MG Birmingham : Brimming with British design and engineering talent

Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Peter Young

L to R: Tony Williams-Kenny, MG Design Director, SMTC UK, Wu Ming, Vice-President, SMTC UK, David Lindley, President SMTC UK/Global V-P, Advanced Engineering, Richard Hutchins, Deputy CEO, Advantage West Midlands, Brett Riley, Vice-President, MG Motor UK, Tom Marchbanks, International Investment Manager, Advantage West Midlands

L to R: Tony Williams-Kenny, MG Design Director, SMTC UK, Wu Ming, Vice-President, SMTC UK, David Lindley, President SMTC UK/Global V-P, Advanced Engineering, Richard Hutchins, Deputy CEO, Advantage West Midlands, Brett Riley, Vice-President, MG Motor UK, Tom Marchbanks, International Investment Manager, Advantage West Midlands

Advantage West Midlands’ Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Richard Hutchins, cut the ribbon at the official opening of the new MG Design Centre at MG Birmingham last Tuesday morning and, in so doing, publically drew a firm line under the Longbridge plant’s troubled past.

The official opening was, in reality, much more than that – MG Motor UK Limited’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, and PR and Events Manager, Doug Wallace, had clearly worked hard to persuade their colleagues in China that providing UK-based Journalists with unprecedented levels of access to SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited’s (SMTC UK) Design Centre, Technical Centre and the company’s senior Designers and Engineers would play a crucial role in raising the MG marque’s profile prior to the upcoming UK launch of the MG6.

Guy Jones began the event with a presentation in which he explained that the MG Design Centre was the world’s newest and that the British Design Team, led by MG Design Director, Tony Williams-Kenny, had global responsibility for the exterior and interior design of all MG products. The MG Design Team are part of SMTC UK and Guy then gave a brief outline of the company’s place within SAIC Motor Corporation Limited’s (SAIC Motor) corporate structure.

SMTC UK is a subsidiary of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Company Limited (SMPV) which is, in turn, a subsidiary of SAIC Motor. There are three Technical Centres: Anting, Shanghai, which employs 1,200 Engineers, Birmingham (SMTC UK), which currently employs 280 Engineers and Nanjing which employs 200 Engineers.

The UK Technical Centre’s Backstory

SMTC UK (formerly known as Ricardo (2010) Consultants Limited) was established as SAIC Motor’s European R&D Centre in May, 2005 and, in mid-2006, SMPV was created to develop the sales, manufacturing and purchasing for SAIC Motor’s own brands independently of the latter’s highly successful Joint Ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen Group.

The UK Technical Centre moved to the MG Birmingham site in late 2008 and the total sum invested in both the Technical Centre and the new Design Centre to date amounts to £3.0m. However, a new £1.7m Engine Test facility will be completed by the end of 2010 and so bring the total of SAIC Motor’s investment in R&D at MG Birmingham to just under £5.0m. The UK Technical Centre currently has 280 employees (20 of whom work in the Design Centre) and their average vehicle programme experience exceeds 20 years. A further 20 Engineers are to be recruited during the next six months.

The New Vehicle Development Programmes undertaken here in the UK to date include the following:

New Large Car Platform

Roewe 550 – launched in China

MG6 Fastback – launched in China with a UK launch during Q4/2010

MG6 Saloon – UK launch during H1/2010

New Medium Car Platform

Roewe 350 – launched in China

Medium-sized MG

New Small Car Platform

New small Roewe

MG Zero Concept/new small MG

The Powertrain Development Programmes undertaken here in the UK to date include the following:

Medium Petrol Engine Family

Development of existing engine

Localisation in China

1.8 litre

New Diesel Engine Family

< 1.9 litre

New Large Petrol Engine Family

> 2.0 litre

New Small Petrol Engine Family

< 1.5 litre

Transmissions

New manual transmission

New automatic transmission

New electric hybrid transmission

The UK Technical Centre has already had one major achievement as the Roewe 550 is the most successful car launched by a Chinese OEM to date. SAIC Motor sold a total of 2.72m vehicles in 2009 and, of the 90,000 MGs and Roewes sold, 64,000 were Roewe 550s.

The Opening Ceremony

The next generation of MGs will be born right here

The next generation of MGs will be born right here

The actual opening ceremony was preceded by short speeches from David Lindley, President, SMTC UK/Global Vice-President Advanced Engineering and Dr. Richard Hutchins, Deputy CEO, Advantage West Midlands (AWM). David Lindley pointed out that the new Design Centre was the first MG-dedicated facility since the one at Abingdon closed in 1980 and also the first at Longbridge for 20 years before adding: “This is an important landmark not only for the West Midlands, but the worldwide Automotive Industry.

“This £5 million investment by SAIC is a clear commitment to retaining and developing our UK workforce. Not only have we created some 300 hi-tech, high-value jobs, but invested £20 million in R&D companies throught the supply chain in the UK and Europe.”

AWM offered nearly £2.0m in financial support as well as strategic business advice to encourage SAIC Motor’s continued presence in Birmingham. Dr. Hutchins said: “It is great to be at the historic Longbridge car manufacturing site on such a positive occasion. Everyone is eager to see the first MG6s rolling off the production line here at the end of the year. And who knows what other design and technical wizardry will be revealed in subsequent models, thanks to the cutting edge work that will be going on here?

“It may surprise some to learn that a third of the UK’s automotives are produced in the Midlands. Also, two thirds of the spend on automotive research and development in this country is invested in Midlands-based companies. AWM is proud of the part it has played in stimulating and revitalising the region’s manufacturing base in this way.”

Inside The Technical Centre

Those attending the event were then divided into two groups for tours of the Design Centre and the Technical Centre. The group hosted by David Lindley were taken into both the Vehicle Workshop and the Engineering Office. AROnline reckons that, at this point, the photographs in the accompanying Gallery say far more about the facility than mere words can – one seasoned Journalist was heard to exclaim “Wow!” on entering the Engineering Office…

The Technical Centre includes a state-of-the-art Data Centre and all the product development processes were completely re-written so that the Engineers can take full advantage of all the latest in CFD and virtual technology. SMTC UK does, though, still outsource some R&D work to other UK-based companies such as Ricardo plc. David Lindley said that spend had averaged £20.0m over the last three years and remarked that “the West Midlands are extremely well set-up for that.”

SMTC UK’s ability to communicate with the two Technical Centres in China in real-time means that the Engineers can effectively work 16 hour days even though the normal working days only have a one or two hour overlap. However, the UK Technical Centre also features three Video Conferencing Suites so that overlap can be used for maximum benefit. SMTC UK also employs 30 British Engineers who are based in Shanghai and, at any one time, around 25 to 30 Chinese Engineers are on secondment here in the UK.

David Lindley added that the current Engineering Office can be expanded to accommodate a further 100 Engineers while there are plans to increase the size of the Vehicle Workshop and to enhance both the capability and size of the Styling Studio in 2011.

The UK Technical Centre’s Engineering Office

The UK Technical Centre has full capability across a total of twelve specific design and engineering functions and there were displays featuring Powertrain (Engines and Transmissions), Chassis, Crash, Safety and Vehicle Integration and Interior Trim in the Visitors Centre which were manned by either the Directors or Chief Engineers with responsiblity for those functions – a total of 21 SMTC UK Directors or Chief Designers/Engineers were available for interview during the event.

AROnline had the chance to speak with Ray Bench, Director – Interior Trim, Adrian Guyll, Chief Engineer – Vehicle Safety and Andy Kitson, Director – Chassis before running out of time! The most striking theme to emerge from all three discussions was the genuine enthusiasm which each interviewee clearly had for his job and the projects they are now bringing to completion.

Adrian Guyll, who had a long history with Rover Group and MG Rover before joining SMTC UK, said that the big difference now was “the ability to get things done – SAIC Motor just get on with it!” Adrian cited as an example the Crash Test Mule shown in the Gallery which had been specifically developed for that purpose at a cost of £1m and which he believed was ground-breaking. Adrian commented that he enjoyed working with his Chinese colleagues and had not experienced any cultural issues, adding that: “Engineers all have similar approaches.”

Ray Bench was demonstrating a Tekscan Body Pressure Mapping System which was attached to an MG6 front seat. Ray explained that the MG6’s seats had been designed to achieve a compromise between “OK to Good for everyone without being uncomfortable for anyone at the extremes of height and weight.” Interestingly, given the MG6’s sporting bent, that car’s seats use dual-density foam whereas the Roewe 550’s use single-density foam. Ray underlined the importance of the work which he and his team undertake by pointing out that the seats have to be right before Andy Kitson and his colleagues can fine tune each new model’s suspension settings.

Andy Kitson was one of what was then known as Ricardo (2010) Limited’s first five employees back in mid-2005 – he says that working for what is now SMTC UK “since Day One has been a privilege” with obvious sincerity.

AROnline’s News Editor discusses future MGs with chassis guru Andy Kitson pictured left

Andy confirmed that the new MG6’s rear suspension does have some similarities to that of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta but the MG6 features a compliantly mounted subframe and the multi-links are mounted to that subframe so there should be no loss of wheel control.

Andy also said that the MG6 has an hydraulic PAS system whereas the Alfa Romeo Giulietta uses an electonic PAS system and intimated that MG will not switch to electonic PAS until he and his colleagues are satisfied that such a system can match or better the feedback provided by hydraulic PAS – he has yet to drive a Giulietta but probably has plans to do so…

Inside The Design Centre

MG Design Director Tony Williams-Kenny hosted the tour of the new Design Centre and gave a presentation in which he explained that his team included Designers and Clay/Hard Modellers with a range of core competences which covered Digital Design, Design Strategy, Design Programme Management and Colour/Trim. Tony then demonstrated the Design Centre’s Global Automotive Design Process with two Case Studies on the MG6 and MG Zero Concept.

The images in the accompanying Gallery should, hopefully, provide an outline of the Global Automotive Design Process but, in brief, the design of a new model starts with initial exterior and interior sketches and then evolves through 3D images produced using Autodesk’s Alias 3D CAD software to clay model development and the creation of a verification model to see how the design looks in a physical environment.

Despite all the computer tech, there’s still a place for Clay Modellers

Tony Williams-Kenny would not, understandably, be drawn on how close the production version of MG’s forthcoming B-segment model would be to the MG Zero Concept but he did admit to being encouraged by the positive response which that had received. Tony and his colleagues do, though, seem to be particularly well attuned to the requirements of the youthful customers at whom that car will be targeted and Guy Jones wants all the new generation of MGs to be affordable and desirable…

Inside The Electronics Testing Facility

SMTC UK’s Engineers test each new model’s electronic systems in an area adjacent to the Design Centre and Richard McAlister, Director – Electrical, was on hand to explain the equipment used. The most sophisicated tool at Richard’s disposal is the LabCar which enables his team to conduct in-depth testing with engine integration and a complete vehicle set-up. LabCar significantly reduces the cost of developing a new model because the body and electrical systems can now be parallel-engineered and that means that fewer engineering cars are required.

The LabCar electronic test rig

LabCar also makes fault diagnosis much easier – the conditions which cause the fault can readily be simulated in the Test Facility without any need for them to be recreated on the road in an enginnering car. Mind you, more than one of the Journalists present commented that LabCar reminded them of an old Land Rover!

The Design Centre and Technical Centre tours were followed by a brief and informal Feedback Session in the Visitors Centre. Most, if not all, of the hardened hacks there were, to a man, seriously impressed by the facilities they had seen and the Designers and Engineers they had met – their overwhelmingly positive comments will surely prove that the decision to hold the event was more than justified.

Guy Jones recently told AROnline that he wants MG to follow the mantra “under-promise, over-deliver” – if last Tuesday’s event was an example of that in practice, then MG Birmingham (MG Motor UK and SMTC UK) seems set to have an exciting and successful future. A line has very definitely been drawn under the plant’s troubled past…

 

 

[Editor’s Note: Any AROnline readers still doubting that our growing optimism about the future of MG Birmingham is justified should also read the following articles: UK: SAIC formally opens MG design centre, Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com, 15th June, 2010, A ‘good news’ day for Longbridge, John McIlroy, News Editor, Autocar.co.uk, 16th June, 2010 and MG Design Centre opens in UK, Guy Bird, Car Design News.com. 17th June, 2010. MG Motor UK Limited’s own Press Release can be found here.]

Clive Goldthorp

About the Author:

Clive claims that his interest in the BMC>MG story dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when the family’s garage premises were leased to a tenant with an Austin agency. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s, his grandmother was one of the country’s first female Garage Proprietors so cars probably run in his genes! Admits to affairs with Alfa Romeos, but has more recently owned an 06/06 MG TF 135 and then a 15/64 MG3 Style… Clive, who was AROnline’s News Editor for nearly four years, stood down from that role in order to devote more time to various Motor Racing projects but still contributes articles on as regular basis as his other commitments permit.

24 Comments on "MG Birmingham : Brimming with British design and engineering talent"

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  1. Andrew M says:

    A brilliant article. You won’t get this sort of thing anywhere else. Well done AROnline !

  2. Modern Gentleman says:

    Top article Clive – I really hope that this takes off and that there will be some new blood in the UK car market.

    I’m desperate to change my current car but, when I went looking and realised that the newest MG/Rover was five years old, I got quite depressed. I can’t wait to test drive an MG6 but is there any chance of Roewe coming to the UK? I really crave for a 750…

    Jonno Jones

  3. @Modern Gentleman
    Jonno, you may have missed our recent interview with MG Motor UK’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones – if you (re-)read that story, you will see that Guy specifically addresses your points about Roewe coming to the UK and whether or not an E-segment, MG7/Roewe 750-replacing MG model will be launched in Europe and the UK.

    You can find out my personal take on that by reading my post at #6 in the Readers’ Comments which follow the article. However, MG Motor UK’s main focus at the moment is clearly and correctly on the UK launch of the MG6 and subsequent B-segment and C-segment models. The MG7/Roewe 750 and MG TF replacements are unlikely to appear much before MY12 to MY14…

  4. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    Wow, a modern, well-equipped and very professionally staffed car design centre, capable of designing a full range of vehicles and right here at the heart of the British motor industry. Welcome back MG!

  5. Darren says:

    Brilliant news, a great article. Some good news for a change – particularly in these times of major cutbacks.

    Hopefully a bright future ahead, come on MG !

  6. Modern Gentleman says:

    @Clive Goldthorp
    Thanks Clive – a great interview.

    I really hope that they can establish MG and then use that as a bridgehead to get Roewe over here.

    Jonno Jones

  7. Ian says:

    In the dark days of 2005/06, who would have imagined we would ever be in such a promising position. This is excellent news!

  8. May says:

    Hi, does someone here know the exact address of this new Design Centre? I’m an MA graduate student and I’d like to send my portfolio to SMTC UK.

    Thanks a lot in advance.

  9. @May
    I am away for the weekend and do not have access to that information but will do some research and come back to you next week.

    However, I think that SMTC UK’s Recruitment Programme is more targeted on Engineers as opposed to Designers at the moment…

  10. May says:

    Thanks Clive. Yeah, I know that Design recruitement is quite slow now but I really think there is a potential, a huge potential…

    By the way, a very good article.

    May

  11. Hilton says:

    Another welcome and worthwhile article from AROnline ! The news and facts sound promising so we will keep our fingers crossed for the future success of MG back in the UK. I note that future MGs will revert to chrome badges rather than the MG Rover cream and maroon style…

  12. Dennis says:

    May :Hi, does someone here know the exact address of this new Design Centre? I’m an MA graduate student and I’d like to send my portfolio to SMTC UK.
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    I think it will be MG Motors UK, Longbridge, Birmingham. B31 2TB.
    It’s a fairly dificult site to miss so I’m sure the Postie will find it. There will just be a central Postroom so they will direct it internally to the department you address it to.

  13. Brian says:

    Hmm, so what’s the lump on the stand then? It’s not a K or N as it’s got chain driven cams and looks quite different in frontal architecture…

  14. Dennis says:

    @Brian
    Probably the all new 1500cc unit they mention.

  15. Mark Payne says:

    Dennis :@Brian Probably the all new 1500cc unit they mention.

    Nope, I believe it’s the new V6 VVT-I which isn’t expected to be available in the UK.

  16. @Brian
    Yes, that’s a New Small Engine (NSE) so Dennis was right! The NSE has, in fact, just gone into production in China and was introduced in the Roewe 350.

    Incidentally, Steve Childs of MG-Rover.org has covered the Powertrain (Engines and Transmissions) display in considerable detail in his MG Powertrains (Engines & Gearboxes) article dated 15th June, 2010 and the accompanying 29 image Gallery…

  17. Fabulous work AROnline – a great article. I’m awaiting the first launch with much anticipation. It’s good to see a full range of engines being developed too.

  18. Russ says:

    This is great news – it’s a shame the company could’nt have stayed in British hands but the backward management at MGR would have ruined any potential.

    However, it’s good to see the Chinese realising the true potential of the brand. Good luck to MG and let’s hope the dark days of MGR never return.

  19. @May
    I have now obtained the information which you require and will send this to you in an email shortly.

    Anyway, in the meantime, thanks to you and the other readers who have made favourable comments about the article – Keith and I are always encouraged by such positive feedback.

  20. Nick Graves says:

    Utterly amazing!

    Not that any of the foregoing happened, which I expected anyway; more the SPEED at which it’s happened. I’m really excited to find out more about the new powertrains etc.

    If the new models truly are a success, it will be a testament to the Engineers and a damning indictment of British mangement.

    Loads of number 8s guys!

  21. Dennis says:

    Mark Payne :

    Dennis :@Brian Probably the all new 1500cc unit they mention.

    Nope, I believe it’s the new V6 VVT-I which isn’t expected to be available in the UK.

    How does that in any way resemble a V6? 🙂 Just looks like an inline DOHC to me… At a push it could ‘look’ like a VR engine, but I think we all now know it’s the new ‘little one.’

  22. CMPD says:

    Great news — good luck to the new venture. Top engineering and design jobs are vital for the UK economy.

  23. Bajandave says:

    This Design Centre is impressive! I might have been a bit cynical before, but it looks as though the parties involved have their hearts in the right place so I wish them all the best. Welcome back MG!

  24. Roland says:

    I would feel much happier if the engines, designed by the Brits, were to be built here too. After all, if Toyota have the confidence in a British workforce to build engines to their high quality specification, I don’t see why a new generation of skilled and motivated British assembly workers shouldn’t be employed.

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