The first customer-ready MG6 Fastback rolled off the production line at MG Birmingham yesterday and, as MG Motor UK Limited’s Dealers collected their first Demonstrators in an special mass ‘Driveaway’ event today, AROnline reckoned that now was as good a time as any to canvass the opinion of the Dealer Network on the MG6.
However, given that both Autocar and Auto Express have recently run several articles about MG’s proposed Future Product Programme, AROnline decided to put a couple of questions about MG Motor UK’s future to the Dealers as well. The articles referred to are as follows: SUV in MG launch plans, John McIlroy, News Editor, Autocar, 28 February 2011, More MGs on the way, Nick Gibbs, Acting News and Features Editor, Auto Express, 18 March 2011 and MG ‘wants a new sports car’ Matt Saunders, Deputy Road Test Editor, Autocar, 23 March 2011.
AROnline has therefore contacted a representative sample of 18 Franchised Dealers or Authorised Repairers by either email or telephone during the course of the last two weeks and put these questions to them:
Q1) Are you still MG Dealers? If not, since when and why not?
Q2) Did you or a colleague and/or any of your potential customers attend the recent MG6 Track Test at Prodrive, Kenilworth? If so, how would you rate the MG6 on a scale of 1 to 10? If, so what was the feedback from your potential customers?
Q3) How pessimistic or optimistic are you about MG Motor UK’s prospects of success between now and the end of 2015 on a scale of 1 to 10?
Q4) What next after the MG3 and, presumably, the MG5 which will reportedly be unveiled at Auto Shanghai later this month – a C-segment crossover or an MG TF successor?
A total of 14 Franchised Dealers or Authorised Repairers responded to Q1) above but two of the formers’ franchises were ending on 31 March 2011 while the Dealer Principal of another declined to speak to AROnline on the record. Kevin Clark, the Managing Director of Hampshire-based Seward Group Limited, said that the decision to end the MG franchise was a commercial one based on the fact that the range would be a limited one until late 2012 and the anticipated volumes were insufficient to justify further investment in the franchise at this stage. A spokesman for Spur Garage Limited of Hampton Court in Surrey said that the decision to terminate that company’s MG franchise had also been a commercial one and cited delays in the launch of the MG6 as a key factor.
Interestingly, all of the Authorised Repairers approached by AROnline had originally been Franchised Dealers. MG Owners’ Club General Manager, Richard Monk, said the Club-owned Advantage MG dealership had ceased to be an MG Franchised Dealer last year because the business’ rural location in Swavesey, Cambridgeshire meant that there was not a huge showroom footfall and he reckoned that the MG6 was more suited to an urban dealership. However, Mr. Monk added that Advantage MG ‘would be back in the frame if MG Motor UK launched a new two-seater roadster.’
Nine Franchised Dealers answered all the questions which AROnline posed but only five had sent a representative and/or potential MG6 buyers to the recent MG6 Track Test. However, most of the Dealer Principals concerned had either driven the MG6 or had an employee who had and so their assessment of the car on a scale of 1 to 10 was based on that feedback. The lowest score was 7 out of 10 whilst the average was 7.5 out of 10 – that said, two of the Dealer Principals approached gave the MG6 10 out of 10. The MG Dealers which had not sent either representatives or potential purchasers to the event at Prodrive, Kenilworth all cited logistical and/or scheduling issues for not doing so – one mentioned that the location of the event meant that he and any customers would probably have had a round trip of six hours…
The MG Dealers whose customers had attended the MG6 Track Test all reported that the feedback which they had received from them was, as Laurie Collyer, the Dealer Principal of Apple MG in Gravesend, Kent, observed ‘overwhelmingly positive.’ Graham Walker, the Dealer Principal of Chester-based MG Dealer Graham Walker Limited, said that some of his customers had remarked on the fact that the MG6 was only being launched with a five-speed as opposed to a six-speed gearbox. However, having driven the car at the Prodrive facility, Mr. Walker did not think that was, in reality, an issue.
John Newey, Dealer Principal of Summit Garage (Dudley) Limited, said that all the customers who had contacted him following their attendance at the Track Test had ‘loved the MG6 and really appreciated the chance to drive the car in circumstances which would not be possible on the road.’ The Dealer Principal of Sterling Automotive Limited in Eastbourne, East Sussex, Patrick Warner, reported that one of his clients, who had already ordered an MG6 and now driven the car at Kenilworth, was ‘ecstatic’ about his decision to buy one. Paul McNeil, the Sales Director of Luffield Cars Limited, Loughborough, Leicestershire, stated that the feedback which he had received from his company’s customers was ‘very good – particularly in regard to the handling of the car.’
Eight of the MG Dealers contacted by AROnline rated their pessimism or optimism about MG Motor UK’s prospects of success on a scale of 1 to 10 in response to Q3) above – one other declined saying that he did not have the requisite crystal ball but was definitely looking at the MG franchise as a long-term proposition. The scores ranged from 4 out of 10 to 10 out of 10 and the average was 7.75 out of 10.
Stephen Kerridge, a Director of Kerridges (Needham Market) Limited in Suffolk, commented that the re-launched brand was still in its infancy but that, given the starting volumes, he had a good territory and was looking forward to the MG6 because there was tremendous loyalty to MG. Pricing would be key but the MG6 should do very well if the car drove as well as reported. John Newey said: ‘SAIC Motor seems very determined to achieve its goals – just look at the money invested to date – its an extremely profitable and wealthy company in China. There’s a whole new future for MG worldwide and SAIC Motor will probably be better custodians of the marque than any other OEM.’
Luffield Cars Limited’s Paul McNeil observed: ‘SAIC Motor is a huge company with incredible resources. Although it make take a while for the company to really understand our market and the requirements, it has already invested a huge amount in bringing the MG brand back and re-launching cars in the UK. The company’s involvement with GM and VW is testament to its long-term aspirations.’
Interestingly, of the nine MG Dealers who answered Q4) above, six voted for the C-segment crossover while three opted for the TF successor. Most of the respondents agreed that this was really ‘a head and heart issue’ but the consensus of the majority was that a C-segment crossover would generate more volume sales and hence profitablity. However, Stephen Kerridge’s company also holds a Noble franchise and used to have a TVR franchise as well so, as he said, a TF replacement would be a neater fit with his business’ profile.
Allan Rossington, the Dealer Principal of Royles Group PLC’s MG site in Prestbury, Cheshire reckoned that a new two-seater roadster would fit really well with the local demographic while Richard Hilton, the Dealer Principal of Stafford-based Hopton Garage, felt that the C-segment crossover niche was already saturated by the dominant Nissan Qashqai and other newer competitors such as the new Range Rover Evoque so a similar MG model would ‘have to be really special to compete.’ Mr. Hilton added that, while a mid-engined, RWD format would appeal to the traditionalist, the adoption of FWD for any TF replacement would not make a difference on the showroom floor.
AROnline’s conclusions? Well, a small number of the original batch of MG Dealers may have decided to relinquish the franchise but those that remain seem to be encouraged by the response which the MG6 has received from those members of the public who have already driven the car and pretty optimistic about MG Motor UK’s and the MG franchise’s prospects of success in the medium to long term.
However, irrespective of the answers to Q4) above, there was a tacit acceptance that the new MG range would be incomplete without a new sports car. Indeed, given that Kia Motors Corporation’s Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer, has repeated that Kia must do ‘some sort of roadster or convertible’ and added that ‘I won’t give up until we have one’ (See: Kia wants a roadster… but not yet, Automotive News Europe, 4 April 2011), most, if not all, of the MG Dealer Network will probably be hoping that MG Motor UK Limited’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, can deliver on this statement which he recently gave to Autocar’s Matt Saunders: ‘A brand like MG needs a true sports car in its offering and, as soon as our primary line-up of volume models is established in the UK, we expect to introduce one.’
One of our respondents emphasised that SAIC Motor and MG Motor UK must deliver MG’s Future Product Programme on time in order to build the brand’s credibility and win the trust of both those in the Dealer Network and their customers. AROnline believes that will be an essential prerequisite to the success of both the MG marque and of the MG franchise in the coming years…
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