Monday, 2 April 2007

First Day in the New Factory

This morning I took a different route to work, after I dropped my children at the Nanjing International School, I would normally head for the tunnel underneath Xuanwu Hu, Nanjings enormous lake complex that makes Nanjing such a favourite with Chinese tourists, the tunnel leads directly to NAC MG headquarters building. Today however, my route takes me to the first Bridge over the Yangtze River in Nanjing. The bridge is a historic and famous piece of pre-cultural revolution architecture, which spans China’s largest river the Yangtze. As always the bridge is extremely busy, with an unusual mixture of ancient buses and trucks next to gleaming black BMW’s and sparkling silver Audi’s, all trying to cross a bridge designed for only 20% of the current numbers of vehicles it struggles to cater for. But what makes the bridge special to the visitor is that the entrance and exit to the bridge contains some great communist architecture, showing evocative images of Moa’s China– it provides a great reminder as to the origins of a country that accelerates towards capitalism. The morning was special as today would be the day my department moved from the MG HQ in the centre of Nanjing, to our new facility in Pukou.

Pukou is a regional development district just outside Nanjing city, and already houses some well-known international companies, with Coca-Cola and Samsung probably being the most famous. A large area of wasteland has been transformed into an 800,000sq metre single story car factory. Equipped to build 250,000+ units a year.
The facility now home to a large proportion of the equipment from the Longbridge plant in Birmingham. An Engine, Transmission and Body Assembly building have been constructed to replicate the original facilities in England, whilst a purpose built Paint Shop and General Assembly buildings, complete the major structures on the site. With additional storage buildings, testing facilities and offices the whole development is on a massive scale. Millions of tonnes of earth have been removed, miles of steel erected and acres of concrete laid, all in preparation of housing one of China’s proudest acquisitions.

The first foundation stone for the buildings was laid on the 27th March 2006 and the grand opening ceremony will happen 12 months to the day on the 27th March 2007 –An extraordinary feet by any standard. To construct the buildings would be a mammoth challenge, to install, test and finally run all of the equipment needed to produce a ¼ million cars a year is simply staggering. The year that follows the opening will see an ambitious flow of new vehicles from the site, and will include a multitude of derivates from the original MG ZT, MG ZR and MGTF platforms built by MG-Rover. Vehicles all built to fuel the fastest car market in the world, and to meet NAC MG’s international export targets.

Preparations are well under way for the grand opening, which coincides with NAC’s 60th Birthday celebrations, and the launch of the new MG7 and MGTF models, that will role of the production line for the first time in March. The whole event will be spread over 2 days, and will be an incredible celebration that promises to be as large and as energetic as the task that was set out before us some 12 months ago. To complement the launch of our new vehicles, we have been around the world collecting some fine examples of historic MG’s, including a 1930’s MG M Type Midget, a 1937 MG SA, a 1947 MG TC and even a collections of MG A’s and MG B’s. Our initial collection will include some 13 historic cars plus some more of the modern vehicles built in recent years, right up to the latest vehicles built by us. We will use the vehicles to display the brand heritage and history around China.

I had visited the site many times before, thought-out the planning and building stages and even though I had been there every week for the past year, the shear pace at which it was being built and equipped still shocked me. Today was no different as I moved my entire department into their new home, I was amazed to see just how far work had progressed, and how work had now begun to “dress” the entire site up, with thousands of tree’s and plants being planted in preparation for the grand opening. I had my doubts that we would be ready in time, but if there is one thing I have learned from my time in China – that is to never question their ability to meet declared targets.

So after my first day as an official resident of the New Pukou factory, I find time on my long and arduous trip back to my home in the Eastern Suburbs of Nanjing, to gather my thoughts about MG’s future and the significance of moving to the new factory. I guess the easiest way to describe my feelings is by using the word mixed!
On one hand I can see that this is the largest ever investment into the Brand, and that MG has probably never had such an opportunity to reach its full untapped potential. The fact that I am right in the centre of everything happening, makes every hour of everyday incredibly challenging and almost unbelievably exciting, for this I am desperately optimistic about the future of MG.
Despite this I cant help feeling somewhat upset by it all. Even with the relocated equipment, and the familiar cars in various stages of build and development across the factory – this is no Longbridge. All the things that made Longbridge magical - the misshapen buildings, the strange roadways and one-way systems, the rail tracks, the tunnels and the bridges, the smell of Bacon from the canteen and the noise of laughter, singing and local songs on the dozens of radio’s scattered across the shop floor. These have all been replaced by geometrically perfect buildings, gleaming equipment, straight roads, designated parking, immaculately laid out production lines, piped Chinese music and the smell of fresh paint.
You can’t help feeling sad that it took A Chinese company with brave hearts and strong beliefs to invest in this project, and to see the potential that the MG brand had. Some of you may say that the Chinese also have deep enough pockets that have allowed them to make such a positive investment, but if I told you that they have invested a fraction of what BMW had left the infamous P4 when they acquired MG-Rover, then maybe this puts into perspective how previous opportunities had been missed?
I’m not sure what the likes of William Morris & Cecil Kimber, would make of it all, as founders of the company they started in the dawn of the first automotive explosion in Europe, they would now see that MG is ready to join in another automotive explosion – only this time 8000 miles away in China. Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure another chapter in MG’s long history has just begun…


GoSco said...


Thanks for taking the time to eloquently express your feelings which many will strongly emphasise with. The brand has a great opportunity, and will at least retain a nominal association with its roots in the UK and the values that make it a bit different from the mainstream.

Best wishes

alex said...

i think gosco probably mean 'empathise' with - but great job, real emotion in your writing

Baz West said...

A very interesting read Paul.

What was your impression of why Toyota have such an affinity with MG?
Any pictures from the museum?

Baz West said...

ferrari27Very good read Paul, its nice to read something not tainted by the press. I hope your minor mishap doesn't preclude you from driving at shows again :-)

Regards Barry

Pazzer1 said...

Enjoyed your write up in last week's DT Motoring:
and historical Longbridge stuff by Andrew English: