Based on the 2014 full-year sales figures, MG Motor claims that the brand’s rebirth has been ‘highly successful’, and that MG is also the fastest growing automotive brand in the UK, with sales up 361 per cent year-on-year – AROnline’s Editor believes that, this time, it isn’t all smoke and mirrors…
A couple of comments on our news article about MG’s sales performance last year got me thinking. Yes, we’ve used an MG Motor press release for the basis of the story (it’s called work/life balance – all of AROnline’s Editorial Team contribute on a pro-bono basis and have other commitments besides our love for this site, the cars and the enthusiasts that fuel it) but, on this occasion, I have no concerns about the positivity of the language used.
Okay, so much of that growth can be attributed to adding a much-needed supermini to the MG line-up, as well as a more efficient diesel powerplant to the MG6 – but that only tells half the story…
In addition to the obvious product range improvements, that 361 per cent growth in sales is quite an achievement because it shows that, at long last, the MG brand is starting to invest in its UK presence, and is growing its dealer network. Less than 3,000 sales isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is a starting point – and here’s why I believe that to be the case.
From January 2005 until May 2014 (with a 12-month sabbatical in Australia), my day job involved heading up the communications team for Chevrolet UK, from the very day we launched the brand through to its untimely (in my view) demise when General Motors pulled the plug.
In our best year, we sold 21,000 cars – and we did it from a zero base, saddled by the baggage of the hugely unfashionable Daewoo brand and some of the petty and pathetic prejudices that we still see all too often around lesser-educated people about a car’s country of origin. Yup, we sold Korean cars designed by a microwave manufacturer and cynically plastered with the century-old icon of one of the world’s best-loved car brands. Sound familiar?
For much of that time, certain factions of the motoring media threw rocks at us. ‘That’ll be the Daewoo’, they’d say, every time we wheeled out a new product designed from the ground up by skilled automotive engineers to be as strong, durable and efficient as Europe’s best. Sure, those launch cars were a bit long in the tooth, but the later models such as the Cruze, Orlando and 2013 Aveo (which Autocar called ‘the best Chevy ever’) were actually damned good – and I say that without apology, not because of a deep-rooted loyalty but simply because I’m a car enthusiast who drove them on a daily basis, alongside many of their competitive set.
In my view, GM took Chevy out of the market because it and the Vauxhall/Opel brands were getting too close to each other – there are other, more confidential business reasons behind the decision that I can’t and never will divulge, but that’s pretty much the crux of it. Had that not happened, Chevrolet UK would still be selling upwards of 15,000 cars a year, and as the likes of Fiat, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Alfa Romeo, Lexus and our own beloved Jaguar have proven over the years, that’s enough to get by.
MG doesn’t have the challenges of a shareholder-driven major global corporation behind it. Rather, it has the backing of a huge Chinese industrial giant that has invested in the UK because it knows our designers, engineers and automotive suppliers are not just among the best in the world, but are in many respects the very best in the business. And for those who decry the fact that MG’s latest models are nothing more than CKD kits knocked up from imported Chinese parts, how on earth do you think Henry Ford started his global empire?
Only 45 years ago, we sniggered at the Japanese. In its first year, Japan’s first brand to sell in the UK, Daihatsu, sold 14 cars, but still they stuck at it. Ironically, Austin-Rover’s finest hour arguably came when it got in bed with a Japanese manufacturer, having realised their persistence, determination to understand, compete in and better the European marketplace and ultimately bring Japanese working principles into British factories made them better at building cars than we were. Meanwhile, the Great British success story that is Jaguar Land Rover is funded by an Indian industrial giant with the same will to succeed…
Let’s not laugh at the Chinese. In March 2014, I visited Shanghai. The roads are packed, the wealthy are getting wealthier, and they know how to build, engineer and make things better than they ever have before. I saw more ‘Rovers’ in one week there, than I have in the UK for the past couple of months. Painful but true, and that, folks, is just the start of it…
Among some of the less open-minded, it seems easy to joke and snigger at the current MG line-up. And let’s be honest, the MG6, in particular, has obvious weaknesses that mean it’ll never realistically compete with huge hitters such as the VW Golf and the Ford Focus. But for now, in the UK and Europe at least, it doesn’t need to.
What MG needs to do is aim for organic growth. And no, we’re not talking about overpriced and unwashed carrots, here, we’re talking about slowly rebuilding its image, building up customer loyalty, courting and choosing the right dealers and treating them properly. And trying to do the same with customers, although not everything I’ve heard so far has been brilliant.
Dealer-wise, though, they’re doing a lot of the right things. For example, when Chevy UK set up shop in 2005, the demise of MG Rover was a godsend for our network development team. All of a sudden, there were loads of dealers with ready and waiting customers of a particular demographic and no brand of car to sell to them. In a very short period, Chevrolet signs appeared over the windows of many a former MG Rover dealer, and we were out of the blocks.
And now, that’s come full circle. At some sites, the Chevy signs are coming down and the MG ones are going back up. In 2014, MG opened 24 new dealerships. That, I know, is a massive investment. It costs a healthy six-figures to get a new dealer off the ground, so I’d encourage anyone who thinks MG isn’t taking the UK market seriously to invest that up their pipe and smoke it.
What’s more, I know for a fact they’re choosing carefully. How? Because, back in the day, I knew exactly which Chevrolet dealers were the ones who a) knew how to sell cars, and sell them by the bucket load, b) knew how to run their businesses efficiently and cost-effectively and c) knew how to look after their customers properly. These guys were some of the best in the business, anywhere, and from knowing them personally I wish them every success. And I don’t doubt for a second they’ll achieve some.
Furthermore, with the launch of the new small SUV (and a raft of other new models promised), there’ll be more for those dealers to sell – and there’s nothing a car dealer likes more than some nice new metal to go at.
In the meantime, MG needs to harness the power of a brand that has instant recognition among British car buyers – and that’s a luxury that, despite the iconic American nameplate, Chevrolet never had. In market research survey after survey, we learned that brand awareness was really low. People simply didn’t know we were on sale in the UK. MG, however, remains a household name to many, and I, for one, wish them luck. It might not be the British manufacturing giant that BMC/BL-ARG once was, but it’s all we’ve got left. And I, for one, am glad we’ve still got it.