The last car to be manufactured at Longbridge may have already rolled off the production line, industry insiders fear.
They said the decision by main supplier Stadco to stop manufacturing body-shells for the MG TF sports car, as The Birmingham Post revealed on Saturday, could effectively sound the “death knell” for the Nanjing project.
One influential source said he doubted whether Nanjing parent SAIC would ever produce cars from Longbridge.
He said he rated its chances of doing so as “very slim” although he did believe that the former Rover factory could still have some role as a servicing centre.
The source, who has declined to be named, said a lot of money would have to be spent to develop new versions of what was effectively an old model – the MGF.
Then he said there were serious questions to be answered – could it sell sufficient volume? Could the group meet quality standards? Could they develop an engine? Could they meet environmental requirements?
“It is a tall order,” he cautioned. “It is a huge task.”
He pointed out that far more attractive operations had also struggled.
Jaguar had been “taken to the brink” before being acquired by Indian conglomerate, Tata; Aston Martin was reliant on Qatari money and Russian Nikolai Smolenski had baulked at producing TVRs at Blackpool.
“If SAIC/Nanjing thought they could produce cars at Longbridge economically, then I am sure they would,” he said.
“But can they do it economically?
“I cannot see them prepared to spend the sorts of money required. It was always wishful thinking that something would happen. “I accept that some people within Nanjing had intentions to produce. But I have never had the impression they were serious about it.”
He said Nanjing never had the capital to do it and SAIC was pro-occupied with making the merger of the two work.
“There is no emotional connection to Longbridge,” said the insider. “How would they compete? Who would buy the cars?
“I don’t think they will ever produce anything there,” he said.
The claims were backed up by a second source who said the decision by Stadco had effectively brought the curtain down on the Nanjing project.
“There is a very real fear now that they will just pull out altogether,” said the source.
“The best scenario for Longbridge would be for them to make the panels in China and then send them to Birmingham. But why would they that – why not just assemble the cars in China.”
Suppliers have been desperate for some clue as to what the Chinese might be planning but with no word coming out of SAIC, they remain in the dark.
Stadco was just one of about 150 companies supplying components to the MG TF but despite investing heavily in a new operation at Longbridge, its patience eventually ran out.
It announced on Friday it was withdrawing from its contract to supply panels for what it called “commercial reasons”. The decision has put 30 jobs at risk.
Production hopes were raised summer last year when the first of the TF’s were displayed to the press.
However, almost a year on, has yet to start and not a single car has entered the showroom.
Meanwhile, another Midland-Sino partnership appears to be faring a little better.
London taxi-maker Manganese Bronze is expected to announce on Wednesday that its joint venture with Chinese carmaker Geely Automotive is progressing well and that full production of a budget version of its iconic TX4 will commence shortly.
Lower production costs mean the Chinese-made vehicles can be sold for about £15,000 – £10,000 less than in the UK.
This is likely to further their appeal to Asian and Latin American markets although not to Europe where stricter emissions legislation comes into force later this summer.
The Chinese plant is thought to have the capacity to produce about 40,000 vehicles a year, which compares with the 3,153 emerging from the parent company’s Coventry factory.