MG UK : Longbridge in limbo?

Clive Goldthorp

AROnline’s regular readers might recall from our MG UK: The next phase of the New Journey? story back in mid-April that production of the standard MG TF 135 was about to commence and that an informed and reliable source had told us that a decision on whether the MG6 would be built at Longbridge was expected ‘within the next couple of months.’

The standard TF 135s have recently reached MG Dealers and AROnline  understands from several of their representatives that MG Motor UK Limited will shortly be launching a reportedly competitve and flexible PCP Scheme which will be promoted via a national marketing campaign – the spend on the latter will, though, probably reflect the TF 135’s anticipated production volumes. A number of the MG Dealers contacted by AROnline this week reckon that the TF 135 has already generated more showroom interest than the TF LE500 did initially and attribute that to the newer version’s more competive price of £13,511 otr (or £11,511 otr under HMG’s Scrappage Scheme).

A number of the MG Dealers contacted by AROnline this week reckon that the TF 135 has already generated more showroom interest than the TF LE500 did initially and attribute that to the newer version’s more competive price of £13,511 otr (or £11,511 otr under HMG’s Scrappage Scheme).

However, whilst some MG Dealers have greeted the arrival of the TF 135 with a degree of cautious optimism, the medium to long-term future of the Longbridge factory as a production centre must remain in doubt until SAIC Motor decides whether or not to produce the MG6 and, presumably, other models there.

The well-placed source contacted by AROnline back in April now tells us that the decision about MG6 production has been delayed – the business case for that apparently depends upon the sourcing of a diesel engine which has characteristics compatible with the European market’s requirements. We had understood that diesel engines from General Motors Europe, SsangYong Motor and Volkswagen Group were all under consideration so the need for the diesel engine to be fit for purpose in Europe rather implies that SAIC Motor may now be evaluating the SsangYong Motor option more closely.

Our contact also disclosed that SAIC Motor was giving ‘serious consideration’ to adopting General Motors’ new Epsilon II platform for the MG7/Roewe 750 replacements. The Epsilon II platform currently underpins both General Motors Europe’s D-segment Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Shanghai General Motors’ Chinese version of the Buick Regal. However, we understand that the MG7/Roewe 750 replacements will be slightly larger than their predecessors and so compete against E-segment contenders such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class in at least terms of size if not price. The forthcoming new E-segment MY10 Saab 9-5 uses a long wheelbase variant of Epsilon II so we guess that may be the version under consideration by SAIC Motor.  A recent report on English-language Chinese Automotive Industry website Gasgoo.com suggesting that SAIC Motor was negotiating such a Platform Sharing Agreement with General Motors may, therefore, have some basis in fact… See: China Watch: SAIC may buy Opel Insignia platform to build new Roewe.

SMTC UK, which has global responsibility for the design and styling of all future MG models, would, no doubt, take the lead in the development of any successors to the MG7 and the MG TF. However, we understand that work on the latter Model Programme has been halted since the end of 2008 because of the continuing economic rescession affecting what would be the car’s key markets of North America and Western Europe.

SAIC Motor clearly needs to be satisfied that any medium to long-term plans for Longbridge are supported by a robust business case and the task of validating that business case cannot have been made any easier by last year’s sudden and largely unforseen economic downturn. However, until MG6s are rolling off the production line and work on the TF replacement has resumed, Longbridge will, in effect, be in a state of limbo.

AROnline, though, maintains that a TF replacement would play a vital role in re-establishing the MG marque’s credibility in North America and Western Europe. Georg Kacher, CAR Magazine’s well-connected European Editor, recently reported that Volkswagen plans to launch a production version of the Concept BlueSport shown at last January’s North American International Auto Show in early 2012. Volkswagen must, therefore, reckon that there will be sufficient global demand for a fuel-efficient, mid-engined, two-seater roadster by then so the business case for, say, a £18,000 to £22,000 TF replacement should be equally convincing…

SAIC Motor clearly needs to be satisfied that any medium to long-term plans for Longbridge are supported by a robust business case and the task of validating that business case cannot have been made any easier by last year’s sudden and largely unforseen economic downturn. However, until MG6s are rolling off the production line and work on the TF replacement has resumed, Longbridge will, in effect, be in a state of limbo.

Clive Goldthorp

Clive Goldthorp

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.
Clive Goldthorp
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.

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  1. Mark says:

    What on earth was wrong with the 1951cc M47-Series Diesel Turbo fitted to the 75?

    SAIC must have the rights to churn them out.

    Don’t they have the capacity to build them?

    M

  2. @Mark
    MG Rover Group Limited, in fact, bought the M47 Diesel engines used in the MG ZT and Rover 75 from BMW AG under a normal purchase contract. BMW AG therefore retained the IPRs to that engine which was, in any event, superseded by the N47 Diesel in 2007.

  3. Pete says:

    And the turbos usually blow up. The G-Series would’ve been a decent engine (effectively a Common-Rail L-Series nearing completion in 2005) but it seems that has been lost 🙁

  4. Alex Scott says:

    Given the low cost of labour in China, I am rather suprised that MG ZT or (MG7) saloons aren’t already on the market in Europe. I would have thought the bodies could be assembled in China and the interior finished off in at Longbridge. The MG7, for instance, would probably sell OK but I don’t know about the the older and smaller MG3SW.

    I don’t much like the MG6 name – it sounds too much like a Mazda 6 and I don’t like the Mazda 6 much. As for diesel engines, the best solution would be to go to Peugeot for their engines.

  5. Mark says:

    Ah, scuppered by the Germans again! The lump in my 45 diesel turbo was OK but I don’t suppose it would set the world alight these days.

    Probably a few Maxus engines going begging but ultimately the French probably have the answer.

  6. I fear this is the beginning of the end – if the next generation of MGs are based on a GM platform I do not see how it can be argued that the heritage is intact and they are genuine MGs. An MG-badged GM platform car will have similar kudos to the Daewoo/Chevrolet.

    In my view MG Motor should have launched the UK operation with a saloon (MG7, 750 or 6) and the TF (probably in 135 trim). The fact that they haven’t done this does pose a question about the future of the company in the UK. They have simply failed to generate the momentum necessary to (re)launch a car company in the UK marketplace.

    Whilst I am sad about the future of the remaining workforce at Longbridge, the truth is our beloved marque died some time ago.

  7. Modern Gentleman :

    I fear this is the beginning of the end – if the next generation of MGs are based on a GM platform I do not see how it can be argued that the heritage is intact and they are genuine MGs. An MG-badged GM platform car will have similar kudos to the Daewoo/Chevrolet.

    I’m not too sure about that – Volkswagen Group’s Platform Sharing Strategy has, arguably, not diluted the core brand values of Audi, Skoda and VW.

    I also think that the recently leaked images of the new Epsilon II-based MY10 Saab 9-5 suggest that the company has, at last, re-discovered what makes a Saab a Saab… but will reserve judgment on that until the guys at the likes of Autocar, CAR and Evo have driven the car.

    Multi-OEM Platform Sharing Agreements are likely to become the norm as the global Automotive Industry strives to meet the challenges of the 21st century and so brand differentiation will become even more important. I’m pretty certain that the staff at SMTC UK, who have global responsiblity for the design and styling of all future MG models, fully appreciate that…

  8. Stewart says:

    @Modern Gentleman
    I should point out that almost all MGs have shared ‘platforms’ – the early cars were rebodied Morris chassis and the postwar cars all shared a huge amount of parts with various Austin and Morris models of the time (engines, axles, steering and suspension). Indeed, even the MGF did that so platform sharing would be nothing new and entirely in keeping with MG’s past.

  9. Carl Maynard says:

    The economics behind platform-sharing are surely here to stay. VAG has successfully demonstrated that we’ve come along way since the days of BMC’s badge-engineering. The key to market acceptance is maintaining marque identity…

    I too share concerns about the long-term viability and sustainability of a rationalised Longbridge plant – time is passing and much of the British public are blissfully unaware of the MG revival as it has been very low key to say the least.

    I am also astonished that the 750 will not be sold here, notwithstanding the fact that it would overlap with the forthcoming MG6. Whilst MG may never be a volume player once again, a model range of sorts is essential for the future of the brand.

  10. didierz65 Didier Ziane says:

    It is true the wait is rather long and it’s gonna be another year before the saloons appear here… that’s 5 years after MGR went down. The main questions are:

    1/ Will people go for new MGs/Roewes after the demise of the original?

    2/ Who would want to spend £20k on a MG 7 that is a 10 year old design, even if in “Mark III ” guise and “Made in China”?

    Maybe the MG 6/Roewe 550 will attract potential buyers if priced appropriately but, as for the diesel engine, PSA is the answer although, then again, if new platforms are shared with GM, Fiat’s diesel engines might be an option.

  11. Mark Falconer says:

    Didn’t the Chinese pick up Powertrain along with everything else after MGR collapsed? I’m sure I’ve read that Powertrain was close to coming up with some new engines before the collapse.

    Maybe the Chinese should have tried to resume production at Longbridge straight away – even if only at a small level – they would then, at least, have kept some momentum with research and development. Instead, they let talented former employees go on to find jobs not of the quality of those at MGR and then stripped and shipped most of the tooling from Longbridge to China to make their own versions of BRITISH cars there.

  12. Mark Falconer says:

    I must also add that someone from MG UK phoned a week or so ago and informed me of the special offers on TF135s they had at the moment. I told him I wasn’t really looking for a new car at the moment at which point he said that MG UK hoped to have the new saloon coming to GB in the next year! I told him I would be very interested in that and he said he would be in touch nearer the time. 🙂

    Wonder if it’s getting built here or shipped over from China…

  13. Jeff says:

    Does anyone really believe car manufacture in any meaningful way will ever take place at Longbridge? Time will tell.

    As regards selling the Roewe products here, in my opinion it is never going to happen. Some tome ago I commented here about an article in Auto Express about the Daewoo Matiz which is built under licence by some Chinese company. They decided to crash test it for Europe. It failed in a spectacularly miserable way. It would never be sold in Europe unlike the original Matiz. They concluded that poor quality steel was used, along with sub-standard assembly techniques. So the design is nothing if not constructed properly.

    It is likely, in my opinion, that the manufacturers of the Roewe cars have not even bothered trying to get it licensed for sale in Europe. Given all the alternatives available here, it might not be worth their while anyway.

  14. Modern Gentleman says:

    @Jeff
    I agree -there is something not quite right about the MG6. I suspect that, beyond the stylish (?), body the build quality is akin to that of a 1985 Talbot Alpine! Shame that it has come to this.

  15. SMTC UK have played a significant part in the development of the MG 6 so any suspicions about sub-standard build quality are probably unfounded.

    However, an objective assessment about build quality can, of course, only be made when MG 6s are rolling off a production line (hopefully in Longbridge) and then inspected in the metal.

  16. Paul says:

    I’m surprised anyone is still hanging on to all this. The company died years ago. Longbridge has been a shadow of what it once was for a long time – it was in its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s.

    It’s gone – the factory will never again employ people in their thousands like in years of yore. It’s simply a badge these days – and a Chinese-owned one at that. Did anyone seriously believe they would ever re-start mass production at Longbridge?

  17. Modern Gentleman says:

    @Clive Goldthorp
    Yes, I am fully aware of how MG started and how the badge engineering of the ’50s to ’80s developed.

    However, what we are talking about here is something completely different: a Chinese company building new models on an American platform using a name that they purchased in a fire sale.

    There is no way that anyone can argue that the heritage of MG is intact.

  18. Modern Gentleman says:

    @Clive Goldthorp
    This is pure conjecture – if the car is that good why are the Chinese not selling it here? I suspect that the issue here is that the car has similar quality to the Chery that failed in America.

    Just look at the markets that they are choosing to launch this car in, Chile, Uzbekistan – at this rate the next market is likely to be Easter Island! The MG 6 simply doesn’t meet the standards that we as consumers demand.

    I have seen nothing from Nanjing/SAIC (whatever they call themselves these days) that gives me any confidence in their ability to build a decent car.

  19. @Modern Gentleman
    Your much-missed Rover 400 and MG ZS were based on Honda platforms but built in Britain – why, then, should either an MG 6 using a shortened MG ZT/Rover 75 platform or an MG 8 using a lwb version of General Motors Europe’s Epsillon II platform with design and styling done by British ex-MGR personnel at Longbridge be any less an MG?

    I see that you email address includes the words “MG is dead, get over it” but, perhaps, the message should be “MG is no longer British-owned, get over it!”

  20. @Modern Gentleman
    My comments about SMTC UK’s role in the development of the MG6 are not “pure conjecture” but are based upon information provided by British ex-MGR staff now employed by the company who clearly have a substantial vested interest in ensuring that build quality at least matches, if not exceeds, that of the leading European and Japanese OEMs.

    Ash Sutcliffe of the well-regarded China Car Times’ website has driven a Roewe 550 and subjected the MG6 to close scrutiny at Auto Shanghai. Ash’s observations suggest that your understandable concerns about build quality are likely to be unfounded.

  21. Modern Gentleman says:

    I accept that the 400 was Honda Domani based, but the saloon version was a UK design (and much better looking) and used the K series to great effect. The ZS was, therefore, actually based on a ‘British’ platform and it was definately powered by a British engine. The ZS was certainly an improvement on the badge engineered 1300s and Montegos (although I still have a soft spot for these cars).

    I feel more comfortable with that heritage than the proposed GM platform sharing, after all it appears that the only British element of the car may be some of the design input.

    Call me old fashioned, but I do prefer British cars and, as I do not have experience of Chinese cars (along with 99% of the British public), I am unlikely to buy one.

    Rule Britannia, and eyes down for a full house.

  22. Modern Gentleman says:

    As regards the build quality of the MG6, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Until we are able to see one in the metal, it is not really possible to comment on the quality of the product.

    Whilst I appreciate that most of the electrical equipment that I own is made in China, the companies that make it are Japanese and have imbued their quality control into the product. I don’t actually own anything with a Chinese brand (such as MG) and therefore cannot comment on the quality of a true Chinese product.

    If the car is that good, why have they chosen not to launch it in Europe?

  23. Modern Gentleman says:

    Re the website, I am disappointed that you chose to share this information with others as it clearly states this information will not be shared.

    Re the accuracy of the name, it is true to say that MG (Morris Garages) is dead, but I don’t understand what MG (Modern Gentleman) means.

    Re the SFO and the Phoenix 4 –
    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

  24. @Modern Gentleman
    The MG6 was only shown in near production-ready form at this year’s Auto Shanghai and has yet to go on sale in China. AROnline understands that the European version will be signed off once a suitable Diesel engine has been chosen for that car.

  25. @Modern Gentleman
    I have not, in fact, disclosed all of your email address – I merely cited a phrase from your email address in the relevant comment…

    I am a Non-Practising Solicitor and reckoned that was a valid distinction to make – I am also a characteristically pedantic Virgo which probably explains a lot!

  26. Modern Gentleman says:

    Fair point, Clive. Will there be an opportunity to comment on the SFO decision or are you waiting until the review is published?

  27. @Modern Gentleman
    I have attempted to reply to your question by email but have received two Delivery Status Notification (Failure) emails. Please, therefore, email me at news@aronline.co.uk with an alternative email address – I will then resend my reply to you.

  28. Tim says:

    If you think that any sort of production might be resurrected at Longbridge, you are living in cloud cuckoo land!!!

    Nanjing/SAIC bought the rights to produce MG Cars by Nanjing/SAIC workers. Period!!!

  29. @Tim
    I have no reason to doubt the veracity of my sources at Longbridge…

  30. Mark says:

    I do hope they put the SsangYong diesels in the MG6. They are Mercedes engines made under licence – and are not half bad either.

    The 2.0 unit used in the SsangYong Actyon etc. is capable of producing 120 kw (163 ps) and has truckloads of torque.

    I guess that, at the end of the day, most of us don’t really care what is under the bonnet so long as it goes well, doesn’t break and represents the quality and style of the badge it wears.

  31. @Mark
    I think that the SsangYong Diesel engine(s) concerned are from a new family of such engines which SsangYong Motor were developing prior to the company’s collapse into Administration but am open to correction on that…

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