Blog: Longbridge – the fat lady is now singing
Dave Leggett | 15 April 2005
Well, it has finally been confirmed. The seemingly inevitable has finally happened. The fat lady is now singing at full pelt. Sad, very sad. SAIC is definitely not interested in taking on MG Rover assets in a ‘going concern’ way. It’s a final no. Maybe they were never exactly all that covetous of Longbridge (see Paul French’s insightful article: SAIC-Rover – The View From Shanghai /features_detail.asp?art=1086).
Longbridge workers’ week of limbo status is over and redundancy notices are being sent out. Break-up and assets sell-off, always the likely result, beckons – although there is the question of what’s left of value to sell now. It’s a very sad day.
Where do we go from here? Maybe someone will be interested in doing something with the MG sports brand, but the starting point there isn’t all that great in terms of existing product. The once redoubtable MG TF roadster is not a car that causes its owners much satisfaction according to the latest JD Power customer satisfaction survey. MG was always about affordable sports cars anyway, so the suggestion that Longbridge could turn out 30,000 high-margin upmarket cars (the Alchemy plan of five years ago) is just a little dubious sounding in a part of the market that is crowded with established brands and products.
Is there anything at Longbridge that SAIC wants now? It already has the IP rights to make the 25 and 75 in China and has sold on the rights to the 45 to another Chinese maker, Nanjing. The 75 could be a hit in China – it’s three-box, something the Chinese like and the design is not obviously out of date. Could be strong competition for the SVW-produced Santana 2000 though (I wonder how that might work out?). Maybe some parts of the machinery at Longbridge would be helpful to them.
SAIC has also already acquired rights and production equipment for some of the engines made by the Longbridge Powertrain division. What more do they need from Longbridge? Its workers are a lot more expensive than Chinese ones. It will be interesting to see how SAIC's international strategy unfolds now.
Mind you, ownership of the Rover brand – outside China - still resides with BMW. And BMW was reportedly only prepared to allow use of that to a company making cars in Longbridge on a going concern basis. In its haste to avoid potential MG Rover liabilities, SAIC may have let slip something that could have formed an important role in its international strategy in the future.
Anyway, more may unravel next week and we have people with their ears to the ground at the Shanghai show.
But today is just a sad and rather flat day for many of us in Britain who have any sort of automotive soul. My best wishes for the future go out to all at Longbridge, MG Rover’s many suppliers and its dealers. And perhaps, finally, a word of warning to Fiat: yes, you can actually disappear.
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