Car production could resume in late 2006 at the former MG Rover plant in Longbridge, England. If so, that would be months earlier than originally expected, Automotive News Europe reported.

“We’ve been making very good progress,” said an official involved in the venture. Plant owner Nanjing Automobile had promised to resume work at the 100-year-old car factory by 2007.

To beat the deadline, Nanjing must complete a joint-venture agreement with a new British partner and establish a new supply chain from China. Insiders say Nanjing’s joint-venture deal with the GB Sports Car Co. could be signed before Christmas. GB Sports Car is a consortium led by Fraser Welford-Winton, ex-managing director of Powertrain, MG Rover’s former engine division.

“We expect to start production at the end of next year and we will need a year to establish the supply chain,” said the official, who did not want to be named. “There’s no reason why MG couldn’t come back to the market with both models at the same time.”

The first cars the Chinese carmaker plans to build in Longbridge are the MG TF sports car and ZT [Rover 75 derivative] lower-premium sedan.

The Longbridge plant closed in April after financially troubled MG Rover collapsed. The British automaker stopped production after China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. dropped its plans to acquire MG Rover. Nanjing bought the MG Rover’s assets in July for £54m (EUR79m). Nanjing has been shipping tooling from the Longbridge plant to China so it can build engines there. Those engines will be sent to Longbridge to be installed in the ZT and TF.

“We’ll be sweating the assets in China to produce components at the prices we want,” said Gordon Poynter of GB Sports Car.

Nanjing plans to assemble the lower priced MG ZR [Rover 25-based] and ZS [Rover 45 derivative] models in China for the local market.