The Midlands automotive sector has received a second major shot in the arm with the news that MG owner Shanghai Automotive has told UK dealers it expects to produce 600 of the new TF LE500 models between the start of production in August and the end of the year. That came as the new boss of Jaguar told Birmingham executives yesterday that the company is staging a fight back against its rivals. He spoke out just 24 hours after Jaguar Land Rover revealed plans to launch a recruitment drive to find up to 600 new employees, less than a month after a £1.15 billion takeover by Tata Motors of India was completed.
SAIC’s UK dealers says first of the new sports cars are expected to be in UK showrooms in September and price details are expected to be released in the next few weeks. Nanjing Automotive, which had previously owned the Longbridge brand, appointed 50 UK dealers last summer ready for the scheduled launch of the model in September last year. Following its merger with SAIC at the start of this year there had been concerns that the dealership arrangements could change. However, one dealer has now confirmed that the original supply agreement is being upheld and the first cars will be rolling off the production lines at Longbridge very shortly.
Luffield Cars in Loughborough was the first UK dealer appointed to sell the TF. Managing director David Woods said: “We had struggled for a long time to get information from China about what might be happening. However, following the completion of the merger things have become a lot clearer and SAIC seems to have got its act together.”
Mr Woods said the company appeared to have resolved problems caused by the withdrawal of Stadco from its agreement to supply body panels for the new cars. “Production has started in China of the steel panels, which are now being produced on new presses. The word is that the quality is much better, which is very encouraging. We have been told that production at Longbridge will be ramped up in July and the cars will be produced from August ready for delivery in September. They are expecting to make around 600 units between now and the end of the year. There is no word on costs yet but I have taken part in a cost clinic recently and prices should be released soon,” he added.
Mr Woods said he was also optimistic about the future of the brand with new models said to be in the pipeline. It has previously been announced that there are plans to produce new models at Longbridge, which will include a replacement for the aging TF, which first hit UK roads in 1995. An updated replacement is expected in 2010.
Of the other new models there is speculation they will include a new luxury saloon, possibly an updated Rover 75, plus a new mid-range model, possibly a European version of the Roewe 550 which was one of the stars of the recent Beijing Motor Show.
Meanwhile, Geoff Cousins, managing director of Jaguar UK, said he was confident Indian owner Tata had bought the company “for the right reasons”. Speaking at the Breakfast Connections event run by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Birmingham Forward, and held at the Botanical Gardens, he admitted Jaguar faced big challenges and was still behind some of its premier competitors. Mr Cousins admitted, “We have been on the back foot for a long time. We have been beaten up.” But he said the new Jaguar XF had given confidence to everyone at the company.