Blog : Why the USA isn’t yet ready for MG’s return

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Richard Truett

Rambling on at the keyboard again about all things MG…

MG6 Magnette TSE 1.9D Turbo (4)

It’s been interesting to watch MG’s subdued relaunch in Britain over the last few years. What does it say that only a few were sold each month for most of 2013? Part of what that message conveys — from an American point of view – is that if Britons won’t even buy them, the new generation of MGs must be awful.

Of course, there’s more to it than that.

Dealerships are few, and worse, MG’s advertising and marketing has been disappointingly poor. Even if MG’s quality was spot-on perfect and even if the cars offered outstanding value, sales would still probably be small. I can’t see MG making much progress until the company creates a strong UK Dealer Network and a reputation for exceptional customer service. That, coupled with aggressive and consistently good marketing, might accelerate MG’s return to prominence.

Making MG into a major brand, though, will be hard work. It requires a strong leader with vision and a company willing to give him the long-term financial backing and freedom to execute it. But I don’t see anything that resembles more than a token effort from MG at this point. Sometimes I think the real reason for MG’s presence at Longbridge is mostly to legitimize the marque in China – if you look at the way the Chinese market MG in China, it’s all about the marque’s British heritage.

I can tell you many Americans – me included – want to see a successful MG rebirth. If MG builds on the success it has enjoyed in China and conquers Britain and then Europe, the brand’s long-awaited return to the US market can be contemplated. But that should not happen with today’s MGs.

I’ve looked at MG’s current line-up and I can tell you that none of the vehicles wearing the MG name today would likely find much success in the US market.

Today’s MGs are okay looking, but there is very little about them that is distinctively British. These new MGs could be any car from any where with any name on the nose. In the USA, Korean automakers have taken the lower end of the market with an array of well-equipped, value-packed, stylish vehicles. And today’s MGs would fare poorly against that juggernaut.

MG would struggle here because hatches are not looked upon as they are in Europe and Asia. Most hatchbacks in the USA are inexpensive vehicles aimed at buyers who can’t afford better. And let’s not forget that, to Americans, MG does not have a tradition or image of making sporting saloons. You will recall that BL withdrew MG from the USA in 1980. We missed out on everything that came after.

What MG needs to build is a rival to the Mazda MX-5 if it wants to return convincingly to the USA
What MG needs to build is a rival to the Mazda MX-5 if it wants to return convincingly to the USA

When the time comes for MG to return to the US, it should do so by starting with a proper two-seat roadster, rear-wheel drive, of course. Such a car fits the American image of MG. The target: MX-5. And it must be better than that car by every standard of measurement. Then MG should quickly follow up with a hot hatch to take on the Ford Focus ST and a compact all-wheel drive performance saloon, much like Subaru make. MG and affordable high-performance with British style is a recipe that can work here in the USA.

You need only look at the first generation of the MINI Cooper to see what Americans want in a British car. It needs to look British, not generic. That doesn’t necessarily mean that future MGs must have retro looks – that’s a dead end – but MG must develop graceful, original styling that ages well and can be kept fresh without major sheetmetal changes every few years.

In terms of technical sophistication, MG could carve out a niche for itself by developing a DNA that focuses sharply on lightweight, user-friendly cars that are not laden with devices that require programming and fiddling with. With an MG, you should be able to simply get in and drive. To me that means, one small nav screen, no voice recognition or internet connectivity. There would be a decent radio, a powerful air con system, electric window lifts and door locks and that’s it. The gauges would say SMITHS on them or Morris Garages and the exhaust note would have a nice, crisp tone – a classy nod to MG’s past.

Lest we forget that MG's success in the USA was founded on the T-Type Midget, which so many US servicement took home after WW2.
Lest we forget that MG’s success in the USA was founded on the T-Type Midget, which so many US servicemen took home after WW2.

And speaking of the past, MG has something going for it that no other brand can claim: MG was the sports car America loved first. Let’s now correct the historical record here. Forget that often repeated nonsense about American servicemen in Great Britain in WW2 falling in love with MGs and bringing them home. That’s total rubbish – only a few thousand MGs were ever made before the war and MG was not a common car. Also, the only cars on British roads were government and military vehicles. American servicemen were not zipping around the English countryside in MG sports cars, scarfs flying in the wind  during WW2. It didn’t happen.

The truth is that between 1946 and 1950, America, flush with cash and left undamaged by war, was the place to sell cars. And nearly every brand with a credible vehicle tried its luck.  MG had the market to itself. There were no American, German or Italian sports cars at that time. Those first post-war MGs were like nothing else on the roads here. They were light and fun to drive and they out-handled ponderous American tanks. MG opened the door for Austin-Healey, Triumph, Sunbeam and everyone else selling sports cars. MG consistently sold more cars every year than any other British brand and most foreign brands until 1980, when BL withdrew MG from America.

Despite being gone for 34 years, MG still has a strong sports car image and a devoted following here. It’s hard to find someone who didn’t have an MG in their family or who doesn’t have some story to tell about a ride in an MG.

Done right, MG could be follow Triumph and MINI and be the next British marque to successfully return to the United States.

In 1995, Triumph successfully returned to America with a fresh lineup of world-class motorcycles. Since then Triumph has built a reputation for quality, craftsmanship, performance and value. America is once again Triumph’s biggest market.

MINI Tour
MINI’s huge US success has proven that there’s plenty of opportunity for MG – if it plays it right…

MINI has proven that Americans’ appetite for affordable British-made cars is still strong.  More than 600,000 have been sold here since launch in 2002.

And so we in America wait for an MG lineup that is true to the image of the brand that we still hold dear. To MG’s Chinese overlords, I would say stay out of the US until MG combines quality, unexpectedly strong performance, classy and timeless British styling with outstanding value in cars that are true to the brand. That will be the ticket for admission and success in the USA.

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.

63 Comments

  1. Richard, do you think the US market would care if the next MGs on sale there were built in China, not the UK? I think it puts people off here, to a certain extent.

  2. Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately for the British public, Amercans really couldn’t care less about MGs old or new. Building MG sports cars and attempting to sell them to the USA is tantamount to making a replica Titanic and attempting to run it as a cruise ship.
    Now, as for a small number of older (and largely wealthier) American citizens who own cars manufactured by a once prolific British car maker, that’s another story…

  3. Incidentally, whilst Triumph has done well to sell bikes in the USA, the market for large bikes is still dominated by Harley. The Rocket 3 just couldn’t break into it. The future for Triumph, if it is to become a volume seller is in small bikes, and thats what they are attempting with their new 250. Triumph will have to directly compete against Japanese, Italian and Chinese makers to achieve this. India and the middle east could be future, not the American market.
    Incidentally, I hope Indian motorcycles finally re-emerge as a competitor to HD.

  4. Here’s the thing…There is one European automaker over here that doesn’t have much real competition: Volkswagen.
    MG should be Britain’s VW. Solidly engineered, reliable vehicles that are built well (or well enough) and can be configured as required.
    It would be a mistake for MG to try to compete with the Asians.

    Look at the Triumph motorcycle lineup. There is a line of classics, such as the Bonneville and Thruxton, that appeal to retro-geezer like me. But most of the lineup are bang-on modern, high-tech bikes.

    MG could have a roadster for the old folks and line of sporting vehicles for others. MG should target VW and for cars of that ilk.

  5. Is the American market such an ideal market anymore with $13 trillion debt and counting? Fair enough, the economy has rallied but only on the strength of low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

    The far east is where the new money is.

    Saying that, the MG3 could be the ideal college kids car like the Neon once was.

  6. MGs made in China might work in the USA — but only if the quality is excellent. Chinese products here are getting a bad reputation for quality. And their poisonous pet food has infuriated people here. China is one or two more full-scale episodes like that before a serious backlash sets in and Chinese goods get boycotted. MG would do well to not play up the Chinese angle.

  7. MG is Chinese, and that is something to be proud of, as iPad and iPods are also made (very well) in China. If MG does go to US, and I am not sure why it would, it should build on the country’s reputation for developing excellent technologies.

  8. The USA is the current MINI’s largest sales market ahead of the UK and the last classic Mini was sold there in the 1960’s so it can be done…….but the MINI was (and most models still are) built in Britain and BMW quickly established a reasonable USA Dealer network at many USA BMW dealers and as Rover found out a reasonable size Dealership network is essential for success in such a huge country as the USA.

  9. I too am an American and I just don’t see MG doing well here. About the only way they could make it work would be to outdo Hyundai/Kia at the bottom end of the market. They would have to build an excellent product at a lower price point than the US built Korean cars offer.

    We do have Chinese automotive products in the US right now, but most people don’t know that. GM and Chrysler have been building drivetrains in China for many years and putting them in American branded cars. They also are starting to sell cars that were designed for the Chinese market in the US too, like the Buick Excelle (Verano here).

    However, this does not mean that SAIC/MG would sell too. Right now, they appear to have a somewhat competent product. However, they are too generic. They present no reason for someone to try a new brand of car when established brands that are a known quantity are available for similar money. Much like Hyundai, Kia, Lexus and every other new brand that has made a successful introduction into this market, they will have to undercut their competition enough that people are willing to gamble. After that, it will take 5-10 years to establish themselves before making any substantial headway in the US market. The US doesn’t need another Yugo or Daewoo, and buyers are not soon to forget the disasters those brands were.

  10. “If Britons won’t even buy them, the new generation of MGs must be awful.
    Of course, there’s more to it than that.”

    There isn’t.

  11. @6. ‘Chinese products here are getting a bad reputation for quality’
    Chinese products have long been held, rightly, in contempt; only recently has their quality improved, to the point where they have become a threat to western dominance.
    I feel you are confusing Japanese and Chinese industry. The curve of Japanese development is largely being echoed by that of the Chinese.
    We have many advantages over the Chinese, firstly they do have a poor reputation for reliability. Furthermore, their product design falls far behind the west and politically they are not palatable to the west.

  12. @5, largely true, although motorcycle sales in Japan have gone into freefall. Perhaps, ironically, British bikes may rekindle their interest.

  13. AR-Online, please remove your rose tinted glasses / wake up and smell the coffee. The current crop of Chinese MGs is well off the pace currently set by Hyundai/Kia for the budget market. In particular with respect to fuel economy.

    As for a dedicated base of MG fans, yes, mostly tweed wearing beardies dedicated to saving yet another rotten MGB from the scrapyard. Most of these guys don’t give a hoot about the modern MG, all they are interested in is their “classic” MGs from the dreamland of the 1950s/60s and possibly 70s. Yes, I used to own an MG and was clean shaven and non-tweed wearing, that was in the 1980s.

    Time has moved on and so did my Midget which is currently SORN’ed by it’s current owner, not having turned a wheel in over 15 years. I ditched the MG, bought an MX5 and enjoyed the next 8 years of trouble free open top motoring until having kids and then having to sell the MX5 to finance a house move.

    Younger people have no connection to MG and little comprehension of the history. They are, in my experience, more interested in customisable hot hatches like Saxos and Polos.

    Chinese MG? Yuk. Not for me in the foreseeable future.

    No credibility, no dealers, too expensive to run, too much depreciation. No thank you.

    Now, build me a credible MX5 competitor in the UK and I might start getting interested again, now that the kids are grown up.

  14. @Tony

    ‘AR-Online, please remove your rose tinted glasses / wake up and smell the coffee. The current crop of Chinese MGs is well off the pace currently set by Hyundai/Kia for the budget market. In particular with respect to fuel economy.’

    Who’s wearing rose-tinted spectacles around here? I believe the premise of this post by Richard – a highly respected US automotive journalist – was pretty much what you said. Please read the piece, rather than just look at the pretty pictures before making fatuous comments like that.

    As an aside, Hyundai and KIA have ceased being budget brands – and this has been the case for sometime. They are effectively mainstream products, at mainstream prices with exceptional dealers and warranty packages. MG is not aiming its – NICHE – products at these cars.

    Discounted Skoda Fabias and Suzuki Swifts are where it’s at – or maybe top of the range Dacia Sanderos.

    And in all cases, the MG3 is there or thereabouts when compared with model variations with similarly powerful petrol engines.

    Your last sentence sums up my current frustration. ‘Now, build me a credible MX5 competitor in the UK and I might start getting interested again, now that the kids are grown up.’ Isn’t that what Richard is saying in the blog??

  15. I do think a Chinese made MG would be a tough sell in the USA. A Longbridge made MG (developed by Chinese and British engineers) less so.
    But more important than where a product is made is quality, reliability, value, style, safety, etc. If MG can tick those boxes and develop world class products, the origin of the parts will be a small issue.

  16. Whilst I understand and completely agree that a sports car would be key to a re-launch in the US I am not sure it is particularly likely in the foreseeable future. I just don’t think there is the money for MG in building a sports car that would justify them doing it. It’s sad but true and I say that as someone who would love to see one.

    I don’t see them trying to make a return to the US market, with or without the suggested sports car. The investment involved in compliance and setting up an infrastructure for distribution would be too big for the rewards that would emerge especially when they can sell more of the current MGs in markets such as China without going to as much effort.

  17. think the biggest way to get mg to wake up is a internet wake up! this web page is the way!! some of the last mg zt and rover 75s are nearly at the cheapest mg 6 prices and there only 2 years old! mg needs to get uk buyers on hand. when was there last a mg3 advert on tv in not seen any for weeks! the u,s is long away from mg just now unless they have a free takeaway for life!

  18. I think this article is more or less spot on especially the points about the styling and the Koreans among other things. But I do think the some styling tweeks would sort out the MG6 and could be limited to the rear valance. I think Ive grown to like the front end on the MG6. alex

  19. I agree Facebook and Twitter could be very useful in taking forward the MG message. As well as other forms of social messaging service. Nice to see adverts for the three in the local rag, never saw these for the 6.

    Still not sure why MG would want to return to the US, there are many more exciting markets to conquer yet which offer greater prospect of market penetrance. Also agree with Sandy, market for two sweaters is very small, better to go after family and younger drivers at the moment. Do BMW actually make a profit from the Z4?

  20. Although original plans were to build them in the USA (in Oklahoma City ?), those plans are long dead. It won’t happen for MG here in the states.
    Politically, it is doubtful if can sell PRC made cars here, even at the low end of the market. Many will openly reject PRC made cars out of fear of losing more jobs to China, at a time when unemployment and underemployment has reached higher than acceptable levels. Those that make and sell care here already will put pressure on the politicians to keep them out to keep their market shares. Also, unlike years ago, it is almost impossible to break into the huge USA market with the huge costs to do so. The market for niche products is very limited – i.e. to make a Miata like car.

  21. I think people underestimate the huge size of the USA and the costs of setting up from scratch a vast Dealership network who can not only sell the cars but maintain them nationwide…..MG’s poor efforts on setting up a small in comparison Dealership network in the UK suggest the USA would be a step too far!

    As already stated it should be remembered with the MINI’s success in the USA that BMW already had a long established USA Dealership Network to which MINI has been added, plus a reputation for building prestige European cars.

  22. Not that it’s relevant to MG’s possible return to the USA but I wonder how the F/TF would have been received when it was in production?

  23. Its a non story. Everyone is looking east, that’s why JLR,RR and Bentley are selling cars in China and Russia like cheap hookers.

    The big three (one wholly owned by the Italians) have shut plants and have stiff competition from Japanese trans-plants anyway.

    There is no room for anyone else really is there?

  24. Excellent article, well argued and all points agreed. The MG name has potential to do great things in the USA, but only with the right product, marketing and production sourcing. I’d suggest that UK design, Chinese component sourcing (at the heart of most of the computers/ phones/ tablets that anyone reading this is likely to be using, whatver the name on the case) and maybe a factory in North America would make sense. But I doubt that the MG3 or MG6 in their current guise would work. Maybe the next generation SUV (a sort of cleaned-up ‘Icon’) and a traditional British style roadster would work. SAIC have the cash, MG designers (in particular the chassis team) have the skill. What they need is a bold business plan, courage and presumably approval from Beijing…

  25. @23

    The opportune time for MG to re-enter the US market was indeed the latter half of the 1990s. That was the time when retro design, homages to the 1960s and the roadster bodystyle itself were the latest fads in the motor industry. Ageing baby boomers who had owned MG sports cars in the past were becoming the most affluent demographic groups in American society. The MGF was taking Europe by storm and it could have conceivably done well in the US.

    Nowadays MG would face an uphill battle were it to re-enter the US. A lightweight, well engineered sports car like the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 would build instant credibility for the brand. However, most modern sports car projects seem to be image-building loss-leaders for their manufacturers. Toyota can manage this because of its strong core business in selling regular cars. Does SAIC/MG have that?

    Since SAIC was allowed to use GM’s Epsilon II platform for the Roewe 950, I wonder if GM would permit its Chinese partners to use some of its RWD components for such an MG sports car. SAIC may have missed a trick in not using its existing links with GM to get the IP for the Kappa platform when GM ditched it in 2009.

    SAIC could still propose to GM something similar to the ongoing Toyota/Subaru, Toyota/BMW and Mazda/Alfa joint sports car projects. An MG sports car alone may not justify the development of a bespoke platform. However, a platform shared between a new MG and a small Chevrolet/Corvette roadster may have a more sound business case behind it.

  26. UMMMMM Pedro
    The TRIUMPH Rocket 3 sells very well here
    in the States. Not every one wants an outdated
    tractor that cost 7k more then it.

    I do think Richard is spot on with this, as I have
    mentioned before many times. We need a MG Sports car
    FIRST and Foremost that will compete and better the
    mazda miata. Made in the UK,like TRIUMPH Motorcycles.
    They blew back it in the late 80s early 90s not taking
    advantage of the booming market here. Once that is up
    and running then bring the rest over. Any doubts look
    at the new Mini. Started as a separate brand here away
    from BumW dealers and their success well the proof is
    the accounting books.

  27. @26 Exactly the kind of scenario I have postulated – sweet talk GM into a junior sports car below the Corvette – be really bold and call it the ‘Corvair’ – and pair this with an Opel/ Vauxhall pair as well as an MG. For Chinese markets, if they ever get the taste for sub-Porsche sports cars, maybe they would even take something with the beloved (in China) Buick Badge. That way, there could perhaps be a business case for the platform needed, as a rival to the Alfa/ Mazda and the Toyobarus…

  28. Wonder if SAIC’s substantial American partner, without a Pontiac brand, could ultimately look to MG as a route to selling a sub-Corvette sporting marque with a European flavour. Rather than letting SAIC have the platform, licence the MG marque from SAIC for a GM supported, European (with help from outside, such as Lotus, Prodrive or whoever) developed platform. Do something a bit bold, like inboard shocks, excellent geometry, good suspension travel, make it SLK-comfortable without the lard, and MX5-sharp as much as possible.

    After all, the MGF’s great talent was in being ridiculously fast, yet surprisingly comfortable, as well as affordable.

    Anyone got the chassis tooling for the Solstice/Sky kicking about in a shed?

  29. @27- you obviously like Triumph bikes, however you are wrong, the Rocket 3 is no longer made and was not a success in the States. That doesnt detract from it being, in many eyes a good bike.
    Going back to MG; any attempt to sell them in America might be compared to trying to market Lancias in the UK.

  30. @31- I was incorrect to state that the Rocket 3 is no longer made. It is, although the intended market is for touring bikes.

  31. @ 32 according to my local TRIUMPH
    dealer they can’t keep the ROCKET 3
    in stock in the Metro Cleveland Area.
    And they are back ordered.

    All respect but it would be interesting to
    know where you are getting your information
    from. Perhaps if TRIUMPH made more of them
    they would sell more.

  32. are you forgetting the bad image chevrolet has in the uk, with sticking that legendary badge on old deawoos i think they have also done lots of damage to themselves.
    when i think chevy i think camaros v8s etc. surley its no different and MG must have a better image than a far eastern plasticy ugly little car??? i love american cars been to the states quite a lot and i always check out there cars i love the new chargers and cameros but to stick a CHEVY badge on an
    old deawoo cant be good…

  33. I agree with the earlier comment that they missed the boat in the 90s.

    Could’ve sold the TF as a ‘Miata’/MX-5 alternative, and the ZT as the Impreza-beater. The V8 would’ve went down well in the land of cheap oil.
    In terms of dealer network, they would’ve had their pick of Land Rover or BMW dealers.
    MINI then would’ve sat amongst the MG models as the small hatchback.

  34. GM has lost the ‘intellectual’ brands.

    SAAB, Saturn and Oldsmobile, representing a European fighter, an ‘import’ fighter for the compact (relatively) segments and Oldsmobile brought Cadillac engineering at a lower price point, in more ‘contemporary’ design (a bit of a mixture there, but the Olds was aiming for cab-forward, aero like a Chrysler when Caddy was beginning to make ‘blunt and aggressive’ into the current language).

    They also lost the sporting brand.

    Personally I think the biggest loss was Saturn, as had they allowed that concept to be a technology leader rather than a branding exercise, it would have lead to a solid range of compact and premium import-fighters (let us assume for the time being that the concept of import is relevant, even when Saturn’s last models owe plenty to Opel 😉 ).

    Historically, GM can bring Opel back into the US. Opel could replace upmarket Chevy, and effectively present a young demographic alternative to Buick, IF cars become popular in place of SUVs. If GM were to produce a small, RWD platform to compete with the 3/5 series, it could be used for Opel Coupé and Convertible models, with saloon/wagon/crossover models under the Chevy brand (which is a point of pride in the US, I suspect).

    They have appropriate engineering in Holden and Camaro, but it’s laughable to think they couldn’t do this from scratch and do it well even now. GM has been a great engineering firm in the past, even if the build quality and materials suck post ’70s.

    MG could then represent sporting FWD saloons and most important of all a 2 seater sports car. Saturn’s technology could help a lot here. Maybe what would help bring MG back to American attention is a 21st-century EX-E-meets-Fiero idea – a spaceframe, advanced material car that is as much about sporting behaviour as it is about being economical personal transport.

    The personal coupé is something America has understood for a long time. It may be that the taste for them tended to “saloon size, doors the size of a European car” rather than actual savings in weight and volume, but the idea that a commuter only needs two seats/2+2 is accepted far more than it is in Britain where the default setting is small 3/5 door hatchback.

    I don’t really know which direction China’s tastes will go in – but I wouldn’t be surprised if China drives a resurgence of stylish, large luxury coupés as a status symbol, showing that you do not NEED practicality or 4×4 flexibility, not living in a rural (and thus, poor) area.

  35. @Richard Kilpatrick

    Great comment (as usual).

    GM did not know what to do with Saab, while Volvo under Ford was more or less sailing steady, Saab had to make do with some old Vectra platforms, a rebadged Subaru and a Chevy Trailblazer.

    Saturn was a paniced response to the success of import brands such as Toyota. Originally the S series was a fairly innovative plastic bodied car, the L-Series, Aura and latterly the Astra were pure Opel/Vauxhall.

    Their plan now is to tie Opel and Buick together (as had been done previously with the Buick Opel) – the Insignia is sold as the Regal and the Astra as the Verano.

    Another brand that they lost was Pontiac, once known for their muscle car TransAm, now a footnote in history. Latterly sold the Monaro and was tied in with Holden.

  36. I’ve never driven one, but I did look at one in a showroom. I’m really a fan of the Chrysler LH, and to go above that it’s gotta be old-school.

    Saturn wasn’t panicked. Saturn was very clever, but remember that the spaceframe body was already in GM’s language, the Lumina APV and Fiero. What GM failed to do was understand that having conceived a European-esque brand, they should have giving it more of a European presence.

    The SAAB we never got out of GM should have been a Saturn-style spaceframe 9-3 and Sonnet (SL coupé) and an upscale Espace-fighter based on the Lumina APV with European chassis tuning. The Lumina did well in markets it was offered like the Netherlands, so it’s not like it was a bad fit even with Pontiac or Chevy badges; with Saab reskin and interior trimming and better suspension tuning… and of course, safety – it would have outdone the Voyager in most key areas bar access. At that time a single sliding door was common.

    I guess most people don’t think of GM as a series of whatifs, perhaps because they succeeded in many areas and also, are spread out in a way BL isn’t. Outside of the EV1 and G8/Ute, they have few recent “why?!” moments – after all, they’re a finance, not engineering firm now. But I think homage should be paid to the many talented designers and engineers working in America that did try to push the boundaries in the face of mindless reactionary legislation.

    I mean, the Fiero… a car that in Britain may as well be the Scimitar SS1. Tell me that’s the product of a company without imagination – and they made it a reasonable success.

    Even the land yacht Cadillac Eldorado and bustleback DeVille – the 3rd gen E-bodies. They’re remembered for the made-of-cheese 4100 HTi, the disaster boat anchor Olds diesel, and the biting off more than anyone should chew 8-6-4 (and how many cars have variable displacement now, hmm?) – but the Eldorado had ABS, disc rear brakes, independent rear suspension and a remarkably good FWD chassis. It’s no model of efficiency, but it reflects the market, able to belt along securely in snow, safely on twisty roads and at healthy speeds on the dirt tracks common in rural America in the late ’70s and ’80s. Even at 19 years old my ’82 with Touring suspension was incredibly stable on fast (85 indicated, it wouldn’t read any more!) sweeping bends in serious crosswinds.

    Tying a brand to Buick in America is like deciding you’re only going to advertise it to SAGA. And therein lies the issue with GM marketing – Buick is for OLD PEOPLE. Buick is about the least cool marque going. Opel could be a clean sheet for them in America if presented with something to compete against the BRZ/GT86, but the moment they bring an Opel badged car that is directly comparable to a Buick, but with some black trim and so forth – BANG. Why bother.

    Remember the Honda Element? Aimed at hip young things, it scored highly with the hip-replacement brigade; affluent older people WANT to buy things marketed at young people. It’s only the insecure 25-45 demographic that buys high-end status symbols that they FEEL are aimed at older (successful) buyers – like, say, Bentley who have seen their average customer age fall. If you can only afford it because you’ve lived long enough to buy it and have been hugely successful, they they’ll want it. If you are buying it because it’s a sensible choice and so practical, forget it.

    Saturn sold to geeks. We’re all geeks now. Saturn was constructively killed by marketing a terrible half-developed hybrid at a technologically savvy market whilst keeping the good stuff – the Volt – for Chevy – the Volt should have been a lightweight spaceframe Saturn, like a mass-market Tesla (the geeks are now drooling over Tesla like you wouldn’t believe, me included). What’s tragic is that I think GM knew what they were doing with Saturn and deliberately ran the product development into the ground.

    I meant Pontiac when I said they lost the sporting brand – hence suggesting the MG name could grace a refreshed Solstice/Sky.

  37. Just a couple of quick points:

    1) Interestingly, today’s Automotive News China Newsletter includes the Bloomberg-sourced article at the link below – MG is unlikely to be the first Chinese-owned OEM to be launched in the USA… Here’s the link:

    BYD says Chinese cars headed for U.S. in 2015

    2) Richard Kilpatrick is not alone in thinking that the GM Kappa platform might have been an ideal basis for a new two-seater MG roadster – ironically, if memory serves, Richard Truett, David Knowles and I contributed to a discussion about that on AROnline’s Facebook page a few weeks ago.

    Anyway, as a result of that, I discovered that the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky was re-engineered to accept the GM LS3 E-Rod V8 “Small Block” engine by British company Breckland Technologies Limited and launched as the Breckland Beira at Motorexpo in June, 2008. However, that company was dissolved in March, 2010 and the IPRs were apparently sold to a Spanish company called Tauro Sport Auto S.L. which has subsequently re-launched that car as the Tauro V8 Spider. You can access the latter company’s website here…

  38. The Mazda MX 5 is the best example why MG is not ready for a relaunch in the USA and Europe!
    I had three MX-5 in nearly twenty yeaars aand I drove some thousand miles a year and had no problems with the cars. i had one MG F and I sold it some month later because that car made only troubles!
    That troubles were all problems which should be solved by MG partners, but in many countries outside GB in Europe, you had by the service partners the same problems as whith the car.
    To find a car with a high building quality was not able as to find a service partner which was able to service the car correctly.
    Sorry, but let MG were it belongs! In the past!

  39. Interesting enough Richard.
    We did have Buick/Opel mid 60s to mid 70s.
    Could have been early 60s not certain. The
    Kadett and Gt range. In truth I don’t think
    it go over well here. It would go over like
    the Stirling brand did. Buick anymore if you
    watch the adds are more towards the middle
    class yuppie types.. Like they were in the 50s
    60s, and 70s. Doctors and others bought them
    to have the Cadillac appointments but not the
    flash. Cadillac anymore is going after the big
    dogs like lexus, acura,infinity, BumW and Mercedes.

    There was talk in Detroit Circles about bringing
    the Solstice back on a Chevy platform, Mr.Truett
    would know more about that.

  40. I don’t believe Tauro is “making” GM Kappa based sportscars – I think they more than likely have the handful of 2010 shells built and are using them up, hence the limited production and high cost model (and the presence of an even more limited coupé). They’re pulling a William Riley on a rather larger scale, but then it could be argued MG themselves pulled this stunt off with the Qvale/X-Power. Wikipedia says they “produce the Kappa platform” but I see no evidence that they have resources or facilities to manufacture on that scale; what would be the point of making that investment to produce only 30 cars? The Spider V8 is as relevant to mass-produced Kappas as those firms that churned out Ferrari replicas based on Peugeot 406s.

    Nevertheless, it is possible that the Kappa’s IP was sold – it would be possible to find out. It seems so unlikely to me. GM just don’t seem to be the sort of firm that would let protected IP they created go easily, look at what happened with SAAB – the new models have to revert to the old SAAB engine and sales were scuppered by GM not parting with licensing or sale of key IP (presumable relating to the Epsilon platform on the 9-5).

    The Solstice production, for economies of scale, should be shifted to Longbridge or China (depending on what supporting engineering they needed) – if it even still exists. The V8 transplant is irrelevant – you won’t sell an MG at $125,000 and GM won’t want it competing with the Corvette or Camaro anyway, let the enthusiasts chop it about later. A facelift to give an MG face Americans will recognise – either chrome grille or rubber bumpers, prominent round headlights (maybe look to Icon?) and upright tail lights – then you’ve got a car that dynamically was better than the MX5 anyway. Most importantly engineer for RHD so a few thousand sales can be found in Britain.

    The Buick Opel was nothing more than a way of trying to fight the Beetle before the T-body fully took hold, a bit like the attempts to sell European Capris as a sub-Mustang compact car – they were the Kadetts. The Opel GT in America you really gotta hope no-one remembers, because it was expensive, cramped and unbelievably slow!

    I can well believe the Solstice is seen as one of the greatest losses from GM’s rationalisation – particularly as the Wilmington plant wasn’t one with a bad reputation for quality and Fisker’s takeover of it has been delayed/permanently derailed.

  41. Opel in the US is unlikely to happen given GM getting their fingers burnt trying to introduce the brand to Japan and Australia…

  42. @43 Richard – I am with you 110% on this idea. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ associated with this, but I agree that the Kappa platform still seems to remain an obvious enough route if it is still available.

    @39 Buick has long been an ‘old man’s car’ in the USA, but it has become an aspirational one for GM China in their home market – hence me posing the question of whether or not a ‘Buick Sports Car’ would be any more or less crazy for China even if the idea would be laughed out of the dealerships in the USA.

    ’44 Selling Opel in Australia alongside similar platformed Holdens made limited sense and I think the range they put up was limited. Whether or not Americans and Canadians have a positive image of Opel is something I don’t really know. Certainly much older North Americans may shudder at the memory of some of the British Vauxhalls they last saw in the sixties…

  43. @45

    Agreed, but then they’d be up against similar platformed Chevrolets / Buicks.

    And Americans might have not so fond memories of the Buick Opel

  44. Richard Kilpatrick @ 43 above,

    I take your various points about Tauro Sport Auto S.L. – indeed, that’s why I chose my words pretty carefully in Post 40 above.

    However, I suspect what may have happened is that Breckland Technologies Limited acquired a number of shells and a restricted licence which permitted the company to develop and build the Beira – presumably, given the relevant timeline, from the original General Motors Corporation – and that, when Breckland Technologies Limited went into administration/receivership, those assets (including any rights under such a licence) were then purchased by Tauro Sport Auto S.L.. After all, back in 2003, Jensen Motors Limited’s Administrators at PKF came to a similar arrangement with SV Automotive Limited… See: The tragic tale of the Jensen S-V8, Tony Dron, Telegraph Motoring, 14th June, 2003.

    Anyway, I guess that the key question here is whether the IPRs for the GM Kappa platform and any surviving tooling are/were vested in either General Motors Corporation/Motors Liquidation Company/”old GM” or in General Motors Company LLC/”new GM” during the Chapter 11 proceedings in June/July, 2009. Indeed, I suspect some further investigation of that might well prove interesting…

  45. If rumours that Fisker or Delorean were going to bring back the Solstice have any grounding, then the chances that Wilmington comes complete with Kappa tooling may run high. And Fisker is looking to build a new sports car… and Fisker is unusually cagey about their platform and technology partners.

  46. British (well built this time) built MG roadster is the only sensible way forward for MG as that’s what the Americans remember not the current range and production arrangements.

  47. They’d be as well licensing the Morgan +4, skinning it to look like a TD and flogging that to build the marque.

  48. Nice images of the next MX-5/ Miata in this week’s Autocar. Mazda grabbed the initiative at the very end of the 1980s, they have remained steadfast to the pure light weight modest engined FERWD sports car philosophy ever since and now (if Autocar is right) there’ll be a new RX-7 as well as the Alfa Spider spun off the same basic platform.

  49. Richard Kilpatrick @ 49 above,

    Yes, I reckon that would be a reasonable assumption. However, according to this report of earlier today on the CleanTechnica website, there now seems to be something of bidding battle over Fisker Automotive, Inc.

    Incidentally, in the interests of completeness, you can access the AutoblogGreen article cited as the source of the above piece via this link. The Pleadings annexed to that article certainly make for an interesting read (well, at least, to this retired Solicitor) although last Friday’s Hearing in the relevant Bankruptcy Proceedings was adjourned to the 10th January, 2014 because of the adverse weather conditions affecting the East Coast of America…

  50. I also read an interview in Autocar with someone from Porsche who mentioned that they aim to help cultivate a sports car market in China. Obviously Porsche are a few rungs up the ladder from MG (they were just one rung up way back in 1955…) and the Chinese user chooser already buys BMWs, MINIs and so on, so has a taste for conspicuous consumption, but as the Chinese market evolves, perhaps SAIC should already be thinking of an MG roadster which has a genuine nod to heritage. After all, it would be a shame to be late to the party *again* (sigh)

  51. @33, the info I have was from MCN, and owners of the Rocket 3. Admittedly old info. I think the issue was trying to sell it as a cruiser in direct competition with HD. Now that it’s been modified and sold as a tourer Triumph seem to be back on track.

  52. The Cadillac BLS

    An American car that wasn’t sold in America.

    A reskinned Saab 9-3, which itself was based on GM platform.

    Rarer than a Citroen C6.

    Showed that the European market isn’t ready for US premium marques either.

  53. @57 this is another illustration of how fatally flawed some ‘marketing men’s ideas’ are when it comes to trying to flog something that the intended audience just won’t buy into.

    Even here in li’l ol’ Ingerland, anyone with half a brain cell ‘knows’ that a ‘Chevy’ is an American-as-mom’s-apple-pie brand and, no matter how much local GM management would like us to think otherwise, is not really a name associated with a Korean hatch/sedan/SUV, no matter how good the vehicle itself might be. Which is one key reason why GM have decided to scrap the Opel/Vauxhall shadowing Chevrolet in Europe but presumably retain it for limited Camaro and Corvette sales.

    Similarly, the British mental image of ‘Cadillac’ is probably still a big and brash softly-sprung limousine redolent of much repeated episodes of Dallas and Murder She Wrote (let alone Elvis and his pink Cadillac!) With the possible exception of the Swiss and maybe a few older Belgians, Europeans do not see ‘Cadillac’ as a natural alternative to ‘BMW’ or ‘Mercedes’. Selling us Cadillacs is likely to be as successful as selling us those Korean Chevrolets.

    Whether we like it or not, the MG name surely offers its own challenges which, whilst perhaps not quite as challenging as the Korean Chevy dilemma, is still a hard pill to swallow for the public at large (i.e. not just those of us browsing car enthusiast forums!) Most ‘ordinary’ people surely do not see ‘MG’ as a market alternative to ‘Skoda’ or ‘Dacia’, even if that is where the price point and marketing efforts might try to steer us. Hardened MG Rover fans love their ZR, ZS and ZT but even these were known by the ignorant majority as ‘Rovers’ (viz many local news stories referring to ‘Rover MG’ when referring to a car involved in some incident; the general media are often at the forefront of ignorant indifference).

    Reputations are hard fought and easily lost. There is a good piece by a certain J Clarkson in this month’s ‘Top Gear’ magazine (a publication I rarely buy) on the problems of ‘image’ for car makers, including how much forgiveness is given to ‘celebrated’ brands and how hard it can be for some others to earn the credibility to which they aspire.

  54. David Knowles @ 58,

    A thought-provoking post – I guess that just serves to underline how much of a task Guy Jones and his colleagues at MG Motor UK have in re-building and re-positioning the marque…

  55. Surely the problem for 100% owned Chinese companies is the commitment of management to long term planning, design and customer care. Rightly or wrongly, my take is that if they think they could make a couple of million RMB next week, they’ll happily toss out this week’s big plan and all who were relying on it.

    When forced by partnership or contract with Western companies to make something, they do a reasonable job (most of the time) if constantly inspected, but left to their own devices, it’s all about making a fast buck now and damn the consequences and the customers. Spare parts and service – what’s that? Throw it away and get a new one. Who finds it interesting to keep the old stuff running?

    I think it’s a societal thing, so expecting some Chinese outfit to actually commit to making something long-lasting and having to listen to customers telling them their goods are junk and what are you going to do about it, is not something they’re interested in at all. In fact, they are quite averse to hearing any criticism whatsoever.

    The MG fiasco in the UK follows this scenario pretty closely. Didn’t sell a bomb right off? Well, they lost interest and so the whole thing is just being allowed to die. Screw the simpletons who bought one of their cars.

    The Chinese are not Japanese or Korean. The Japanese are interested in what their customers think, as a general rule. They don’t like criticism, so tend to make reliable products to stave off criticism. The Koreans try to make decent stuff, but are really most interested in themselves in the sense of making financial targets and holding people to achieving outlandish sales goals, which like Krafcik they cannot meet for ever. Their quest is world domination in manufactured goods. The Chinese all want to be rich by the end of next week so the concept of customer care doesn’t exist.

    I wouldn’t buy a Chinese made good from a Chinese owned company, designed and manufactured by them. We have littered heaps of cheap motorcycles, scooters and ATVs around these parts that have fallen apart after a few outings. BMC quality from the ’60s was better than this. Dumb folk bought these things and got burned due to the complete disinterest their manufacturers took in making something reasonable. Completely cynical, just like putting melamine powder in semolina and thinking nothing of it. It’s only bad if you get caught, and only really really bad if you actually get held accountable for it. Otherwise, who cares? Not them.

    It’ll take decades for the Chinese to embrace long-term thinking and customer care. If they ever do. But they won’t get rich off my back in the meantime.

  56. I’ve read Richard’s forthright article but not many of the comments.

    I whole heartedly agree with Richard’s view on the current state of play with MG Motor in the UK. He has got it absolutely spot on!

    I particularly agree with the following paragraph, which is what I’ve been saying for months:
    “It requires a strong leader with vision and a company willing to give him the long-term financial backing and freedom to execute it. But I don’t see anything that resembles more than a token effort from MG at this point. Sometimes I think the real reason for MG’s presence at Longbridge is mostly to legitimize the marque in China – if you look at the way the Chinese market MG in China, it’s all about the marque’s British heritage.”

  57. @61
    So what’s the problem? The Chinese can do what they bloody well like with MG, they own the marque.

    @60

    Paragraphs of utter bullshit. What about the Knock-off Nigels buying these spurious bikes and quads? After asking those provincial outfits to copy genuine bikes and quads just to punt them here, blame them for lack of parts.

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