News : A talk and a tour at MG Birmingham…
AROnline last visited SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK) for the opening of the UK Design Centre back in June, 2010.
However, since then, the company has continued to develop the Longbridge-based site and so our Contributing Editor, Clive Goldthorp, was pleased to accept a recent invitation from the Managing Director of SMTC UK and Vice-President of MG Motor UK Limited (MG UK), David Lindley, to visit him at MG Birmingham for a talk and a tour of the new facilities.
Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Simon Davies/Pegasus Photographics
Our discussion with David Lindley took the form of a comprehensive Q&A session so here, then, are our questions and David Lindley’s answers with, where indicated, some input from MG UK’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones.
You are currently Managing Director of SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK) and Vice-President of MG Motor UK Limited (MG UK). However, for the benefit of AROnline’s readers, can you give me a résumé of your career prior to those two appointments?
I originally joined Rover Group Limited in 1985 as a direct entry graduate following my completion of a Mechanical Engineering degree at Leicester University – I have always been obsessed with cars and worked as a Garage Mechanic for 18 months between finishing my A-Levels and going to University. I worked in Chassis Engineering between 1985 and 1999 moving through various roles gaining experience in Concept Engineering, Production Design, Development Testing and Production Technical Support and spending significant time working in posts at each of the major sites at Canley, Cowley, Gaydon and Longbridge.
I worked as Chassis Chief Engineer for the Rover 800 facelift (R17) and Vitesse projects from 1990 until 1993 and, following that, spent a period of time leading the Chassis Team within the Concept Engineering Group based in Canley and Munich. This team was responsible for the evaluation of different concepts for a number of products including a new large car. This work led to the commencement of the Rover 75 project and I am proud to say that I was the Chassis Chief Engineer on that project from its inception through to the start of production in late 1998.
I left Rover Group in mid-1999 to work at Lotus Engineering Limited. I was initially appointed as ‘Vehicle Architect’ for the Lotus Elise S2 programme – a major facelift which included changes to the exterior and interior styling, chassis, and powertrain. Having successfully led the engineering definition, styling approval and initial prototype development of this project for 12 months, I moved on to become ‘Vehicle Architect’ for the Lotus M250 sports car – a completely new V6-engined sports car and conceptual predecessor to the Lotus Evora. I led this project through definition and completion of first prototype vehicles and style approval but, unfortunately, the project was put on hold in early 2001 due to funding difficulties within Group Lotus.
I returned to what was by then MG Rover Group Limited as Chief Engineer for the X80 sports car in late 2001. My engineering analysis of the Qvale Mangusta platform and X80 proposals prompted a re-definition of the project and led to what would become the MG SV. I moved on to become Group Chief Engineer for the Body and Trim function in early 2002 and was appointed as Group Chief Engineer for the Vehicle Concept Engineering function in 2003. I therefore had responsibility for leading the concept engineering for several projects including proposals for a new small car, new medium car and the X120 sports car architecture. I also led the initial technical discussions with a number of potential engineering partners including Fiat, Proton and SAIC Motor and so was able to forge a strong working relationship with SAIC Motor’s technical leaders during MG Rover’s final months.
MG Rover collapsed in April, 2005 and, shortly afterwards, SAIC Motor contacted me and asked whether there was a way we could retain the services of a number of key engineers from MG Rover and Powertrain Limited and so continue the project. This led to the creation of a new engineering company – Ricardo (2010) Consultants Limited – with the help of the UK-based engineering consultancy company, Ricardo plc. The sole purpose of Ricardo (2010) was to lead the product engineering and styling for the first new vehicles to be developed for SAIC Motor’s self-owned brands.
I was appointed as Head of Vehicle Engineering and Design for this new company and also as a Board member acting on behalf of SAIC Motor. I was appointed as the company’s Managing Director in late 2006 and tasked with preparing the business for full acquisition by SAIC Motor which was completed in May 2007. Ricardo (2010) Consultants Limited was, at that point, re-named as SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK).
What are the key responsibilities in each of your two roles and what percentage of your working week do you allocate to each job?
My major role is as Managing Director of SMTC UK. I have full operational and technical responsibility for the company and that occupies the vast majority of my working week. The UK Technical Centre is a fully integrated part of the SAIC Motor Global Technical Centre business unit and so I also sit on the Global Technical Executive Committee for that part of the business. The UK Technical Centre has capability in all aspects of Vehicle Product Engineering but our core competences are now aligned to four key areas as follows:
- Advanced Vehicle Engineering (concept engineering definition for next generation vehicle architectures as the basis for future MG and Roewe products)
- Vehicle Design (Styling) and associated engineering feasibility
- Powertrain Engineering (Engines and Transmissions)
- European Market Engineering (full delivery of engineering programmes to develop and validate MG products for sale into the European market as well as technical support to UK manufacturing and aftersales).
The UK Technical Centre now employs 300 staff. SAIC Motor has invested over £300 million into the UK via our company since 2005.
I was also appointed as a Vice-President of the MG UK business in 2011. The Managing Director of MG UK is William Wang (Wang Hao). My only direct responsibilities are for the Quality function and Future Product Planning. I am pleased to report that the MG6 in market quality (incidence and cost of faults) is better than any previous MG Rover product including the Rover 75. However, beyond those functions my role is rather like that of ‘Non-Executive’ Director – I attend Board meetings and Executive Review meetings and offer my advice and assistance on various activities across the business as required.
SMTC UK and MG UK are both based at MG Birmingham. The existence of two separate companies pre-dates the merger between SAIC Motor Corporation Limited and Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation which was completed on the 1st April, 2008. Why have the two UK-based companies not been merged and what are the advantages and, if any, disadvantages of maintaining two separate legal entities?
SMTC UK and MG UK work very closely together and currently share resources in some support functions such as Finance, IT, Purchasing and HR. The primary reason that the two companies have not been merged relates to SAIC Motor’s Gobal Corporate Structure. SMTC UK is a subsidiary of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Company Limited (SMPV) and part of that company’s Global SAIC Motor Technical Centre business unit - that has its own Executive Committee and employs over 3000 engineers globally. MG UK is part of SMPV’s separate Global Manufacturing business unit which also has sites in Shanghai (Lingang and Yizheng) and Nanjing (Pukou).
AROnline covered the opening of the MG Design Centre at MG Birmingham back in June, 2010. What further improvements have been made to SMTC UK’s facilities since then, how much has SAIC Motor invested in those improvements and how many new jobs have been or are being created as a result?
We are continuing to improve our facilities in line with enhancing our capability in key areas of the business. We opened a brand new Powertrain Test facility which is located on the main site at Longbridge in 2011. This facility includes four new Engine Test Cells (with provision for a further two in future) together with transmission test rigs, workshops and inspection areas. We also opened a new Vehicle Engineering Workshop at the end of last year and that is located on the main site as well. This has doubled our workshop capacity and provides the capability for off-line prototype build (which is being used for the first time to build MG3 EU prototypes).
We will be commencing a programme to improve the UK Design Centre in the second half of this year. This project will see the UK Design Centre double in size allowing increased clay modeling capacity whilst also incorporating a new 3D Visualisation suite, showroom and Five-Axis CNC milling facility. The total investment in these facility projects in 2011/2 is over £2m and demonstrates SAIC Motor’s continuing commitment to the development of the UK Technical Centre.
Our major focus over the last two years has been to develop and build our engineering capability in terms of facility, tools, processes and, most importantly, people. SMTC UK has recruited a number of key new staff as part of this process including Powertrain Executive Director, Paul McNamara, who was formerly Managing Director of Ricardo UK and one of the men responsible for the development of the McLaren MP12-4C’s V8 engine, and UK Design Director, Martin Uhlarik. 2012 is also the first year of our new Graduate Recruitment Programme with six UK graduates set to join us in September. All in all, SMTC UK’s headcount will have increased by around 30 employees during the course of this year.
SMTC UK’s then MG Design Director, Tony Williams-Kenny, was subsequently appointed as immediate parent company, SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Company Limited’s (SMPV) Design Director. Tony’s successor is Canadian and former Nissan Design Europe man, Martin Uhlarik. What are the key attributes which Martin brings to his new role at MG Birmingham?
Martin has extensive design experience from his previous roles at Nissan and VW/Skoda. I believe it is important to challenge the processes and ideas within the organisation continually and Martin not only brings experience but also a fresh perspective to our Design Department. Martin has huge energy and enthusiasm for the MG brand and that will be a key to the expansion of our Design Team over the coming year.
SMPV’s new diesel engine, the D19TCI, will shortly be launched in the MG6 – what other engine families and alternative powertrains are currently in development at SMTC UK? More specifically, what part is SMTC UK playing in the development of the small 1.0 litre to 1.5 litre petrol engine covered by the Joint Venture between General Motors and SAIC Motor which was announced back in August, 2010 and how closely related are that engine family and the NSE family?
We continue to be involved in a huge amount of design and development activity as part of the Global Powertrain group. Beyond the New Small Engine (NSE) family of engines we are also developing a New Large Engine (NLE). This is a brand new ‘state-of-the-art’ direct injection petrol engine with capacities ranging from 1.8 litres to 2.0 litres including turbocharged and normally aspirated versions.
SAIC Motor and GM are jointly developing a new range of small direct injection petrol engines which are known as the Small Gasoline Engine (SGE) family and will include three and four cylinder turbocharged derivatives. These engines will be manufactured by SAIC Motor for use in our future vehicles and are not related to the NSE engine. We will also continue to develop the NSE PFI (Port Fuel Injection) engines in parallel with our objective of continuously incorporating new technology in order to improve performance and emissions.
SMTC is also developing a range of new in-house transmissions including two new six speed manual units (the first of which will be launched in the MG6 Diesel!), two Dual Clutch Transmission units and a hybrid transmission unit. The UK Technical Centre is involved in the design and development of all Global Powertrain Programmes.
What can you tell AROnline’s readers about the current timeline for the introduction of the MG3 and MG5 in the UK and Europe and can you give them some hints as to what other models might feature in MG’s Future Product Plan between now and, say, 2018?
The MG6 Diesel will be introduced during Q4 this year and the MG3 will be launched in the UK in mid 2013. The next key products which have been engineered for the UK and Europe include the MG5 (which was launched this year in China) and an SUV (the styling for this product was developed in the UK Design Centre and was approved for production earlier this year). Unfortunately, I cannot disclose launch timing for these products at this time.
However, beyond that, the UK Technical Centre has already commenced the development of a brand new vehicle architecture – think of the VW Group’s new MQB/Modularer Querbaukasten or Modular Transverse Matrix architecture – which will provide the basis for a wide range of future products in our Global Product Plan including expansion into some new market sector opportunities.
The UK launch of the MG3 is now scheduled for Summer 2013 – how will the lessons learned from last year’s MG6 launch be applied to the launch of MG’s new and much-anticipated B-segment supermini?*
The plan for MG3 is for production to start mid year to enable us to have volume supply to customers for September. What we have learned from MG6 launch is that, despite the fact that the product is strong, of very good quality and there is huge goodwill for the MG brand, it takes time and more products to re-establish a brand and grow sales in this market. We always knew that Dealers needed more than just the petrol-engined MG6 upon which to build a franchise and soon they will have additional products.
You can clearly see the investment in additional powertrains and model lines here that will give increased market coverage and sales. The MG6 was not the product that the UK market initially expected from the MG brand but research has shown that the MG3 is much more in line with UK brand perceptions and, with this product in place, awareness of the brand will grow and, in turn, increase sales of the MG6 as well.
Jason Plato and MG KX Momentum Racing’s success on track with the NGTC MG6 in the British Touring Car Championship has yet to result in any significant and sustained increase in sales on the showroom floor – what can MG UK do in order to ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ and match Ian, Jason, Andy and the rest of the lads at Triple Eight Race Engineering Limited’s tremendous efforts?*
We are already there at every BTCC Meeting with our own mini-showroom and a product display which includes the replica race cars whilst the Tesco/KX stand also features a replica race car so there is a big presence at the events. Jason will be out and about at Dealer launches and supporting MG in the second half of the year as our brand ambassador. However, we are in the early stages of re-establishing the brand. The ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ adage works fine for established brands but, for us, it is getting MG back in front of the right target audience of people for the first time in many years so we have to give it time.
This is why our BTCC Programme is a three year one – it will not deliver immediate results but the combination of this significant investment with the new models will start to pay back towards the end of this year and stand us in very good stead next year. The BTCC Programme is, as you can see, part of a long-term strategy to build a long-term business and not a five minute wonder.
Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A. and Mazda Motor Corporation signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding in May which covers the development and manufacturing of replacements for the Alfa Romeo Spider and Mazda MX-5 two-seater roadsters using the latter’s next-generation, rear-wheel-drive architecture. The proposed Joint Venture should ensure that FGA/Alfa Romeo and Mazda can achieve considerable savings in development and production costs and so enable both OEMs to make a more robust business case for replacing the two models concerned. What boxes does SAIC Motor/MG need to tick in order to establish a business case for a TF-replacing, two-seater roadster to compete with the forthcoming Alfa Romeo Spider and Mazda MX-5?
Over our long history, MGs have exemplified the two-seater sports car. I share the passion and enthusiasm of many of your readers to see a new MG roadster in the future. I also believe that it is essential to maintain our brand value that we consider having this type of product within our model range.
Any replacement for the MG TF will, of course, need to present a viable business case. The comparatively low-volume forecast for this type of product means that the programme profitability becomes far more sensitive to engineering investment and production costs. Reduction in these costs can potentially be achieved by platform sharing between OEMs (as in your example). The alternative route is to utilise a suitable architecture (or major architectural elements) from within the group.
A roadster does, of course, present some unique architectural requirements which can be difficult to achieve if the donor platform has not been designed with this type of product in mind. However, manufacturers are now chasing greater potential flexibilities from their new architectures. Another route can therefore be to consider the bandwidth (or flexibility) of the engineering concept solutions required to deliver a roadster during the concept definition phase of a new vehicle architecture.
Interestingly, at the end of our Q&A session, David Lindley referred to last May’s announcement that SAIC Motor and Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group (CP Group) are planning a Joint Venture (JV) which will cover the development of a new assembly plant as a production centre for right-hand drive vehicles to sell in the region and other right-hand drive markets. A Feasibility Study, which will include the cost of the investment for a facility capable of making at least 50,000 cars per annum, should be completed by the end of 2012.
Lindley commented that the proposed JV in Thailand was an important development for MG Birmingham. Thailand is both a right-hand drive and a significant Diesel-engined market - that helps to spread investment costs and make a more robust business case for the UK and Europe. However, although the MG6 should be launched in Europe within the next two or three years, David Lindley reckoned that MG UK probably needed a two or three model range for the Dealers there to have a profitable business model.
The Engines and Transmissions
SMTC UK’s impressive Engineering Office features a display of the new engines and transmissions which have already been developed by the company next to the main entrance. These include the following:-
The New Small Engine (NSE)
The NSE was the first engine family developed by SMTC UK for SMPV and there are three versions: a 1.3 litre, a 1.5 litre and a 1.5 litre Turbo which will be introduced in late 2012. David Lindley said that the NSE was a fairly conventional Port Fuel Injection engine which had been designed to be as compact as possible in order to maximise the interior space efficiency of the MG3 and MG5. A cast-iron block enables production costs to be minimised.
The New Large Engine (NLE)
The NLE family of all-alloy 1.8- and 2.0-litre normally aspirated and turbocharged engines has been developed jointly by SMTC UK and a leading European consultancy with a Direct Injection capability – that had been a learning exercise about combustion technology for SMTC globally. The NLE engine family will appear in D-segment and larger models as well as in performance derivatives of B and C-segment models – the 2.0-litre Turbo produces around 250bhp.
The New Transmissions
SMTC has developed two six-speed manual transmissions – the first of which will appear in the MG6 Diesel. The second such transmission has been developed specifically for engines with lower torque capacities. David Lindley pointed out that, as around 90 per cent of all cars sold in China had automatic transmissions, SMTC has developed two Dual Clutch Transmissions.
A Hybrid Transmission has also been developed for launch with a smaller capacity petrol engine. This Hybrid Transmission has two power generators which can be used in any one of three ways namely to supplement engine power completely, to power the car in wholly electric mode or with one functioning as a generator and the other supplementing engine power.
The 3D Visualisation Suite
The UK Design Centre, which was officially opened just two years ago, now has a state-of-the-art 3D Visualisation Suite which features a giant screen on to which 3D images of forthcoming MGs can be projected against a wide array of different backgrounds – this enables the Designers to envisage how a particular product might interact with ‘real’ life.
However, as new UK Design Director, Martin Uhlarik, explained the 3D Visualisation Suite will be moved from first to ground floor level as part of an expansion which will see the floor area of the Design Studio more than double in size and which will be completed before the end of 2012. The new 3D Visualisation Suite will be an open plan area in the centre of the Design Studio which can be closed off in order to create a cinema effect – either full-size clay models or competitors’ products can therefore be displayed next to the screen for comparative purposes.
A second plate and a Five-Axis CNC milling machine will also be installed as part of the UK Design Centre’s expansion programme. Martin pointed out that the Design Team’s clays are currently milled off site and that being able to have the new machine running overnight and at weekends would not only shorten development times but also give his Designers much greater freedom and flexibility to see more variants of a particular design.
Martin Uhlarik reports to both David Lindley and his predecessor, Tony Williams-Kenny, SMPV’s Global Design Director, who is now based in Shanghai. The Design Centre there has a headcount of around 150 and 18 full-size plates – a former Nissan Design Europe man, Martin reckons that facility more than stands comparison with Nissan Motor Company Limited’s own Design Studio in Japan and, as such, represents a real statement of intent on the part of SAIC Motor.
The Powertrain Test Centre and Vehicle Engineering Workshop
The other significant improvements in SMTC UK’s facilities at MG Birmingham during the last two years have been the installation of a Powertrain Test Centre and an expansion of the Vehicle Engineering Workshop. SMTC UK’s Vice-Director – Powertrain, Iain Fleming, who began his career as a graduate with Rover Group Limited back in 1988, explained that the Powertrain Test Centre has four, fully-operational Test Cells and another two which can be commissioned when appropriate in the future. All four Test Cells were in operation during AROnline’s visit – two NSE and two NLE engines fitted with the next technical upgrades were undergoing functional testing which needs constant engineering in order to steer the direction of the tests.
Iain added that durability testing was undertaken in China. Interestingly, he also said that the smaller technical upgrades would probably see production in two to three years whereas engines featuring the more significant technological steps were likely to be introduced in 2016 and beyond.
The Powertrain Test Centre also houses a dedicated Workshop with two ramps upon which cars are prepared for development work. Engines are also palletised in the Workshop so that they can be checked and run before being installed in one of the Test Cells – that saves time and maximises Test Cell usage if a problem arises.
The final improvement made to SMTC UK’s facilities at MG Birmingham since 2010 has been an expansion of the Vehicle Engineering Workshop (located in the former Press Garage) – the floor area is now three times greater and the building also houses a Materials Laboratory and dedicated office accommodation. The Vehicle Engineering Workshop’s functions include the preparation of vehicles for crash and other testing as well as benchmarking against competing models.
Many of AROnline’s readers will, no doubt, recall that, back in the days when BMW AG owned Rover Group Limited, the latter company was dubbed ‘the English Patient’ by the German media. However, based on the evidence of both our previous and most recent visits to MG Birmingham, seasoned Automotive Industry observers and MG enthusiasts alike should now really be thinking of the famous marque as SAIC Motor’s adopted ’English Infant’ and one which, having had a difficult gestation, requires careful and patient nurturing before growing into a successful adulthood.
Indeed, that analogy might well be an apt metaphor for SAIC Motor’s approach to re-establishing MG as a global automotive brand. After all, Confucianism still has a significant influence on Chinese culture and underpins much of China’s social and commercial life – as a consequence, Chinese corporate philosophy favours a long-term approach to both relationships and business development. Anyone who still has doubts about SAIC Motor’s plans for MG and their prospects of success might do well to remember that patient persistence generally pays off…
[Editor's Notes: 1) The answers to the two questions marked * above were provided by Guy Jones, MG Motor UK Limited's Sales and Marketing Director. 2) Any AROnline readers wishing to learn more about Confucianism's impact on Chinese corporate culture might find this article of interest: Negotiating with the Chinese: A Socio-Cultural Analysis, Pervez Ghauri and Tony Fang, Journal of World Business, Volume 36, Issue 3, September, 2001 - you will even find a reference to BMC!]