MG Motor is to halt production of the Longbridge-built TF sports car for six months until March next year.
Sales of the TF, the only vehicle now built at the once-massive Longbridge factory in Birmingham, have been modest with only 265 sold during the first nine months of this year, although September has been the best month yet for the revived marque with 65 cars sold.
Newly appointed sales and marketing director Guy Jones says that the low volume TF is ‘batch built’, and that the summer selling season, which runs from March to September, is now over.
Despite introducing a 50-copy limited edition 85th anniversary edition, all of which have been sold, production will not restart until next spring. The small sports car market is down 30 per cent this year and 40 per cent since 2007, adds Jones, who thinks that ‘up to 20’ of the 100-strong vehicle assembly workforce will need to be laid off.
When production does restart it will be with a modified line-up, a series production version of the limited edition, which features a mildly revised chassis and interior, going on sale positioned above the entry level £13,511 TF 135.
Despite the shutdown Jones, who previously held the same job at the LDV van company, is optimistic about the future for MG and Longbridge. Owners Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, China’s biggest indigenous car manufacturer, have ‘ambitious plans for the MG brand,’ he says.
These are thought to include the development of a new range of sports cars to be designed, developed and built at the company’s British factory. But it’s not clear whether earlier plans to manufacture the MG7, a Focus class hatchback also sold as the Roewe 550 in China, will see UK manufacture. But of the 300 staff currently on site some 200 are in design and engineering.
Jones claims that more details of SAICs plans for MG and Longbridge will be revealed ‘soon’, while adding that the vehicle assembly halls have recently been redecorated. In China, the development of the Roewe and MG marques is going well according to Jones. SAIC is expecting to sell some 50,000 Roewes and MGs in 2009 – ahead of its target.