The leader of Birmingham City Council is to make a personal plea to the board of SAIC, urging the Chinese automotive giants to keep faith with car production at Longbridge despite economic gloom gripping Britain and much of Europe.

Mike Whitby flies to Shanghai at the weekend for a five-day trip and will hold talks with members of the regional government and leading business figures.

At the top of his agenda is an opportunity to address SAIC directors and urge the firm to stick by promises to bring more jobs and investment to Longbridge, where production of a limited edition of MG sports cars began in August and sold out within weeks. Earlier this year, SAIC held out the possibility of more than doubling the workforce and building 50,000 vehicles a year in Birmingham.Fewer than 200 people are believed to be employed at the plant at the moment, although there are plans to produce 3,700 cars a year.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) emphasised the important nature of his trip at a time of “financial uncertainty”.

He will urge the SAIC board to speed up plans to transfer 250 designers and engineers, currently based at a research and development centre in Leamington, Warwickshire, to Longbridge.

Coun Whitby said: “A downturn is no time for complacency. It is no secret that the global economy is struggling. Our cities, which have always been the engine of the UK’s economy, must take proactive steps to ensure that they secure long-term economic investment.

“I will be meeting the Chinese Minister of Commerce to discuss mid and long-term business opportunities for the benefit of Birmingham and the city region to see how we can work together for the mutual benefit of both parties.Though Birmingham is now known for a variety of industries and commercial sectors, the city’s history is inherently linked to the automotive and manufacturing industries and SAIC recognises the pedigree and potential of a city with the skill set to back up its ambitions.”

He added: “The fact that so many leading figures in Chinese Government and business now directly speak to Birmingham and are so eager to work with us first and foremost among UK partners provides real evidence of our growing status on the global stage.”

Coun Whitby will meet the Chinese Minster of Commerce, the President of Shanghai and leading businessmen.

SAIC is the largest automotive company in China and the fourth biggest in the world following its takeover of Nanjing Automotive Company.

Coun Whitby will launch Birmingham’s Big City Plan, outlining development opportunities over the next 20 years, to an international audience of property developers and financiers. He said: “The launch of the Big City Plan will help raise Birmingham’s profile in a country of massive potential. In a time of economic uncertainty we must capitalise on our global trade links.”