Seen from Longbridge, MG Rover’s former base, the business’s industrial legacy five years on looks decidedly threadbare.
In one portion of the cavernous and almost deserted plant – once one of Europe’s largest – China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, owner of the rump MG brand, began making its TF two-seater sports car last year in small numbers for the UK and Ireland, using Chinese and European parts.
The company will not comment on production volumes, but acknowledges they are modest. “It’s not MG Rover numbers – it’s a single model we’re producing,” says Peter Brooking, marketing manager for MG Motor UK.
Most MG cars are now made in China. In 2006, a year after buying rights to the brand from MG Rover’s liquidators, Nanjing Automobile Corporation moved an entire production line from Birmingham halfway across the world in 4,900 shipping containers.
SAIC, which has since taken over NAC, also bought rights to some Rover models, made now under the Roewe brand.
Notwithstanding the much-diminished output at Longbridge – or the thousands of jobs lost when MG Rover collapsed – other marques from its erstwhile portfolio are thriving under different ownership.
BMW has expanded annual production of the Mini to more than 200,000 cars, from only about 12,000 a year before the Munich carmaker bought it. It now employs about 3,500 people, from a few hundred when MG Rover owned it.
Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chief executive, announced plans last week to bring production of two new models to the brand’s plant in Cowley near Oxford in a move expected to create 1,000 or more jobs.
Land Rover, sold to Ford Motor and then to Tata Motors last year, has arguably also fared better under a new owner. It recorded its highest sales yet in 2007, as Ford was selling it.
Sales figures have wilted over the past year – down 38 per cent in the first half of 2009 on a year ago – but together with Jaguar it remains one of Britain’s largest carmakers.
“There is a strong argument to say that even if you take into account the sad demise of MG Rover, the UK motor industry is much better off than it was,” says Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.