World and Nation

The Classic British Sports Car, Reincarnated as Chinese Model

MG, the legendary British brand that expired after a lengthy illness, will be revived this month as a Chinese sports car, when the Nanjing Automobile Corp. begins to produce convertible sports cars under that name in China.

The rebirth of MG is the latest and most splashy example of how China’s growing economic might is reaching carefully into foreign markets, buying up troubled companies with established brands and using them to build bridgeheads for some of the billions of dollars that the country has to invest overseas.“Within a very small period of time, you will see a lot of industries following the same strategy,” said the chairman of Nanjing Automobile in the United Kingdom, Wang Hongbiao. It is a cautious, even stealthlike approach, and a stark contrast to Japan and Korea, which spent billions of dollars over decades to build recognized brands through exports before establishing a high-profile corporate presence overseas. That era reached its peak with the purchase by Mitsubishi Estate of Rockefeller Center in 1989.

Still, China is in a hurry and as it increases outward investment, many of its companies hope to leapfrog the expansion process by acquiring technology and distribution networks together with well-known names on which to build larger businesses.

The investment agency China is setting up to diversify its $1.1 trillion foreign exchange holdings, could provide another boost, particularly as the government sees the entire world, including developing countries in Africa and Latin America, as its stage for acquisitions.

Many of China’s foreign purchases have been focused on energy resources, dominated by big state-owned enterprises such as the national oil giants PetroChina and CNOOC, which have spent billions in recent years acquiring oil and natural gas fields. Those deals have helped swell the value of China’s outbound acquisitions to nearly $14 billion on more than 100 deals last year from just $18.6 million in 1990, according to Thomson Financial, which tracks global investment trends.

But with the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world putting upward pressure on the yuan, China is now happy to have smaller companies invest some of that money overseas.

The political backlash that China faced as it tried to acquire high-profile natural resources was enough to scuttle some deals. That has provided a lesson for smaller companies in China.