MG Roadster Poised to Return

From today’s “Financial Times Limited” come another story about the hopeful return of MG to the market.

China’s Shanghai Automotive (SAIC) hopes to begin producing the MG TF roadster in Nanjing in May and at its plant in Longbridge, UK, within three months of that date, a senior executive said yesterday.

But SAIC admitted the car’s long-awaited relaunch could be delayed again as it grapples with quality issues and rebuilds tooling bought in 2005 from bankrupt MG Rover and shipped to China by Nanjing Automobile (NAC), with which SAIC merged in December.

“We want to begin production of cars at Longbridge as soon as possible, but the first priority for us is the quality of the product,” Chen Hong, SAIC’s president, told the Financial Times yesterday.

“If we launch the product on the UK market and don’t have sufficient quality to meet customers’ expectations, we damage the brand.”

The relaunch of MG’s two-seater, which has a passionate UK and US following, will mark the highest-profile European debut yet for a Chinese-made car. SAIC has selected 50 dealers to sell the car, and distributed a teaser brochure of the roadster with the slogan “A New Journey”.

MG is also studying at least three new models, including a replacement for the TF, which it hopes to produce from 2010, Mr Chen said. However, the carmaker is still building a supply base in China and Europe that would allow it to meet European quality standards. About 70 per cent of the cars’ content, including their engines, will be made in China, and 30 per cent in Europe.

“From the point of view of SAIC, more time is needed for quality,” Mr Chen said.

Other Chinese carmakers, including Chery Automobile, have recently postponed export plans over quality concerns. Some early Chinese cars exported to Germany have performed poorly in crash tests and been derided in the motoring press.

“They realise the eyes of the world are upon them,” a person close to SAIC’s management said yesterday.

SAIC is one of China’s biggest and most ambitious carmakers, with joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen. It acquired some of MG Rover’s model rights and makes a version of the Rover 750 saloon in China, rebranded “Roewe”.

NAC had planned to relaunch the MG TF last year, before being sidelined by the merger.

The May launch schedule for the MG TF was “very tight,” Mr Chen acknowledged. The UK production launch would come “one, two or three months later”.

By John Reed