Here in Britain, motor industry watchers have been observing China's Nanjing Automobile Association 'lift and shift' the bones of Longbridge - packing up and shifting to its native land assembly equipment once used to make MG Rover cars even as it signs a 33-year lease for part of the facility.

According to the New York Times, a similar process could soon be under way across the Atlantic as another Chinese carmaker, the Lifan Group, plans to shift an entire engine factory 8,300 miles, rather than develop its own technology.

The paper noted that the Campo Largo engine plant, built in southern Brazil in the late 1990s, at a cost of US$500 million, by a 50-50 joint venture between Chrysler and BMW, produces the 1.6-litre, 16-valve Tritec engine. That's the petrol engine used in various versions in BMW's current Mini but due to be replaced by an all-in-house-made motor when the car is redesigned in a year or two.

Lifan reportedly says it is the sole bidder for the factory and wants to start producing engines in China during 2008.

The New York Times said that, if the purchase succeeds — and it is early days yet — China could leapfrog competitors like South Korea to catch up with Japan, Germany and the United States in selling some of the most fuel-efficient yet comfortable cars on the market.

Western auto executives and analysts have told the paper that the failure of China to develop its own sophisticated, reliable engines has been the biggest technical obstacle facing Chinese automakers as they modernise and prepare to export to the United States and Europe.

Buying that technology from overseas would not only remove this obstacle but would also put China's auto industry in a good position to produce roomy cars that can also get more than 30 miles to the gallon, the New York Times said.

DaimlerChrysler and BMW spokesmen separately told the paper that their companies were assessing options for when their joint venture legal agreement expires at the end of next year, and said it was premature to provide details.

CSM Worldwide Shanghai-based analyst Yale Zhang told the New York Times that the Tritec engine is one of the most technologically sophisticated and fuel-efficient car engines in the world.

The paper said Lifan wants to rebuild the factory on vacant land alongside its car assembly plant here and understand the technology thoroughly so that it can supply other Chinese automakers as well.