Blog : MG – more jam tomorrow…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Richard Williams, a Director of Caterham, Lotus and Morgan dealers Williams Automobiles Limited, shares his BMC>MGR history and gives his very frank prognosis of the future prospects of MG Motor UK – he also exclusively reveals an aborted plan to put the Rover 800 back into production!

Williams

The Past

My family business has been involved with MG almost from its inception. My grandfather, who started his automobile retailing business in 1911, was already a retailer for Morris products when Cecil Kimber founded MG. Quite soon, as well as Morris, Austin and Riley, MG joined the list of marques our company sold and, due to its sporting appeal, became one of the favourites.

My father always drove MGs from the badge-engineered MG Magnette when we were a young family to the MGB GT when he no longer needed to ferry the family around.

MG Magnette ZB (1)

I suppose it was only natural then that, not only did I followed in his footsteps, but I became even more involved with MG as an apprentice with the British Motor Corporation which, by then, owned MG. As well as working at the Longbridge factory, I was also seconded to the MG factory at Abingdon to build MGs. My own cars were always MGs from Midgets to Bs – I even used a B for my honeymoon.

Anyway, having started my apprenticeship with BMC, I ended it with British Leyland which turned badge-engineering into a fine art. After a year or so of travelling with no particular career in mind, I started in the family business selling the cars that British Leyland was producing and the first car launch I attended was the Allegro with its square steering wheel – at least the MGB was still in production, so I had something interesting to drive!

The following years were spent trying to sell some terrible products as the British Motor Industry fell apart. The MGB ceased production and the MG name was used on Metros and lemons like the Maestro and Montego. My father, who had been loyal to BMC, would always be told by the company’s Sales Managers that, while the cars being produced were challenging to sell as their market share collapsed, there were great cars coming and, although it was bread and water today, there would be ‘jam tomorrow’ for the retail network.

However, in the mid-1980s, I realised that there was not going to be a happy or viable business career selling the models that the, yet-again-renamed company now called Austin Rover produced so, after six decades of our company selling the MG brand, to stay in business, we had to change direction and that change was to Saab. We likened it to MG, a sporting brand producing interesting niche, high-quality drivers’ cars. We were taken to the High Court to prevent us from leaving Austin Rover but resolved the issue with an-out-of-court deal.

mg_metro_turbo_1

I thought, at the time, that was the end of my association with MG – with the exception, that was, of the MG TA which I still used daily on fine days in the summer.

Now representing a profitable brand, my company prospered and increased in size selling other niche brands in addition to Saab – at various times, the company also held franchises for Isuzu, Lotus, Mazda, Morgan, Noble, Proton, Skoda, Subaru, Suzuki and TVR.

I always followed the fortunes of what became the Rover Group closely. The takeover by BMW was a mystery to me at the time. With new investment and renewed pressure on the retail network to increase the volumes, the brands were too tarnished and the products not exciting enough to achieve a return on investment. It became obvious that BMW had to divest itself of the company and, after taking the strong brand of MINI and certain technology, the well-documented sale to the Phoenix Four took place.

At the time this was all happening, I had become convinced that, due to congestion and pollution, the future of private vehicles for large cities lay in electric and hybrid powertrains. This would be driven by government legislation and grants. My company therefore looked at the opportunity of developing one and I travelled all over China looking at any technology they were developing which might be useful in the development of electric vehicles. I was never involved with SAIC Motor but did meet with Geely and several other smaller motor companies, all of which were looking to acquire traditional car manufacturing skills and opportunities from the UK. That, in turn, led to an unexpected turn of events…

Cowley

Back in the mid-2000s, when it was becoming obvious that MG Rover could not survive in private ownership, I was approached by a Chinese consortium to try and buy the manufacturing rights and the body presses for the old Rover 800 model. That’s how, nearly 50 years after I started working in the West Works at Longbridge with thousands of other employees, I returned to the same building with a group of Chinese to view the presses and dies which had been removed from the Swindon factory and had been stored rather forlornly there. It was a strange feeling – I was also dealing with MG again…

However, as Honda part-owned the IPRs, we could not reach a satisfactory agreement and, a couple of weeks later, Nanjing Automobile acquired the MG Rover Group’s remaining assets from the company’s Administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Anyway, several months later, MG’s new Chinese owners were trying to work out a viable business plan and, because of the experience my company had in retailing niche sports cars including the Mazda MX5, I was invited back to the Longbridge factory in order to discuss pricing and marketing for the MG TF which was going to be built there. Walking down the silent production lines was a very strange feeling – half-built cars with parts waiting to be assembled lying beside the tracks but nobody there. My thoughts turned to the enormous effort in not only getting these lines rolling again but recreating a dealer network to sell the volume of cars needed to give the whole operation viability.

After a good meeting, I thought the MG TF had a potential viability as a niche sports car and decided to apply for an MG franchise. However, having seen the terms and conditions, it quickly appeared to me this was not going to be a viable option. Moreover, with Noble, TVR and, in particular, Saab all running into financial difficulties at around that time, the whole retail market was changing so my mind was focused elsewhere.

The Present

Longbridge

Longbridge

How can the remaining parts of the Longbridge factory be resurrected without an enormous investment both in money and people? CAB1, CAB2 and other buildings remain but the necessary skills have dissipated with the available workforce either retiring, finding different jobs or being absorbed by the enormous success which is Jaguar Land Rover and a relatively easy commute away.

What would be the logic of shipping either the individual parts or a KD kit from China to an import centre in Bristol and then transporting them on to Longbridge for assembly and, with the volumes needed to even start the lines, how would the current retail network achieve these volumes and what products would they do it with?

The Chinese are very certainly not stupid and are in business for the long term. I am sure that they are now realising that, in the longer term, the Longbridge factory as it now stands cannot really be a part of the future of MG unless substantial Government grants are made available. However, the recent Brexit situation must cast a very large question mark over this. Their best option is to leave the site for St. Modwen to develop. It is prime real estate now and SAIC Motor could relocate its UK operations either to the import centre or, if the company really is determined to build cars in the UK, to a site Wales where the available grants would make for a more viable business plan.

MG Motor UK is currently shipping the cars from the Chinese factory directly to Portbury Dock and then distributing them from there – that is completely logical. The existing infrastructure is already in place and there is an available workforce to customise the vehicles for the UK market. The supply tap can be easily adjusted up or down as sales dictate.

The Chinese have also been clever in exporting their home-built cars to less-developed countries that will accept a lower build quality than the much more developed European market while they continue to improve their build quality. The cars I saw in China 14 years ago were far worse than the British Leyland cars of the 1970s.

However, the current situation poses several questions for the future:

  • What does the MG brand now mean to the car buying public?
  • Is the current product quality good enough for the modern consumer?
  • What marketing is required to re-launch the brand?
  • What retail network is required and what should MG do to ensure these retailers are viable?
  • What new products are required to revitalise the brand?

Here, then, is my take on the future from a retail perspective…

Brand

What does the MG brand mean to the young consumer at whom the marketing is being targeted?

Well, not a lot. When the current thirty year olds with a young family were in their formative years the exciting cars were all hot hatches or big-engined TVRs and sporting Italian products. Back then, MGs were seen – and this includes the MGF and TF – as being for older people, so would these current consumers put an MG GS on their aspirational purchase list? I rather think not. Do the children of these purchasers think the cars are cool and would love to be seen being dropped at the school gate in one? Not a hope… so how do you sell a car to a purchaser whose kids don’t rate it? Well, very probably, with extreme difficulty…

That said, the brand still means something to the fifty-plus market and that would, in fact, appear to be the age demographic shared by many of those who have bought new MGs since the MG6 was launched back in 2011.

Marketing and Product Placement

MG Motor UK’s advertising and marketing should, perhaps, be aimed at the silver market at the moment – after all, they are the consumers who not only remember MG and but also have the disposable income to buy one and would put up with questionable quality. Maybe, a campaign with Saga would be the thing. The MG GS is a high-seated car so you do not have to bend down to get in it, it does not have the four-wheel drive which the older market does not need and it’s petrol-engined so it is much more acceptable for the lower-mileage market. However, this market is literally a dying market, so what of the future?

Product Quality and Durability

A member of AROnline’s Editorial Team recently arranged for me to examine a new MG GS in the metal and I would say that the overall build quality is just about acceptable. The shut lines are not yet perfect and the plastics used are not of the best quality and don’t smell particularly enticing. It might be acceptable for the grey market but the more discerning younger market will be more of a challenge. It will be interesting to see how the carpets and plastic trim cope with the rigours of a modern young family but, from my experience, I think the interior might look quite tatty, quite quickly. It is interesting that nearly all the leading UK-based motoring titles have given the MG GS mediocre reviews with a capital M.

Unfortunately, there is nothing on the GS to make it unique and stand out from its competitors in a fiercely-fought niche. Moreover, with the current oversupply in the market, the price will also be relatively uncompetitive if there is a glut of pre-registration on better, well-known competitors. Manufacturers also tend to forget that used examples of more expensive models are competitors for their own new products – given a choice between a new MG GS and a fairly recent Land Rover model, I know where my money would go…

The Retailers

MG Motor UK should treat all its retailers as its best customers and be thankful that they are investing their time and money in representing MG. I would surmise that, at the moment, the most successful retailers in the current network are those with their own, well-established local brand – in short, those where the customers’ trust in the dealership outweighs any preference for a particular manufacturer. I would roll the red carpet out for my retailers, incentivise them and make them feel that they are important members of an exclusive club. BMW, Saab and many other niche manufacturers were good at this in the 1970s and 1980s but it seems to be forgotten now with retailers being perceived as being just a conduit to stuff more products into.

So What of the Future?

mg_gs_29

MG’s UK model range currently consists of just two models: the MG3 and the MG GS – that does not provide a great platform for the future and, if I were a retailer, would I put my time, effort and money into the brand? I think it’s a question every retailer should ask themselves. Another key question is this: what new products are coming and will they be competitive enough to excite the market place and carve a profitable niche not only for MG but for the retail network as well?

Sadly, based on the evidence to date, I really do not think that MG has a chance in the UK and, with the declining (hopefully temporarily) value of Sterling, I could see MG following the likes of Daihatsu, Proton and several other marques which have disappeared from the UK market.

However, SAIC Motor is a massive company with substantial resources so how about investing in niche vehicles that will suddenly become mainstream and perhaps catch the current traditional car manufacturers out? In a few years, the cities will be full of funky, well-thought out and designed electric or hybrid vehicles. They will come from new entrants to the market such as Apple, Google, Tesla and, if the rumours are correct, Dyson and the current car manufacturers will say “what happened?” Here’s a thought, though: if MG was one of those funky new entrants to this potentially huge Government grant-driven market then, for the retailers, it could possibly be ‘jam tomorrow’ but, until that happens, I’m afraid it will continue to be bread and water as it has been for the past 30 years.

[Editor’s Note: Richard Williams is still a Director of the company founded by his grandfather 105 years ago, Williams Automobiles Limited, and represented the smaller retailers on the National Franchised Dealers Association’s National Executive for many years. The company, which was highly commended in the Best Dealership category of the 2014 Automotive Management Awards, currently has franchises for three of the UK’s leading low-volume sports car manufacturers, Caterham, Lotus and Morgan.]

59 Comments

  1. Fabulous article and makes a refreshing change to see someone on here who actually knows the trade and can write a genuinely interesting story rather than the usual amateur ‘Arthur Daley’ tripe riddled with cheesy similes and ‘look at me, I am in the trade’ jargon.

  2. Fantastic article and kinda sums up the thoughts of many people.

    I think that Longbridge is just waiting for better days, not for car production, but to disappear completely and BE sold of for development. 11 years is far too long to start again, specially when the world has changed quite a lot ever since. The brand’s image have been tarnished for quite sometime and the current products will take years to make an impact.

    A different approach is needed. A reborn of MG is needed. In the UK, the of image BL brands have suffered too much to have a chance… However, that’s not the case in the rest of Europe. They should have started to build up the marque from the European market and then bring it to the UK, not the other way round.

    To be successful in the UK, it needed a joint venture with a manufacturer which builds cars in the UK… But who could that be?

  3. That’s a great read. As usual anything that comes from Clive seems to be well written unlike the dodgy car salesman type tripe that too often appears on here. I still can’t understand why MG’s launch into Europe has been put back so much. The MG3 always strikes me as a car that would sell well there. It would be great to have a British car to send over there and show those Europeans how we do things now that we’re out.

    • Hi Charley,

      Many thanks for your kind compliment but, in this case, that’s not actually justified. The appearance of my name at the top of the article is simply down to the way in which AROnline’s content management system works when one of us uploads a story for publication.

      The article was, in fact, written by one of my Motor Trade contacts, Richard Williams – when I told him about AROnline, he very kindly offered to write the above Blog and my involvement amounted to no more than a little sub-editing…

      • Thanks for the clarification Clive. I think Richard should contribute a little more. The real trade insider knowledge is very interesting. And he writes well too! It would be interesting to know how he rates the MG6.

  4. I enjoyed Mr Williams’ article about his dealings with the former BL/Rover Group and the problems facing the new MG company.

    In my opinion he should look to how Hyundai/Kia started off in the UK rather than how Daihatsu/Proton have exited the market. When Hyundai entered the UK market with the Pony and later the bigger Stellar sales were not great but the company persisted and, nearly forty years later, Hyundai is an established marque world wide – same with Kia, the Mazda-designed and Ford-badged Pride was hardly an exciting product but it was well built keenly priced and very reliable. KIA UK carried on eventually bringing out the Mentor and Sportage which started extending the range and scope of the product range.

    To use the example of Daihatsu leaving the UK market was nothing to do with falling sales, but that Toyota who are the owners of company restricted the marque to Japan only consolidating the closing of both the Australian and US sales of Daihatsu in the early 1980s.

    Proton, on the other hand, imploded after its launch in the UK with a massive advertising campaign plus a ready-made dealer network by piggybacking on to the Lada sales operation. After a while the team that was responsible for the brand’s initial success left the company and promotion of the range gradually disappeared and sales plummeted. Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, Proton ran into problems going through partnerships with Mitsubishi, Renault and Honda to the present day where it’s producing a range of its own designs and licence-built Mitsubishi Lancers, which is what it was building when the company was started in the 1980s.

    So I think SAIC will persevere with MG for, unlike other Chinese manufacturers such as Geely and Great Wall, MG has some brand recognition and that the MG3, MG6 and GS are a better foundation to start selling cars in Blighty than both Hyundai and Kia all those years ago.

  5. An interesting article and coming, as it does, from someone with a wealth of trade experience worthy of paying attention to. The comment I particularly agree with is how the new GS does very little to stand out. The fact is that, due to poor RVs on MGs, the average customer could finance a car from a more mainstream marque for lower monthly payments even in spite of the 0% finance being offered on the GS. You would have to really want a MG to buy one. I think the MG3 is a more appealing proposition but, even there, MG are seemingly dumping pre-registered cars at Motorpoint at a substantial discount evincing slowing demand.

  6. Good point about Hyundai. They were going for years before they finally cracked it and gained major credibility. Perhaps MG/SAIC should be doing the same as they are.

  7. It’s interesting to hear what a former Austin Rover dealer thought of the cars he was selling and why he jumped ship to SAAB – that was a clever move in the mid-Eighties when the Maestro and Montego weren’t delivering and SAAB was an aspirational brand with an increasing market presence. (It’s an even bigger shame to me how GM let SAAB die and wrecked their previous image for quality by using sub-standard GM parts, shades of what happened to Rover). Also the comments about MG are spot on, the company is focussing too much on two models and has a very poor market presence.

    • GM never let SAAB die, far from it, they invested heavily and all they wanted in return was for them to toe the line and utilise kit that was available within the company. When SAAB ignored this for the last time, as it happens, they spent millions on a sat-nav system that was no better than the corporate one that would have cost next to nowt for them to use, by then GM was fed up with being ignored by SAAB, and them doing it their way, so they pulled out to cut their losses – if SAAB had toe’d the line they would be here today, I am sure of that.

      • Well, no GM’s investment in Saab during the company’s ownership by the General wasn’t that obvious in Europe but in the US it was positively bizarre. It’s difficult to decide who in Detroit thought that it’d be a great idea for Saab to enter the US SUV market by rebadging the Chevy Trailblazer which then morphed into the Saab 9-7X dubbed the “Trollblazer” by the US media, incredibly this ran for four model years which was rather more than the 9-2X which was a rebadged Subaru Impreza which ran for one whole model year before biting the dust.

        You would have thought that GM would have twigged that a large part of Saab’s appeal in the US was it’s “Swedishness” wouldn’t you? But, oh no, the General decided to replace the slow-selling “Trollblazer” with a brand new SUV, the 9-4X, using an existing GM world wide platform (known in the UK as the Vauxhall Antara) and built alongside the Cadillac SRX in a new production line in Mexico – fortunately this was abandoned after pilot production had started due to GM’s bankruptcy and the decision to sell the Saab business.

        Another US Saab worthy of note was the 9-6X which actually preceded the 9-4X, this was another joint project with Subaru which was based on the B9 Tribeca SUV/MPV – these were to be built at the Subaru Of America’s plant in Indiana but this hit the buffers when GM sold its stake in Subaru’s parent Fuji Industries. So where GM invested its money in Saab is a bit of a mystery – it certainly wasn’t in Sweden and why GM squandered the company’s reputation with these sub-standard products is very questionable.

        • Saab were totally screweed over by GM. One of the worst mistakes was forcing Saab to use the already inadequate Vectra Mk1 chassis under the 9-5 (a much larger car then the Vectra), which resulted in a poorly handling car with numerous quality problems relating to the GM parts. I know because I owned a 9-5 for several years. Ditto, the 9-3 was badge engineering at its worst, with the awful GM/Fiat diesel engine and a lot of poor quality GM sourced parts. The 9-3 was more of a Vectra Mk2 than a Saab.

          The horrid 9-7X and 9-2X were seen for what they were, the last throw of the dice – the 9-7 was particularly grim. None of these products had any real Saab values or engineering input and were simply a cynical marketing ploy by the ailing GM.

          I feel that Saab could have been a major player like Volvo given suitable support from GM. The Saab I owned suffered from a sloppy suspension, prone to understeer, a dodgy AnsinWarner gearbox that was under specified for the torque of the engine and an underdeveloped Isuzu V6 diesel which was prone to dropping the no.6 wet liner and writing the engine off.

          The Saab bits were, however, fantastic, from the best auto windscreen wipers I’ve ever had, the most comfortable seats ever and a logical interior to the overall build quality of the bodyshell.

          • It’s interesting to compare how GM treated Saab to how Ford dealt with Volvo – when Ford dissolved the Premier Automotive division at least they had a decent product range to sell to the new owners, Geely.

          • Ford’s treatment of Jaguar comes to mind – the S-Type and X-Type, although good cars, were Ford’s idea of a Jaguar not what the world wanted.

            My brother has run a late 9-3 for a few years now and it is not exactly a great car – problems with the turbo on his diesel have caused numerous financial headaches. Touch wood my S60 has been a joy to be hold – though Ford’s ugly treatment of the replacement car shows they may have damaged Volvo eventually. Luckily, Geely seem to have reinstated the understated, smart look that Volvo have had since the 1990s.

  8. I wonder who was behind the Chinese consortium wanting the Rover 800 tools – Yema? It seems odd that Nanjing would be working out a business plan several months AFTER buying the MGR assets although it helps to explain why things dragged on so long and so slowly.

    Moving to Bristol might make some sense but it depends if SAIC want to retain an engineering presence in the UK as well as manufacturing – the former would be much harder to shift. IMO Brexit and the Thai plant has put a bigger question mark over Longbridge’s manufacturing future – shame JLR couldn’t be persuaded to take it over if Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Halewood are bursting at the seams with an engine plant now just up the road…

    I don’t think the silver market would put up with questionable quality, especially now so many have found how well Korean and Japanese brands are screwed together in the absence of MGR product.

    Daihatsu was pulled from the UK market due to poor Yen/£sterling exchange rates but I still don’t understand why they didn’t just shift to lower-cost, RHD cars built in Malaysia (Perodua) and Indonesia. Toyota probably needs a tertiary brand (in addition to Lexus) so I could still see it making a comeback.

    • Like with the Proton, Perodua started off with the Nippa and then introduced several other models such as the Kenari MPV and Kelisa mini car. However, unlike Proton, which was part of the Malaysian Government’s plan to industrialise the country with an indigenous car industry, Perodua were from day one purely an assembly plant for Daihatsu products and their cars differed largely in having a Perodua badge on the cars.

      To be fair to Proton, the Malaysian Government had seen what had happened in South Korea, how Hyundai Motors had really started to get going when they joined up with Mitsubishi Motors who provided the technology to create the Pony and allowed the licence building of other Mitsubishi cars as well.

      However, whereas Proton has shrunken by retreating from export markets, Perodua has outstripped them and are the largest manufacturer in Malaysia. That said, Perodua never really got started in the UK – there wasn’t a massive advertising fanfare and the sales network was never fully developed, but they were decent little cars. I test drove the Nippa, Kenari and Myvi and they were good value, well built and not bad to drive at all.

      • Really? The Perodua Nippa and Kenari were two of the worst cars I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit in. I’d rather have an Allegro than any UK-sold Perodua.

  9. Proton was a popular brand in the Nineties and early Noughties, producing cast off Mitsubishi designs aimed at buyers who bought Ladas, but with more modern technology and excellent reliability. However, they tried to jump ahead of the game with their own designs like the GEN 2, which were too crude and poor to drive for a market which was migrating to Korean cars, and Proton faded away.

    • About 15 years ago the Proton Saga (aka MPi) was everywhere – haven’t seen one in years, did they all succumb to the Scrappage?

      Indeed, they tried to replace the Lancer-based Wira (aka Persona, a car which was strangely fun to drive with its 1.5 engine) with the ‘Impian’ based on the old Carisma/Volvo S40. Unfortunately, while well equipped and fettled by Lotus, it seems as rare as the MG6, came along when people where moving to SUVs and MPVs and away from cheap saloon cars – the Wira at least had a practical hatchback.

      • I’ve not seen one of the original Protons around but there’s still quite a few Gen-2s Satrias, Savvys and Wiras trundling around Minehead – there’s even a Gen-2 used as a taxi here as well. There’s also an Impian, Proton’s biggest offering, that still is in quite good condition after being on the road for over ten years so, although Proton may not have had a premium image, the company’s products were certainly durable.

        • Absolutely, their mechanicals on models up to the Impian are Mitsubishi-based, so tried and tested.

          Might be an uneconomical repair, given the depreciation of the models, that ends up killing them off?

          Having a quick nosey at their website reveals that not only are they still alive – amazingly – but that they also have a range of 3 cars (plus an LPG variant), one of which (Gen 2) is that unicorn of the new car market – a small saloon! Their dealer locator, which is stuck in the early 2000s before Google maps integration was heard of, reports that the nearest dealer is literally a residential backstreet car sales.

          I would imagine the likes of Dacia would kill off their small car range, and their lack of a crossover model means that they can’t compete in the biggest growing segment.

          They do sell a rebadged Accord in their domestic market, as the Perdana, which would’ve been nice to see given that Honda has given up on that market. However, cheap big saloons would never sell here.

          Seems they tested their “Suprima” mid-size car in the UK a couple of years ago, but nothing came of it. Perhaps the failure of the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer gave them cold feet?

  10. My wedding car was my 1960 Austin Healey Sprite. The three of us (my wife, the Sprite and me) toured the west coast of Scotland for the honeymoon. I bought the car in 1984 and I have it still. My beautiful wife is still with me too.

  11. What’s this about all MGs coming through Bristol docks and getting prepared there? I thought all new MGs went through Longbridge and that the stories about Longbridge production ceasing was a nasty and vicious rumour?

    • You thought wrong. As long as MG publish stuff like this on their website then people will cling on to the idea of the cars being in some way built here:

      “all MGs are designed, engineered and final assembly in the UK offices in Birmingham.”

      Even though the 6 has gone EOL, the GS is shipped straight here and folk have taken pics of the 3 arriving fully assembled.

      It really would be better if Longbridge was redeveloped for badly needed housing. However, even that is not so simple as parts of the estate grounds are contaminated from years of manufacturing on the site.

      • Elsewhere line workers and even Matthew Cheyne have been clear that production is still ongoing at Longbridge and that the rumors are unfounded. Are they lying?

          • There is no production at Longbridge, and there hasn’t been any since the last of the 6s was finished off last year. The GS and 3 both come in from China fully assembled.

            The used-to-be line workers who post on forums etc. are monitored by the bosses at Longbridge and have to keep on script or face the door…

  12. I bought my wife a Perodua Nippa for her 50th birthday. It was indeed a decent little car, but she traded it in against a Mercedes A-Class and was allowed over three times what I paid for it! She then went on to divorce me.

    I’m not sure what the moral of the story is there, but I do know that I am very happy with the MG3 I bought as soon as we separated. The brand still generates interest but needs a proper UK assembly operation and a car to justify that investment. Hopefully, the forthcoming Juke rival will generate sufficient sales.

  13. Lots of food for thought in Richard Williams’ blog. SAIC/MG would be wise to read it and take on board his observations. As he says, to many of the potential younger buyers, MG is a historic brand that they are not really interested in. It’s the older ones (like me) who knew MG from all those years ago and actually owned one or two.

    I would have loved to buy a new MG but the lacklustre marketing of MG UK and the stories on AROnline have begged caution. As I have said before, I have yet to see a real MG3 on the roads.

    • I see quite a few MG3s as the local dealers seem to do a half-decent job at marketing them where MG themselves haven’t – especially as they are family-run, small town ex-Rover dealers.

      Thing is though, that the drivers I’ve seen are usually elderly. Maybe trading in an old 25? One of them is ex-Citroen, maybe trading in a C3? I feel that SAIC missed a trick by not using the Austin or Morris name for variants with softer suspension and more comfortable seating – rebadged Roewes for the non-sporting market. Perhaps even ‘retro’ colour schemes – duck egg blue/grey and beige/’champagne’ seem to be making a comeback.

      Same with the GS, a lot of crossovers such as Qashqai sell to the elderly as they appreciate that they are easy to get in and out of, have higher visibility and have a reasonable amount of space in a smaller footprint than a traditional ‘big car’.

      This is not meant to be ageism in any way, quite the respectful opposite, there is a market for those who want a pension-pot-cash new car, especially a group of people who may not wish to haggle hard, and who wish to drive a UK nameplate.

      • The amount of budget given to market MG is pathetic. You can hardly expect SAIC to suddenly spend a penny more relaunching a defunct brand name that has less positive recall than MG.

    • What was the question?

      A bastion of evolutionary design (though if there had been a gap betwen the small mk1 and the latest model with the huge C pillar there would be a MINI vs Mini style uproar…) that trades off a 1970s premise of reliability (which was originally through mechanical simplicity) that writes a cheque that modern complex diesel engines can no longer cash.

      In many ways beaten at its own game by its sister models – for space and price the Octavia, for sporty looks the Leon, for premium badging the A3.

      • True Will, but doesn’t it strike you that that car buyers are prepared to shell out thousands more pounds or euros for an Audi which is largely the same product as a Skoda? It rather says something that buyers swallow the advertising, branding and marketing bullshit of VAG hook, line and sinker to be relieved of their cash.

  14. It’s interesting to hear from someone who isn’t a full on rose-tinted Licker for a change. Also refreshing to hear from someone who hasn’t got one eye on their next free loan car…

    Anyway, it’s nothing that hasn’t been discussed and agreed on repeatedly in other areas. Poor cars, terrible company defended by deluded and strange owners and employees who have been ordered to toe the company line or face the consequences. Apparently posting on a certain site is a disciplinary offence at MG…

  15. Really the problem for the GS is it’s entry-level price – it’s far too expensive. The price of the entry-level Explore at £14,995 is ludicrous when compared to the entry-level SsangYong Tivoli at £12,950 and the much more established Suzuki SX4 Cross and Vitara starting at £13,995 and nor does the GS offer a diesel or 4WD option. So how the hell are you going to sell it at this price?

    Surely, a more sensible entry point would be £11,995 for the Explore and maybe £15,995 for the Exclusive – reducing the sticker prices on the cars is the only way that you’ll get customers through the doors.

    • The base GS has a very stingy spec. No remote control locking, no bluetooth and it’s only available in flat white or flat black. I think they only have it so they can have a low headline price for the car and the range starts at a de facto £17,495.

  16. The closing paragraphs of this excellent text regarding electric town vehicles is not new to SAIC. Having visited Shanghai and neighbouring cities late last year, we parked right next to a brand new Black Roewe 550 hybrid. Very nice!

    The number of Roewe cars is substantial and, talking to a 30s male professional, Roewe is seen as a mid-market brand, but MG is much better regarded. At the same time, the new Rowe 360 sedan was being launched to replace the 350, and the 360 was most respectable in terms of style and build. Therefore with the Roewe 750 (MG7), 550, (MG5), plus of course the MG6 and GS they have a good model line up in China.

    The UK seems a very poor third-class market and, by comparison, we are not even getting off the starting blocks. I regret I see little future for MG which is hard for me to say as a serial MG owner. I get the impression that MG UK is very much dictated to by the parents with little or no care or sentiment about the UK market. Yes, they have a UK Design Team, but I don’t think this is exactly core to an introvert Chinese operation, more of a nicety to claim heritage – for now anyway…

    Look at Tata, and what has happened for JLR product (when the well-funded and brilliant UK operation is left more to their own devices) – the world is their oyster.

  17. Getting a bit bored with all this MG bashing. Are things perfect? No, of course not, but they are slowly going forward. There have been scoop pictures of 3 new different MGs (2 new SUVs and a MG7?)in recent weeks with a new front end (grille looks a bit Jag-like) and sales are slowly on the up and still the masses complain about everything.

    Hard plastics, soft plastics, boot space, finish lines, paint jobs, colour choices and blah blah blah.Some of the reviews I have read (I live abroad and have read a fair bit)) seem to have a different set of rules about MGs. It just seems that the masses will not be happy until MG and Longbridge are dead and gone. Sales are on the up and the new models and engines are on the way.

    • I was reading today’s issue of Auto Express with its GS/Kadjar/Qashqui comparison and which, predictably, marked the GS down against its Nissan and Renault competitors.

      What annoyed me was the review was not like for like, pitching an automatic GS Exclusive against an entry-level Quashqai and the second from bottom Kadjar Dynamique – neither of these cars can touch the MG for equipment levels and a much fairer comparison would wave been with the mid-range Excite manual model.

      But call me cynical in the same issue of Auto Express had near-thirty page article marking twenty-five years of the Renualt Clio – an anniversary celebration which, I’m sure, has gone unnoticed by the great majority of motorists in the UK.

      • Doesn’t this just prove the point though? A higher-spec MG GS is rated less desirable than a lower-spec Nissan or Renault. There’s far more to it than equipment levels.

    • While MG moves slowly forward, the rest of the industry runs even further away into the distance. In the past, the Octagon had some credibility. It has absolutely nil now. SAIC has little interest in the UK market and, if you think otherwise, you are seriously deluding yourself.

      • It occurred to me today that both SAIC and MGR (as was) have a relatively long history of car building and may even consider themselves that the cars they build today are better than anything they have built before – the problem is that they maybe don’t realise how much further ahead their competitors are – certainly in my time at Rover there was little apparent interest in competitor vehicles – they (employee owned vehicles) were not allowed on site at Longbridge whereas it would have made much more sense to “borrow” them for a long hard look! OK, there was competitor stripdown at Canley but I think a lot more could have been learned/disseminated internally

  18. A great article…

    I’d take issue, though, with the statement that British Leyland made badge-engineering into a fine art. BMC were the kings of badge engineering but, by the time Tony Benn had created the monster that was BL, most of the badge-engineered models were on their way out. Badge engineering under BL was effectively the 18-22 Series which only lasted about a year in 1975. I cannot really think of any other models as even the Landcrabs were a BMC-era design.

  19. @ Nige, Riley was the first casualty as its version of the ADO 16 competed head on with the Wolseley and its contribution to British Leyland’s sales was almost nil. Wolseley itself was scrapped five years later when Princess was created as an individual brand. Also separate Austin and Morris dealerships had been merged by 1975.

  20. One very nice badge-engineered car, which stood head and shoulders above the other ADO16 variants, was the Vanden Plas 1300, specially built at their Kingsbury works and featuring a wood and leather interior that no other small car could match. Apart from the comfortable ride, the 1300 was no slouch, being capable of 95 mph and being blessed with the ADO16’s excellent handling. I do think a feature is due on this excellent small car.

    • Glenn, there is quite a bit out there on the Vanden Plas – but you are right that we are missing some bits on the particular development and production of the car. However, you may want to start reading here:
      Drive Story and Car of the Month 2/2006.

      The badge-engineering on the ADO16 worked well indeed, but one key for this was the excellence of the base product. Try to imagine a small Farina-based VP by the late ’60s…

    • @ Glenn
      I, too, was a fan of the VP 1300 – my father had a succession of them in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The manual versions had twin SUs and 65bhp, alas they were only good for about 90mph. As a teenager I tried to make them go quicker but to no avail.

      The Riley Kestrel and the last of the MG 1300s (2-door only) produced 70bhp and were probably good for 95mph, weighing a good deal less than the VDP. The Kestrel and the MG were replaced by the Austin/Morris 1300GT with 70bhp tune. The Wolseley 1300 65bhp soldered on until 1973.

      I have just looked up ADO16 production figures – for the years they were sold side by side, the Kestrel consistently out sold the VDP. Surprised me, too.

  21. Firstly, can I congratulate Richard Williams on an excellent blog. We need more of this.

    His experiences mirror the experiences of the boss at the BL dealership where I worked for a couple of decades. We took over the running of an Austin dealer in 1971. By 1984 we knew it was all over for ARG and, to add margin and appeal to our stock, we started specialising in SAAB – although we couldn’t get a franchise. This was taken care of by some very good outfits, so we couldn’t complain. Fortunately, we had an agreement with BCA when it came to a good stock of SAABs.

    We stuck with Rover as it was latterly called until the BMW era and, again, we settled out of court when we went our separate ways.

    We were invited back to Longbridge in 2004 with a view to taking MG and Tata franchises on. We bought a transporter load of City Rovers and that went well. However, as we know, Phoenix then drove Longbridge into the wall.

    We then looked at taking on a NAC Franchise but, as stated by Mr Williams, we thought the T&Cs to be too severe for what was being offered. Our contacts within Longbridge agreed and confirmed SAIC looked to be taking over shortly anyway, so we declined to pursue the franchise further.

    To date, we have watched one dealership turn down the franchise and two separate companies take on the MG franchise only to then relinquish it in our territory. That suggests both cars and importers are pretty hopeless – this, and the fact we hit a hard recession in 2007, suggest we were right to cease the intent to take on a MG franchise.

    I really cannot see any viability for the current MG situation. The only way MG is going to get first-class retail franchises out there is to start their own. There is no business case for them to compete with any marque in the western world.

    Finally, this is the first time I’ve heard about the potential purchase of the 800-line. Could you imagine the horrors behind a Chinese-built 800 Series? Even Rover, after 13 years of trying (with the assistance of Honda), couldn’t get that thing right. Furthermore, in the the last 3 years of its life they couldn’t sell it either. It was, speaking as a new car salesman for Rover, a joke.

  22. I can recall several local Austin Rover dealers switching to other makes in the eighties as market share was falling and they were making less money each year. One dealer who switched, TBH Motors( now B and H Motors), saw potential with SEAT in the late eighties as a budget brand and when the company was taken over by Volkswagen, began to really prosper, abandoning their elderly showroom and filling station for a much larger facility as sales were rising constantly. Also Walkingshaws abandoned Austin Rover for Volkswagen in 1984 and became so successful they could afford to build a new plate glass showroom and now sell Kias alongside Volkswagen.

  23. Much as it pains me to say, I think MG as a name is effectively dead now outside Britain and China- it’s been too long since any have been sold, and the iconic MGB and MGA models are so rarely seen on the road anymore that the whole marque is fading from collective memory.
    The Mazda MX5 seems to occupy its niche in the market, and for a relaunched MG to compete their cars are going to have to be extremely good to compete!

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