Dave Leggett | 22 February 2006
I see there was a bit of a love-in at Longbridge in the West Midlands today. The site’s freeholder, St Modwen Properties, was unsurprisingly very happy to announce a 33-year lease to Nanjing Auto on 105 acres of the 469-acre site. That still leaves plenty of land for redevelopment, the real business for St Modwen, and doing this sideshow deal with Nanjing for some (yet to be specified) future automotive use goes down well at the local council planning committee I would expect.
Mr Wang Hongbiao was there on the Nanjing side, saying that Nanjing can move forward with its business plan and a man from Birmingham City Council was on hand to claim a bit of credit and gush about a ‘tremendous deal’.
Only thing missing was the meat in the sandwich – an actual commitment of some sort; a hard plan to make cars in Longbridge. That is some way off. Nanjing lacks expertise and needs a partner to enable this sportscar plan (resumption of MGTF production at Longbridge) to make any sort of sense, if they are really serious about making things in England. At the Nanjing presentation I heard at the end of last year, there was plenty of talk of how the MGTF was ideal for China – Nanjing first to a whole new segment.
They were actually getting excited about it and clearly had it marked down for big-time Chinese sale (and therefore, that’s where you’d make it, surely – would you really want to make it in Longbridge and then ship to China, bearing in mind that there would not be much margin to play with, anyway?). The MGTF roadster was okay in its time, but it was long in the tooth when production stopped last year and would require some considerable investment to update it and make it acceptable for European consumers by next year. Actually, same goes for the other models and their MG variants. I keep hearing rumours of negotiations with various potential partners breaking down. Is anything really close?
The pessimists (or realists) will have noticed that there’s still a six-month get-out clause for Nanjing on this new lease deal, ‘in case Nanjing is unable to confirm a viable long term future for the site’, according to the press statement released today. I can almost see it now: ‘We tried our best, but after protracted negotiations with several interested parties, we weren’t able to secure a deal for Longbridge production and will now have to proceed with the China only option…"
And St Modwen Properties then tidys up with redevelopment on the remainder of the Longbridge site, the cause of carmaking at Longbridge long lost by now and also well and truly off the politicians' radar screens.
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