A row has erupted over the future of the MG Rover plant at Longbridge after the failure of the business’s Chinese buyer to clarify its plans provoked a local newspaper to print some of its front page in Mandarin.
The Evening Mail in Birmingham issued a challenge to Nanjing Automobile Corporation with a front-page headline in Mandarin reading: “No more Chinese whispers”.
The Times reports that the paper has asked the corporation repeatedly for answers to twelve questions, which it has published every day for the past week in its pages, but claims that it has had no response. Yesterday the Mail printed the questions, on Nanjing’s plans for the plant, in Mandarin, saying that if its director of public affairs failed to reply to them, it would take its inquiry to the Chinese Embassy.

The Times noted that Nanjing bought the assets of the collapsed carmaker MG Rover for £53 million after a bidding race with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, and has outlined in its bid plans to make up to 80,000 cars a year and employ up to 2,000 people in Britain.

But GB Sports Car Company, its British partner, envisages the production of 30,000 to 50,000 cars and the employment of between 700 and 1,000 staff.

Steve Dyson, the newspaper’s Editor, said: “The people of Birmingham realise that there’s either a chance of a few thousand jobs, or not — but they want to know which one. They won’t want to be messed around.

“One day we hear good rumours from partners that there might be 2,000 jobs, the next day there’s a planning application for housing up to 400 workers who, according to unions, [will be] lifting and shifting plant machinery.

“So are there jobs, Mr Nanjing? No more Chinese whispers — tell us what it’s all about.”

But The Times said that a source with links to Nanjing said: “I think what we are seeing here is a cultural difference, nothing more than that. Nanjing’s intention from the start has been to commit to production of sports and saloon cars in the UK.

“The strategic planning to make that viable to make that viable is ongoing between Nanjing and the GB Sports Car company.”

The Times report added that the source said the company had made it clear that most assembly lines would be shipped to China, which was why it was necessary to house temporary Chinese workers near the site.

Both companies have said in the past that a large number of parts for MG cars will be sourced from low-cost countries such as China, ending the hopes of local suppliers that the resumption of MG car production at Longbridge would bring in new work for them.

Nanjing and GB Sports have given themselves two months to merge their plans before deciding on a strategy for carmaking at Longbridge.