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Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Nanjing's auto plant plans raise hopes in UK city

REJUVENATION?A Chinese company's plans to produce sports cars at MG's old facility could mean job creation and revival for Birmingham

AFP , LONDON

Nanjing Automobile Group's (南京汽車) plans to produce sports cars at MG Rover's mothballed Longbridge car plant in England's second city Birmingham have ignited hopes of radical regeneration for the area.

"This is possibly the largest and strategically most significant development opportunity in the West Midlands for many years," said Ken Hardeman, Birmingham City Council's cabinet member charged with overseeing regeneration.

"This site will attract international interest and it essential that we have guidelines in place to ensure that all development on the site is geared to generating jobs, regenerating the local area and boosting the regional economy."

Following its purchase of MG Rover's assets, Nanjing Automobile said last week it had reached agreement with the GB Sports Car Company to make cars at Longbridge in Britain's traditional manufacturing heartland.

Industry experts and trade unions were not so optimistic, however.

"If somebody wants to make sports cars, that's a perfectly viable proposition but it won't create many jobs because the infrastructures in that case are very small," said Nick Matthews, of the Warwick Manufacturing Group, an academic body that advises the automotive industry.

"The competition in that sector is high ... so in that context it's difficult to imagine how it could be a successful proposition."

GB Sports is headed by Fraser Welford-Winton, the former managing director of Powertrain, the engine division of collapsed British car maker MG Rover.

But neither Nanjing nor Welford-Winton revealed the exact number of jobs to be created following the deal.

China's oldest carmaker, Nanjing agreed last month to pay just over ?50 million pounds (US$87 million) for the remains of MG Rover and Powertrain -- winning control despite competition from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC, 上海汽車工業).

Century-old MG Rover, which produced the Mini and Jaguar, was forced to axe 6,000 workers in April at Longbridge after a failed tie-up with SAIC pushed it into bankruptcy.

Trade unions -- which had favored SAIC's proposed deal after reports it would secure more workers' posts -- were realistic about jobs at the suspended MG Rover plant.

"Clearly Nanjing have already indicated that their plans do not involve restarting volume car production at Longbridge," said Claire Ainsley, spokeswoman for the transport union.

"We want to talk with Nanjing about chances for West Midlands and Longbridge in particular, and clearly about British jobs. At the moment 6,000 have gone so there aren't jobs to save. It's a question of creation of jobs now."

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