The Longbridge car plant in Birmingham was reborn two years after the collapse of MG Rover.
Although MG’s new Chinese owners hailed the moment as the restart of British car production at Longbridge, the new set-up is very different to the old factory.
At its height, Longbridge was one of the biggest car plants in the world, employing more than 21,000 workers.
The new MG production line is staffed by only 130 people – although bosses say this will rise to about 250.
MG TF sports car parts will be shipped from China and assembled at Longbridge for the UK market.
Despite this, the return of car production to the site augurs well for the future. It also fulfils a promise made when the Nanjing Automobile Company (NAC) bought the assets of MG Rover for £53m in July 2005.
At that time there was widespread scepticism at the Chinese firm’s promise to restart production in the UK, especially as NAC has already built an 800,000sq metre factory in China.
At yesterday’s champagne launch to celebrate the rebirth of Longbridge, NAC chief executive officer Yu Jian Wei described the West Midlands factory as having “an irreplaceable role in the MG project”.
If sales of the TF sports car go well, the plant could eventually employ 4,500 people and make 200,000 cars a year.
He said: “The UK is home to MG and it has a profound affection for MG. MG is the pride of the British people. It has a glorious past.
“We are the inheritors of this brand and we will continue to push forward our internationalisation strategy and continue to write new chapters for MG.
“Longbridge has an irreplaceable role in the MG project. It is in the front line of our internationalisation stra-tegy. This is the rebirth of MG.”
The first phase of the Longbridge plan envisages production of 15,000 cars a year – a mixture of the TF sports car and a redeveloped MG ZT saloon. Sales of the TF are due to begin this autumn.
Three pre-production TFs were driven off the line as part of the ceremony, which also included a cavalcade of MG cars.
Mr Wei said NAC was working on a number of new MG models, which would be produced at the Longbridge site, including a hard-top TF.
He added: “We want to do everything we can to develop the MG brand and make sure there will be good cars so there will be more people buying good cars and more employment opportunities.”
Longbridge will also carry out design work for future MG cars using many of the technical staff who lost their jobs when MG Rover closed.