After nearly two years of nervous anticipation in
The three cars on display were assembled from Chinese components and, according to the BBC, did not even pass through the full production process. The intention is to start production line assembly of MGs from complete knock down (CKD) kits sent over from
It would appear that NAC is putting a brave face on a very limited revival of the TF. The latest version is little changed from the version that died with MG Rover and it is likely that only one engine type will be available. Prices have not been published but AutoCognition has analysed data from the used car market to estimate how the relaunched TF will should relate to its nearest rival, the Mazda MX-5. Currently, the advertised price differential between MG TFs and MX-5s on the used market is around £2000 in the MX-5’s favour, and that's at the very closest. Online auction houses, which display the actual selling prices, show an even greater disparity between equivalent models. Although there are indications that NAC is aware of this and plans to enhance perceived TF values with plenty of additional features as standard, nevertheless the company should be aware of the CityRover’s fate. This was a car that was well-known to originate from a plant in
NAC, though, has mentioned production rates reaching 15,000 a year, a figure that has only once been exceeded in the ten year history of the MG TF and its MG F predecessor. At its peak, MG Rover had nearly 300 dealers in the
At best, Longbridge will probably limp along for the next few years producing the TF in low numbers, well below what it achieved in its last full year of production and about half what NAC are touting as achievable. The best hope is that production in
Although R&D at Longbridge always had a place in the NAC plan, recently it has taken on a new emphasis. The reason for NAC acquiring the assets of MG Rover in the first place had little to do with the existing model range, they are only being put into production to establish a quick position in the market. The real purpose for NAC was to acquire a long-term capability for manufacturing cars, each generation succeeded by the next. In this way its strategy was very similar to that of the other acquirer of MG Rover assets, Shanghai Automotive (SAIC). NAC had hoped to build on the MG Rover assets by developing its own new range of models in
These structures emerging at both NAC and SAIC are reminiscent of international vertical joint ventures. Partnerships of this kind are rare because they rely on two partners lacking key, but complementary, capabilities which can then dovetail in a joint venture to replicate a complete, viable system. A firm requiring a key capability has a limited lifespan unless it either outsources the skills at prohibitive cost or receives government support. Chinese automotive firms currently lack the ability to develop world class models of their own so the government forces foreign firms into joint ventures with local firms. It was by this mechanism that SAIC was able to raise itself to world class levels of output by hosting assembly for GM and VW, even while lacking models of its own design. NAC was in a similar position through its partnership with Fiat, although at a far lower level of output. Both SAIC and NAC needed to develop their own vehicle designs if they were to achieve independence. An international vertical joint venture would have done this by forming a co-dependent, symbiotic relationship with a partner that specialised in R&D. There were suggestions that SAIC had found such a partner in MG Rover with the British company prepared to run down its production in favour of China whilst increasing its commitment to R&D at Longbridge. This was halted by the financial melt-down at MG Rover.
Yet even with the demise of MG Rover, the commercial logic of an international vertical joint venture has reasserted itself. Although strictly speaking not joint ventures, the utilisation of British R&D capabilities within the Chinese corporate structures confirms the need for NAC and SAIC to maintain the engineering talent that existed at MG Rover. As far as the public are concerned, Longbridge will appear to struggle along as a small scale assembler of ageing sports cars on behalf of a Chinese parent company, yet unseen and unappreciated R&D engineers will play a crucial role in the rise of the Chinese car industry. Thus Longbridge will be strengthened as a production site of engineering expertise, not ageing sports cars.