Chinese-owned MG Motor U.K., the British sports-car marque, is to halt production of its TF sports car for six months, not resuming until March next year. Sales of the low-volume sports car, the only vehicle now built at the once-massive Longbridge factory in England, have been slow through the year.
The midengine two-seat TF sports car started life as the MGF in 1995 and was Britain’s best-selling sports car for years. It’s now sold in limited numbers in the U.K. Just 265 were sold in the first nine months of this year, although September was the revived brand’s best month yet, with 65 TFs finding buyers. The company also has orders for all 50 copies of a new 85th-anniversary limited edition.
According to newly appointed sales and marketing director Guy Jones, the small-sports-car market is down 30 percent this year and 40 percent since 2007, and the end of the summer selling season helped make the decision to halt production. About 20 of the 100-strong vehicle assembly workforce will be laid off.
When production of the TF restarts in March next year, according to Jones, a new model will be added to the range above the basic TF 135. It will be based on the 85th-anniversary model, which features a mildly revised interior and chassis.
Despite the shutdown, Jones expressed optimism about MG’s future. MG Motor is owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, China’s biggest indigenous car manufacturer, which has “ambitious plans for the MG brand.” These are thought to include the development of a new range of sports cars to be designed, developed and built at the company’s British factory.
Of the 300 staff currently on site, some 200 are in design and engineering. Jones claims that more details of SAIC’s plans for MG and Longbridge will be revealed “soon,” while adding that the vehicle assembly halls were recently redecorated.
SAIC acquired the assets of MG Rover when it bought Nanjing Automotive in 2007, which had acquired the MG brand and the Longbridge site after the British company’s collapse in 2005. SAIC, which already owned the tooling and intellectual property contained within the Rover car range, manufactures a face-lifted version of the Rover 75 in China, known as the Roewe 750 since Land Rover owns the now-dormant Rover name. It also builds a Golf-sized hatchback, badged 550, which was developed in the U.K. and is also sold as an MG in China. SAIC is expecting to sell some 50,000 Roewes and MGs in 2009 — more than its target, according to Jones.