Longbridge – the once huge, dark, dank and sprawling epicentre of Britain’s version of Detroit. I think its suffered the longest lingering death in history. Can you hear the fat lady singing?
When the good ship MG Rover did a passable impression of the Herald of Free Enterprise in April 2005 by keeling over and sinking, I knew it was all over there and then. I’d visited Longbridge many many times – sometimes in professional capacity and despite all the trails and tribulations, it used to be one hell of a site to visit. Anyone who shares these memories will be nodding at the screen right now – aren’t you?
A factory so big that you would be ushered around from site to site in one of a small fleet of Leyland DAF minibuses. You would start at the new West Works to watch oily freshly stamped panels get welded into car bodies than across the road into the old assembly building to see them coming down the tracks then off the lines in a blaze of headlamps and a blare of horns.
But after 2005 it was all done and dusted. Okay so production kind of restarted in 2008 with a run of 500 LE MG TF’s that seemingly took forever to sell. The MG6 and MG3 came shortly after, albeit made from unpacking wooden crates and teas chests then screwing the bits together. Car production of any kind stopped in 2016 but customers could be safe in the knowledge that at least the R & D carried on at Longbridge.
Well it now seems that is in jeopardy. It’s just been announced that 90 contractors have been given notice of termination effective immediately and another 140 full time staff and engineers are to enter a 6 week period of consultation. This leads me to think that the Chinese have gained enough know how and skill about engineering a car to suit European and global taste.
Ever since the end of MG Rover, a small dedicated team of UK engineers have been working alongside their oriental counterparts. The N series & TCI-TEC engines of the TF LE and MG6 were developed by the Brits and the diesel engine that was fitted to the same car was just the same. Chassis development, steering systems and handling / ride have all been fine tuned, tweaked and pointed in the right direction by overseeing British engineers.
But here is the rub. You see… the Chinese may not be good at listening but they are… damn fast learners. I personally think Longbridge is now surplus to requirements as the Chinese parent company now has the experience and ability to fully develop, design and engineer their cars on their home turf and on their own terms. Before the *lickers and brand fans kick off and throw their Nesquik at the monitor… consider this.
Despite their UK sales creeping up year on year, MG still have some way to go before any real impact is made to main rivals. Reputedly, Longbridge costs just under £50 million to operate annually. Over in Asia and especially China itself, their sales have been taking a good hiding in the face of talented competition not forgetting to consider the countries recession. When the going gets tough many a bitter pill has to be prescribed.
Car building is a business not a charity and heritage does not pave the way for a long term future without having a strong grip on the present. Most of the folk who continue to knock the brand have about as much chance in buying a new car as I or you have in winning a flight around the Bay of Biscay or Concorde regardless of country of origin or brand. The parent company SAIC call it an “operational review”
I call it sound business sense!
Tell me what you think below.
*= Trade speak for fanatics who refuse to admit or see any wrong. Also known as wearing “Rover tinted spectacles”