Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Adam Sloman
AROnline has already run two stories about the recent MG3 Media Launch at MG Birmingham – News: MG3 revealed with personalisation options and News: MG’s European Design Centre expanded – but, in essence, two key themes emerged from the presentations delivered by SAIC Motor’s Global Design Director, Anthony Williams-Kenny, his UK-based colleague and Vice-Director, Design, Martin Uhlarik and MG Motor UK’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones. British-led design and the Design Team in Birmingham will have a vital role to play in designing the next generation of MGs while the positioning and success of the European-specification MG3 within the highly competitive B-segment will be a major factor in establishing MG as a global marque.
The Importance of British-led Design
The addition of a second Design Studio with another design plate, the installation of an advanced Five-Axis milling machine and the new 2D and 3D Visualisation Suite represent a further investment of £1.5m by SAIC Motor in the Design Centre at MG Birmingham. The new facilities can be viewed in the SAIC Design-produced video below and serve to underline the importance which the company places upon British-led design in the successful evolution of MG.
Anthony Williams-Kenny elaborated on the theme by posing this question during his presentation: ‘Why does SAIC Motor have a Design Centre here in the UK and continue to invest heavily in this facility?’ He gave this answer: ‘Firstly, and most significantly I would say, is brand. MG’s core values demonstrate strong British emotion and accessible fun. This is best understood and communicated by those familiar with the environment in which MG has evolved and it is vital that this inspiration and heritage is harnessed within the total design process and the whole Design Team.
‘Secondly, I would say that British design – in all forms – is a key factor. We are inspired by the originality and the dynamic and progressive thinking, both historical and contemporary, of British design. From iconic and functional to the pure and beautiful, Britain continues to be a leading light for Industrial Design. Now, more than ever, that [leadership] extends to architecture where Britain is a world leader with luminaries such as Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers inspiring the world to push the boundaries of possibility.
‘British design also extends to the Fashion Industry – from couture to the high street, an amalgamation of styles and tastes – old and new – creating a fusion of ideas, always reinventing itself. This best describes British style and this creativity challenges us to question and push the boundaries of originality. It’s therefore important that we develop the global design process in such a way as to harness that awareness, that heritage and that creativity.’
SAIC Motor’s Vice-Director Design, Martin Uhlarik, began his presentation by saying that ‘fundamentally, we have been inspired by British design – that’s the main USP for this Design Centre being here.’ He continued: ‘What is British design? Many people think that British design reflects the values of the past associated with words such as tradition, heritage, craftsmanship and bespoke and that’s as relevant for MG as it is for design in general. However, British design is always reinventing itself, always looking forward – it’s modernity, technology, innovation and revolution. Historically, people think that these are two opposites but, actually, if you look at how creativity works in the UK, it’s the fusion of these two ideas that creates something new and that’s constantly moving forward.’
The MG3 will, as has been mentioned previously, be available from the Dealer Launch in September with a choice of at least ten Graphic Packs and Martin Uhlarik outlined the thinking behind some of these – the iconic Sixties’ Mod symbol has, for example, been fused with the famous MG octagon to create a graphic which he reckoned would become ‘quite a signature for the car’ while the UK-based Design Team also took their inspiration from British architecture and fashion, digital and graphic design when creating the other Graphic Packs.
Martin Uhlarik and the other 29 members of his Design Team at SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK) have clearly devoted much thought and time to ensuring that the European version of the MG3 will be a competitive and contemporary product so AROnline asked that company’s Managing Director, David Lindley (below left, speaking with Clive Goldthorp), for his thoughts about the MG3′s prospects – Mr. Lindley replied: ‘I’m very excited – the MG3 will be a key model for MG in the UK and having a car which competes in the biggest segment of the market will give us a real opportunity to establish the MG brand.’
The Positioning of the MG3 Within the B-Segment
The most significant part of the presentation given by MG Motor UK Limited’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, was unsurprisingly therefore devoted to an analysis of the European B-segment market and who were likely to be the MG3′s target customers.
Guy Jones readily admitted that the European B-segment is ‘very, very competitive’ and that ‘the customers are spoilt for choice and exceedingly demanding’ before posing the question ‘why buy an MG3?’ He continued: ‘Distinctive design is obviously an advantage, but it’s not enough. The core small car buyer wants a new car which is stylish, well-equipped and spacious while, increasingly, people are looking for value. New cars are becoming more and more expensive with the technology that’s being legislated into them. Brands which customers recognise as offering better value for money rise and rise and take market share from the established brands.
‘There’s another group of customers – the young or younger at heart – and, for them, their own personal image is much more important. They want the most stylish, fun car they can afford – one which shows off their personality – and this is an increasing trend. They also, like the current trend in communications, want to share this experience with friends so it’s important to have the most stylish, fun car that’s as practical as possible.
‘There’s another key trend in the market and that’s personalisation… Cars like the MINI, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 have started to break ground and offer customers the chance to personalise their vehicle. We want to do the same with the MG3 and enable people not just to have a distinctively-styled car but to be able to style that car to their own personal requirements and have a car that’s pretty much unique to them.
Guy Jones continued: ‘The volume of the market is still in [the B-segment] with the Ford Fiesta being the benchmark product in the UK and, as I’ve said, we’ve seen the rise of brands like Skoda and Kia with their Fabia and Rio products. But, for our target customers, we want products such as the MINI and Audi A1 to be the aspirational design icons behind the car – these are the cars which people aspire to but, for the people we are selling to, these cars are simply beyond their target price. The challenge for us with MG3 is to produce something which has those aspirational design and style qualities and can be personalised to each customer’s own requirements but which can compete and take sales in the volume market.’
MG Motor UK therefore clearly intends to pitch the MG3 as an affordable and aspirational B-segment contender but the success or otherwise of that strategy may well also depend upon several other significant factors. AROnline took the opportunity to ask Guy Jones whether the company had learned any lessons from the launch of the MG6 two years ago. Mr. Jones replied: ‘Well, not so much lessons as we always knew that the MG6 was going to be difficult for two reasons: firstly, in terms of the UK and European market, the MG6 was not the obvious model with which to relaunch the marque and, secondly, sales of petrol-engined C and D-segment models were falling – in short, we are selling the MG6 into a declining niche. However, from SAIC Motor’s perspective, the MG6 is the company’s first global product and, as the Chinese market favours D-segment cars, its high price position has enabled the company to establish MG as a desirable brand in China.
‘The MG3 has a natural fit with the MG marque – it’s small, cheeky and has a distinctive style. The B-segment is the UK’s biggest – 90 per cent are hatchbacks and 70 per cent are petrol-engined variants. We will have a great car in a big volume segment so we can target selling more cars. The MG3 will appeal to a wider demographic than the MG6 and that should help to raise awareness that MG is back more quickly than has been possible with the MG6. More Dealers need more product – the MG3 will provide that.’
However, if the MG3 is to take a significant share of the B-segment market here in the UK and, later, in Europe, MG Motor UK will need to convince not only the car’s target demographic but also some of the more critical and vocal members of the global MG community that SAIC Motor does genuinely have a long-term commitment to MG Birmingham and the European market. SAIC Motor’s additional £1.5m investment in the UK Design Centre’s facilities – as evidenced by the video above – should help MG Motor UK to make that case but AROnline was still keen to raise our readers’ concerns about SAIC Motor’s future in the UK with Guy Jones so we asked him this question: what, once and for all, are SAIC Motor’s plans for MG Birmingham and how can you address our readers’ concerns about the company’s long-term commitment to the UK and Europe?
Guy Jones responded: ‘Well, it’s good to be talked about – the fact that so many people are so passionate about the marque is one of its greatest assets. However, people have to realise that, while MG is an iconic British brand, it is now a global OEM and the UK is not the centre of MG’s global operations as it was originally. Any OEM needs to have a stable, secure business and to expand out from that base. The growth in the UK and other international markets is in its infancy and SAIC Motor has grown its own-brand business from a clean sheet to sales of nearly 250,000 units p.a. in just over five years. Additionally, SAIC Motor has already recruited and developed the people and built the factories which are essential for growth way beyond this level.
‘I totally understand the frustration of those MG enthusiasts who want to see more product in the UK, more quickly. However, as a business, we’re not prepared to risk making mistakes that might kill the brand in Europe by bringing products to the market in quicker timescales. The Business Plan we have will build MG into a globally successful OEM for the first time in its history but, even with all the resources at our disposal, this is going to take time.’
Guy Jones concluded his presentation by saying that the MG3 would be ‘fun to buy, fun to own – enjoy the MG family – and fun to drive’ – he therefore established the key criteria against which both the Automotive Industry media and the British public will measure the car. AROnline believes that the success of MG Motor UK’s plan to position the MG3 as an affordable and aspirational B-segment player here in the UK will turn on the company’s ability to deliver a product which matches that message.
Fun to Buy – The Pricing Structure
MG Motor UK has, to date, said no more than that the MG3 will start at below £10,000. However, as Guy Jones implied that potential Kia Rio and Skoda Fabia buyers would be the MG3’s main targets and an entry-level Kia Rio 5-Door starts at £9845 otr. while an entry-level Skoda Fabia starts at £9945 otr., we reckon that a competitively-equipped, entry-level MG3 needs to arrive on the showroom floors in September at an eye-catching £7995 otr. Hopefully, that would have potential B-segment buyers queuing up at MG Dealers for Test Drives… That said, even if such a competitive price turns out not to be an option for MG Motor UK, the entry-level MG3 really does need to start at less than £9000 otr. in order to carve out that affordable and aspirational B-segment niche. After all, MG Motor UK’s target customers will almost certainly need to have some cash to spare for one of the ten Graphic Packs and any other options on offer…
Fun to Own – The Dealer Network
MG Motor UK currently has a total of 29 Franchised Dealers in the UK but Guy Jones told AROnline that the company aims to increase that total to 75 covering 80 per cent of the country’s conurbations by the end of 2014. Sam Burton, MG Motor UK’s recently appointed Head of Sales and Franchise, indicated that the MG3 had been a major factor in his decision to join the company and reckoned that the new model should help him to achieve that objective. However, although some die-hard MG enthusiasts might not mind a 50 or 100 mile round trip to visit their nearest MG Dealer, AROnline doubts that can be said of the MG3’s younger target demographic and so finding the right dealerships in the right locations and with the right staff will be vital to the MG3’s success.
Fun to Drive – The Driving Experience
MG Motor UK has not, as yet, released any MG3s to the Automotive Industry media for First Drive articles and Road Tests but that will presumably happen prior to the new model’s Dealer Launch in late August/early September – definitely a case, then, of watch this space. However, as our Editor, Keith Adams, has already reported, the ‘word on the street from those who really know about the UK model’s driving and dynamics is that it’s tidy on the road’ and SMTC UK’s Director – Chassis, Andy Kitson, and his colleagues are talented individuals so the MG3 should deliver on Guy Jones’ ‘fun to drive’ promise…
A final point: the unveiling of the MG3 was staged in SMTC UK’s new Visualisation Suite and without any dry ice or flashy pyrotechnics – no smoke and mirrors, just a very rare opportunity to see inside an OEM’s Design Centre and meet the key players tasked with transforming MG into a successful and truly global business.
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