The launch of a new variant model by any car company is relatively common – but the first glimpse of the Longbridge-built MGTF 135 deserves closer scrutiny.
This is not just any variant, this is the first standard car – as opposed to a limited edition two-seater – that the famous old Birmingham factory has produced since its closure with the loss of 6,500 jobs back in April 2005.
The owners of Longbridge, SAIC/Nanjing, have often lived up to the Chinese reputation for inscrutability in the intervening four years, with a number of false dawns and missed deadlines for model launches.
But since Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation took over Nanjing Automobile 16 months ago, Longbridge would appear to have a more secure future, with deeper pockets and a much more significant resource base.
It’s worth reflecting that the factory’s first entry-level car of the Chinese era will be rolled out to UK showrooms in the teeth of the most vicious sales downturn to hit the automotive sector for several decades.
The landscape across the industry is littered with short-time working and lay-offs, with prominent names in the region such as Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and LDV all hard hit in recent months. Further afield, the big boys of the US, General Motors and Chrysler, also face a grim battle for survival.
Meanwhile, quietly, the Chinese continue their revolution at a factory that was once a byword for industrial turmoil in the days of British Leyland, with Sir Michael Edwardes and Derek “Red Robbo” Robinson trading punches in public as the factory lurched from one crisis to another. Times have moved on rapidly since those days – and today MG UK Ltd is the latest motoring incarnation at a factory which once employed 30,000, and was the best known industrial complex in the UK.
There are still as many questions as answers at Longbridge. Nobody is immune to the headwinds of the worst recession to strike the car industry since closed shops and wildcat strikes were a staple diet for old-style labour correspondents.
It would have been unthinkable 30 years ago to envisage a Chinese car firm running a niche operation at Longbridge employing a few hundred people to make MGs only.
But industrial globalisation sees the Chinese and the Indians firmly in the hot seat at Longbridge and Jaguar Land Rover respectively.
The success, or otherwise, of the MGTF 135 will indicate just how warm the Longbridge hot seat is as this recession continues.