Blog : MG – is it ready for prime time?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Richard Truett

MG3

Not long ago, in this very space, I put forth the proposition that MG’s current lineup would fail in the United States. I said these modern MGs don’t look British and, because they were not sports cars, few Americans would want one.

Let me amend that…

Thanks to Keith Adams, I spent time in an MG3 driving in and around the Longbridge and Birmingham areas. Adams arrived at my hotel in a light blue MG3 press car with 12,000 miles on the clock. I prepared to have all of my suspicions confirmed, that like all other Chinese-made cars I have seen there would be embarrassing issues with the fit and finish, that the engine would be rude, unruly and unwilling. This was not so.

Now that I have seen the MG3 in the metal and have been in one, I understand what the problem is: me. When it comes to MG, time, in an automotive sense, stopped for Americans in 1980 when the last special edition MGBs came to the United States.

There were no more MGs after that for us. No Metros, Maestros and Montegos from the ARG era and none of the Honda-based cars that came later. Most Americans don’t even know those cars exist. The only modern MG that is widely known in the USA – outside of the MG faithful – is the MGF.

Now that I have experienced the MG3, here’s my revised view of the car and MG’s prospects for launching its new lineup in the USA.

The car I was in is every bit as good as the entry level Hyundai and Kia cars already on sale in the USA. The fit and finish of the MG3 is generally excellent. The paint is smooth, the trim is well attached and the build quality shows that the MG3 is as good and probably better than some of its rivals.

The engine, though not overpowering, is smooth, quiet and refined. It sends the power to the wheels efficiently and seems to love being driven quickly.

The steering, brakes and suspension are nicely calibrated, though not particularly sporting.

And that’s where I got it wrong in my earlier assessment of MG’s prospects for the US. I thought any car wearing the MG badge must have sporting pretensions. But that’s not what the new MG is all about. MG, I learned today, has been recast into an entry-level brand for young, probably first-time buyers on a limited budget.

Now, viewed that way, how is the MG3? I’d say it is outstanding. I see it as delivering excellent value for money, with better than average styling and a nice level of equipment. So, could MG come back into the US with its current lineup and be successful?

I would say yes, but with caveats.

The US market is toughest there is. It’s fraught with land mines, legal, logistical and otherwise that can cost a company tens of millions of dollars when things go wrong. But get it right, and the rewards are many.

MG’s Chinese masters need to study every import brand that has failed in the United States since 1991 — Sterling, Peugeot, Daewoo, Daihatsu, Suzuki, Saab, etc. and make sure the same mistakes are not repeated. That means, above all, quality and reliability have to be up to world-class standards and that, when service is needed, spares have to be available immediately. Most American cities do not have mass transit and a car is the only way most Americans have to get to work. A broken down car that can’t be fixed quickly is surest way to fail in the USA.

In the earlier blog, I said the new MGs didn’t fit the image most Americans have of the brand. I no longer think that is a problem. Likely, no one who bought an MG in the 1970s or 1980s would be customers for the new generation of MGs. We’re at least three generations down the road from the last MGs sold in the USA. Now, it’s blank slate for MG in terms of image, so properly positioning the brand for young, value-driven buyers — not appealing to old retro-geezers like me — is the way to go.

Perhaps the most important thing for MG to consider about the USA is the dealer network – that needs to be consistent from city to city and there would need to be about 500 dealers onboard for the brand to be viable. Too bad MG are not ready to return to the States right now. Last year, Suzuki ended car sales in the USA. The Suzuki dealer network would be perfect for the new MGs.

I see an opening in the US market for MG in the coming years. Hyundai and Kia are moving upmarket, leaving a gaping hole for buyers of new cars with about $10,000 to $15,000 to spend. Mitsubishi just launched the horrid Mirage which is doomed to fail. Toyota and Nissan sell cheap cars in the USA and they are exactly that: cheap. They may not breakdown, but they are stripped cars most people do not want to drive.

Let me end with a few more words on the MG3 – it taught me (once again) to leave my biases at the kerb. It was nothing like I’d imagined it to be. We’ve seen Chinese cars in the USA at the big Detroit Auto Show almost every year this century. All were laughable in some way, with weird interior smells that reminded one of a toxic chemical dump, poor fitting panels, or comically worded warning stickers. All that stuff showed the Chinese didn’t have a clue about doing business in the west. There is none of that present in the MG3. It’s a quality job.

SAIC Motor are to be commended for recasting MG. From what I’ve seen, they’ve done a credible job. I’m a little sad that MG doesn’t make sports cars anymore but the ‘3 showed it’s time for me to move on from that now.

The world has changed and MG has changed with it.

MG3 in Shanghai

Richard Truett is a true British car enthusiast, having owned a string of Triumphs. He works for Automotive News and is also AROnline’s US Editor.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

45 Comments

  1. The impression we get in Europe of the american car market, is not that it is demanding, but the opposite. If you compare a car sold in Europe with its US equivalent The European model has a higher spec, better quality materials and better quality all round.

    The stereotype US car is interior plastics from a wheely bin, lots of cup holders, three million warning stickers and handling like a dumper truck.

    I suspect MG would find the US tough, because as you say, everyone would expect a new mgb.

  2. Interesting perspective. If you look at the reaction that most of the UK media have given to the MG3, it is not highly negative but generally complimentary. Yes, there are some less well received elements (such as gripes about the engine, in most reviews) but generally speaking, the car is (rightly) well regarded. Where I differ is buying in to the idea that MG has to be recast as some kind of budget brand and the sportiness should be cast into the wilderness. I think that would be a strange way to maximise the potential of a brand that, if it known at all, is for the sports cars that run throughout most of its history. Hondas, Toyotas, BMWs, Mercedes and Mazdas have built a fairly loyal customer base on the back of an expectation and a promise that the products faithfully deliver. Heritage is the one thing that MG has and can tap into, if it chooses to. The Chinese market already sees MG as intrinsically ‘British’ and to give this credibility, I’d argue that this is still a work in progress. In terms of US sales, I’d like to ask the question: who would buy a small hatchback with an MG badge on it, over say a Hyundai or a Kia? Does that ‘Britishness’ have much resonance to a potential North American audience – as, for example, MINI and Jaguar do? Launching a new brand in a market as vast as the United States isn’t going to be easy; best that the owners hold and use the best cards in their hand.

  3. The US? Let’s actually start selling the things everywhere else first! If the US is the hardest market to conquer then they have no chance, they can’t even get their act together here let alone in the US!!

  4. Richard,
    The Honda based ARG car the US got was the Sterling 825 (Rover 800). That went down like a lead balloon…
    Nice to read a positive write-up, but I think I’ll stick to my leaky Triumphs until I can afford a Jaaaaaaaaaaaag. 😉

  5. My US built Honda was one of the best cars I’ve owned, well equipped, comfortable and reliable (other than the German main relay…).

    EU market cars have overly stiff suspension and are generally more expensive new than their US counterparts.

  6. WOW, it seems as though nothing is liked in the US, based on that report, weird considering that Toyota and Nissan both took #1 spots for sales last year in the US, Toyota for all sales and Nissan for retail.

    The “horrid” Mirage is far from horrid, it is a car that does exactly what it says, goes, stops, has comfort and no pretentious notions of grandeur.

    MG, will do well, but not yet, not until they have a full range of cars, SUV’s and so on, as well as a range of engines and gearboxes, I liked the MG3 I had on test, it was good, the engine noise was not, as was the raucous wind noise around the over sized wing mirrors, but a slight redesign of those should change that.

    I just wish that we in the UK can get the autobox, and better engines that are available in China, they have given no decent reason for not doing so, apart from “we have no plans to have an auto or other engine range for the forseeable future”, until they do that and have some really good eco engines, they will not do any better than they are already, which is better than last year.

    GO MG, you can do it, you will do it, and in time, you will be where Hyundai and Kia are now, but dont forget that choice is where it is at.

  7. What Car only gives it two stars…

    For: The Mitsubishi Mirage is available with a pretty strong 1.2-litre petrol engine and every version emits less than 100g/km of CO2. Safety kit is comprehensive.

    Against: There’s loads of wind noise and many rivals are better to drive. The interior feels cheap, there’s limited adjustment for the driver and Mitsubishi has a disappointing customer satisfaction record.

    Hatchback 1.0 70 MIVEC 1 5dr £9,054 TBA
    Hatchback 1.2 79 MIVEC 2 5dr £11,054
    Hatchback 1.2 79 MIVEC 3 5dr £12,054

    What Car? says 2 stars
    ‘The Mitsubishi Mirage is hard to recommend when the competition is as strong as it is’.

  8. Good to see Richard adjusting his preconceptions of the new MG’s by spending some time in one. Fair play to him.

    There are a few folk that live a damn sight closer to Birmingham than Richard does who have spouted their venom WITHOUT experiencing the cars…..

  9. @2 “If you look at the reaction that most of the UK media have given to the MG3, it is not highly negative but generally complimentary.”

    Has the MG3 got more than a “3 star” review from any major magazine or broadsheet? A quick google shows that What Car, Top Gear, Autocar, Auto Express, The Telegraph and The Guardian all give it a 3/5 verdict. Not exactly rave reviews.

  10. @9 I stick with what I said. If you read what these magazines have mostly said, none of them are sniffily dismissive of the MG3 even if, on the other hand, they admittedly do not burst into paroxysms of pleasure. I doubt that many in their wildest dreams would really expect any of the mainstream testers would be likely to give the MG3 five stars; three stars is pretty good.

  11. In the USA.

    Hatchback = Economy car, not something drivers aspire to.

    Mini and Fiat 500 are hatchbacks but are more of a fashionista’s choice. Mini only has the more expensive Coopers, however Fiat does have Basemodels.

    Suzuki had really crap dealers for the most part, gravel lots with mobile sheds in the low rent areas. Like Mitsubishi they fed on the sub-prime finance borrowers.

    If Suzuki (who had a full line including an SUV and a pickup couldn’t make it) MG has no way of supporting a full US dealer network.

  12. Well at least you can say it hasn’t got Lucas electrics and nice detail touches like an MG badge in each headlight. “Hey Homer it’s even got an iddy biddy lil MG badge in the lights”.
    I think there is still a bit of the not made here syndrome in the US which makes it harder to sell into that market. When I have been there on holiday, the rental cars I had were pretty crap and slow. Got their Mondeo equivalent once, it looked like a European Mondeo, but when you got in and drove it, it was like an old European model being built under licence, strange.

  13. I actually like the Mirage (and I’m an American). My only wish is that it would come with a smaller engine (1.0 liter would be perfect) and taller gearing. I see it as a modern day version of my current, 30,000 mile a year daily driver- a 3 cylinder/ 5 speed 55hp 1991 Geo Metro (Suzuki Swift) with a taller geared 4 cylinder transmission swapped in. My only real gripes are that it comes standard with a radio and you can’t order it without the power steering or as a 3 door. Oh, and it’s a Mitsubishi, which means it’s reliability may be suspect. However, if I were in the mood for a car requiring a payment plan, it would top my list as it’s fuel economy and turning circle can’t be beat for the price. Now if only it could be had for less than $10,000…

  14. If the MG3 had a 4 ringed or blue-white propeller badge, the media would be all over it.

    MG needs to look to the Germans – branding is all marketing, great reviews are down to advertising budgets not the product.

  15. Americans like to enjoy UK cars that are upmarket or quirkily British. (Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover Mini ,Aston Martin, Morgan). This car, although a nice little car is neither. Its also not made in the UK (although it is mainly designed and engineered here),so pushing it as British wouldn’t work unless its made in the UK. The US Market is very very tough to enter. Big established manufacturers such as Renault and Peugeot have struggled with this. MG wont be ready any time soon until SAIC wake up to reality.
    US memories of MG are from a maturer generation who remember the B and Midget and who loved the MG roadster quirkiness. MG is or was a sporting brand. Being so simplistic and saying “The world has changed and MG has changed with it”.Is a plain naive statement to make. This sounds exactly like SAIC trying to justify why they are making cars they want to make rather than what a marketable MG should be to sell in the West. Pushing MG as a competitor to Hyundai and Kia in the US when it hasn’t even worked in the UK would be asking far too much of this little car with an MG Sticker. There is simply too much explaining of why it is what it is for the US market. So thank goodness they recognise they’re not ready. SAIC need to find its true footings before any talk of the US.

  16. Come of it Keith, £9k is not a lot for a car in that class, and you can get decent discounts of that, YES I have driven it, three times, like I said, it ” it is a car that does exactly what it says, goes, stops, has comfort and no pretentious notions of grandeur”, I never said it was class leader, or best at everything, I said it does what it is supposed to do, it does not look to bad either compared to some other less than pretty cars in the class.

  17. @bartelbe re: 1.

    The Americans set very high standards for cars. It’s just that the criteria of excellence are different. Like Richard Truett said, reliability and servicability are paramount, because most people don’t have alternative transport. We may laugh at the styling and finish of interiors, but you have to remember that a given size of car is MUCH cheaper in the USA. We expect a car of a certain size to be luxurious. In the USA, big cars are cheap. The typical size is coming down as the cost of fuel rises, but cars as small as the MG3 are rare. The Mini has been successful as a fashion item. A young woman who works for me over there was lent a Fiat 500 while her car was being repaired. To my surprise,(the 500 is obviously marketed at young women), she hated it. She just felt unsafe in such a small car!

  18. I thought Small cars in the US were quite well received, Ford has the Fiesta, Chevy the Spark and Sonic, as well as the MINI and FIAT 500, just a few cars that do sell well in the US.

    MG wont make it there yet, but they will, it just takes time, quality, reliability and patience, once they have all three in the bag, and a nice two seater the Americans will come calling.

  19. @16,

    You could have an ordinary car, or you could have a BMW.

    No thanks, I will take an Astra or Focus, has the room the toys and will drive in the snow and ice.

  20. Even if SAIC-MG produced a super-competitive line of cars tailored to the US market, they’d still be dead in the water. Having attended some conferences in the US last year I was shocked just how blatantly hostile the average US chap is towards any Chinese produced industrial product (and I’m talking well-educated, well-paid academics here- not foaming-at-the-mouth republican racists). They make the MG detractors on this website sound like UN peace envoys…

  21. @Bill

    And yet every US corporation seems to order boxes and boxes of Lenovo Thinkpads for their customers off the back of the IBM days.

    Surely MG would be the same, sold with a British name living off the old days.

  22. @26 so they’ll clearly need the right products as well as marketing effort.

    @24 don’t hold back Keith, say it like it is…

  23. with the potential problems with American ali Japan and he sea around those islands. I cannot sea the yanks buying them ,

  24. To the gentleman who said Toyota was #1 and Nissan #2 in US sales, take a quick look at:

    http://www.goodcarbadcar.net

    It will disabuse him of his wild guesses. It’s a Canadian website that lists sales in the US and Canada in excruciating detail, by model, make, month and year.

    To the gentleman who said Americans won’t buy Chinese (the only real exception is Lenovo, the remaining electronics are US branded and owned): Cha-ching! You are correct. Taiwanese brands, even if made in China? Neutral.

    Honda ran out of capacity for the Fit (Jazz) last year. Canada received the Chinese made Fit. The Americans still got the Japanese ones. There is a reason why Honda did that. Work it out! Now the new model for both countries is coming from the new Mexican factory.

    The scorn that would be heaped on a Chinese company using an old bought-up British trademark as a back door way of exporting Chinese made and designed cars to the US would be wonderful to behold. Still someone has to be first under the gun. It would be fun to watch.

    Sorry, I don’t much believe the British design bit – the Chinese companies I know try to make your designs their way even when you protest. The refrain when you catch them out? “No good, our way better” – you have to deliver well-placed kicks to gain their undivided attention that you mean business. Otherwise, the inlaws down the street will be knocking out your faked design on their kitchen tables. Actually, they’ll do that anyway, Calgote toothpaste made with plasterboard dust, anyone? It’s all a bit of a game to them.

    To all the Brits wandering around in a 1970s daze that American cars are still today wallowing understeering pigs with crappy interiors, time to stop renting the fleet special cars on your next trip to the US and check out what people actually buy!

    Don’t worry, though, US ideas that Europeans motor around in miniature diesel powered crapboxes and only drive 5 or 6 thousand miles a year because, well, Europe is a tiny place, are as far off the mark in the other direction. And they think Piers Morgan is a left-wing fascist – the Americans cannot work out the difference between socialists and fascists because Nazi stands for Nationalsozialismus. Equally, I suppose British schools could be blamed for the shockingly poor spelling and pluralizations you lot evince on blogs like this. And the OED uses a z where I did, thanks for the correction you were about to make. So, is it potato’s or potatoes?

    As for the blue-sky pondering and outright day dreams this site bangs on about selling MGs in the US when SAIC is totally unprepared for selling even a few in the UK, I can only wonder what chemical they’re lacing the beer with these days.

    Really, guys, get a grip! You seem to have no critical faculties whatsoever and believe all the outright guff they feed you in an attempt to vicariously relive past glories and to project nirvana into a superbright future. How about asking these dingbat SAIC/MG people some hard questions rather than melting into a puddle of drool that some barely adequate hatchback has the MG logo glued on it.

    Are you journalists or sycophants?

  25. DOC MARTIN is on TV – a taxi pulls up Silver one – Im sure it was an MG6 but not absolutely sure – shame it wasn’t more noticeable. alex

  26. Dear me, Bill, I am sorry that someone obviously has put a lighted squib in your jaxi ! However, even in North America I suppose there will be a colorectal surgeon who can rectify matters

  27. definitely an MG6 it just about ran over the Cop after he Shot himself in the foot. Good ole British drama / comedy 🙂 alex

  28. My point was that if Americans are happy to buy Lenovo products off the back of old IBM products, then surely ‘new’ MGs off the back of ‘old’ MGs should sell?

    With Alfa Romeo making a comeback, it could be a renaissance for European brands.

  29. Oh fear Bill, you don’t sound very positive about the new MGs, its almost as if you’ve already made your mind up and missed the point of this blog completely.

  30. @34 and @36.

    Bill is mostly right, I have lived here since the 80s.

    Americans buy Chinese crap by the boatloads, but it’s throwaway items not big ticket items.

    Example:

    Sylvania used to be large famous US electronics manufacturer, now they are the cheap LCD Chinese manufactured “offbrand” that they sell in the drug store.

  31. “What about if they entered an MG6 into NASCAR, 500 dealers and a 3 car range?!”

    So convert MG6 to rear drum brakes, rear drive solid axle, pushrod V8 engine, steering box etc?

    That will sell cars in Alabama!

  32. To be honest, most race versions of road cars aren’t too similar to what we can buy, so I don’t think a NASCAR version would be any further removed from the original than the BTCC version 🙂

  33. Bill Malcolm, some folk might find your views refreshing, but to be honest your diatribes are just plain rudeness dressed up as ‘plain speaking’.

    If you want insult people, at least have the guts to go out into the street and do it to their faces, rather than resorting to keyboard bullying. I think your views would be equally well received without the need to make snide comments about peoples’ grammar and spelling, or anything else you feel merits your disrespect.

    Maybe sniffpetrol.com is a more appropriate home for your type of ‘blogging’. In fact, don’t bother, it is actually quite a pleasant site to read as it is and doesn’t need your input

  34. Can’t they just slap a few emissions controls onto the engine and sell the TF to the Americans? Can’t be that hard and they love British sports models.

  35. The new MG is just another bland offering from an industry that is bankrupt in the styling department. I wonder if it will turn out to be a future classic? It’s really no wonder that ‘retro’ is regarded to be ‘chic’ these days.

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