-trumpeted relaunch of the MG TF roadster at Longbridge on May 29 turned into a damp squib.

The Chinese company assembled the media and VIPs from the UK and China, then spent several hours telling them almost nothing about the product, its marketing and distribution plans or its intentions for Longbridge. Every question was evaded.

AM’s news story, featured in the June 15 edition and online, was dug up following interviews after the media day with Nanjing’s UK sales/franchise manager Stephen Cox, who did at least have a little to say about plans for the retail network.

The negative publicity that resulted from the day, which included an hour’s Q&A (well, Qs would be more accurate), will do Nanjing no favours as it looks to resurrect the brand in the UK.

It unveiled the ‘new’ MG TF (based on the original 12-year-old design), but wouldn’t let anyone near to it. The assembly line was closed off from view. And senior executives were reluctant to talk one to one after the session finished.

So what do we know? Longbridge employs 130 staff, but this could rise to 250. Ninety per cent of Longbridge’s production – it has capacity for 15,000 per year, but is unlikely to get near this – will go to China, where Nanjing has built its own factory capable of churning out 200,000 cars per year.

That plant leaves a question mark over Longbridge’s long-term future, although Yu Jian Wei, CEO of Nanjing claims it will “play a leading role in our European operation”.

Remember also that Nanjing’s original statements claimed the plant would employ up to 2,000 people and make 80,000 cars.

Other than to the small band of hard core enthusiasts, the only way the MG TF will sell in the UK and the rest of Europe is for it to be priced significantly below the Mazda MX-5. And that will probably need the cut-price production values of the Chinese plant.

Despite the razzmatazz the future of MG TF production in the UK is far from secure.

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