The 2009 Guangzhou Auto Show saw the international launch of the latest in a long line of MG saloons, the all new MG6.
Based on the Roewe 550, the MG6 has been designed to cater for the needs of European drivers so features a hatchback, a turbo and all the trappings of a mature family-sized hot-hatch.
The story so far
AS THE dust finally settled from the collapse of MG Rover, speculation began as to where the MG marque was headed next. Initial rumours suggested that Nanjing Automotive (NAC) intended to relaunch the ZS in mainland China, in line with its ZR and ZT variants. With the ZS’ roots being firmly in the Honda gene pool, there was little chance of the Chinese gaining the rights to the Japanese company’s intellectual property. Wisely, Honda took the necessary steps to ensure the technology behind the ZS was protected by sending a team to Longbridge to recover all their materials and render any further production of the old car difficult if not impossible.
With NAC seeming to lack any cohesive plans for the marque and the promised TF relaunch continually and most publicly delayed, the situation seemed bleak for MG. Disappointing sales figures in the Chinese market for the first tranche of new NAC-produced MGs only seemed to worsen the situation. Thankfully China’s Government seemed keen to re-cast MG Rover in its own fashion. SAIC Motor, which had also picked up a large chunk of the MGR pie (before and after the Birmingham company went into administration), absorbed NAC to create what UK observers like to call MG Roewe.
SAIC has considerably deeper pockets than NAC in addition to an extremely talented team of engineers at its then Leamington Spa-based Technology Centre (which had carried out the lion’s share of the development work on MGR’s stillborn RDX60 project when known as Ricardo 2010) and was well on the way to launching its first car, the Roewe 550. The design heritage of the new 550 was there for all to see – this was the car that would have replaced the Rover 45 and MG ZS had MG Rover been able to continue in business.
With the successful launch of sister firm Roewe’s 550, talk soon turned to the long-anticipated MG variant and what design theme it would take. Given that the Roewe 550 is a deliberately conservative looking saloon, conceived to appeal to the heart of the Chinese market, the signs weren’t promising for a return to the bad-attitude ZS models of old.
The first, murky images emerged from Chinese sources back in November 2008 and speculation began to mount as to when we would see the car being launched officially. There was no question that it wouldn’t be – as it was clear that technically SAIC was calling the shots and the British-engineered 550 platform was where the company’s future now lay.
Interest grew in March 2009 when the UK automotive press published more artists renderings and MG Motor UK Limited’s Head of Corporate Communications, Eleanor De La Haye, confirmed that: ‘We are currently developing a four-door and a five door model based on the Roewe 550 platform that will be sold in UK and Ireland.’
While attractive, the renderings, as usual, proved wide of the mark, when the MG6 was finally unveiled to expectant MG fans worldwide in April 2009 at the Shanghai Motor Show, albeit in concept form.
The relationship with its sister Roewe is clear but, even though to many the fastback styling of the new MG evoked memories of the Rover 800, the car was largely ignored in the UK other than by the specialist press and online BMC>MG community. Detailed specs were limited but at least one engine was confirmed: SAIC’s 1.8 litre N-series, an evolution of the MG Rover K-Series. The latter’s well-documented head gasket gremlins had apparently been overcome and, in line with many other manufacturers, there was to be a turbocharged version of the N-Series engine developing around 160bhp.
The photos from Shanghai undoubtedly failed to do the car justice, with the red paint not coming over all that well under the show’s harsh lighting, and the choice of wheels having a decidedly Halfords feel to them. However, the critics in the car’s home market were positive and MG reported much in the way of pre-sales interest. Still, the signs were largely positive, and all that was missing in Shanghai was the launch details.
Although the brief hype of April’s show quickly died down, interest continued to grow as various camouflaged cars were spotted in China and Roewe 550 development mules running MG suspension were seen testing around Northern England as well as further afield – a barely disguised MG6/550 mule was even observed in Spain.
The Six breaks cover-officially
SAIC Motor chose the Guangzhou Auto Show to relaunch MG globally, playing on the brand’s heritage, revising the octagon to a simpler, all chrome design together with ‘Morris Garages’ scripting. Some traditionalists may have blanched at the obvious pillaging of MG history but the Chinese lapped it up, with the MG6 taking the top billing at the show and, once again, the company claiming huge pre-sale interest.
The first new MG since 2003’s XPower SV was officially launched on 23rd November 2009. The wraps were finally off. The 1800 N-Series turbo was confirmed. Full interior shots again underline the commonality with the Roewe, albeit with traditional analogue gauges replacing the 550’s all digital set-up, while in car entertainment includes DVD playback, SD card support and USB socket for iPod and other MP3 connectivity.
The MG6 will officially go on sale in China in early 2010 production of MG6 for the Chinese market will begin during December 2009. However, more significantly, SAIC’s Motor’s President, Chen Hong, also told reporters that the company plans to commence production at the Birmingham plant in the UK before the end of 2010. Guy Jones, Sales and Marketing Director for MG Motor UK said: ‘This is a milestone day for MG and for the UK automotive industry. MG has begun the international launch of an all new model that has been designed and engineered here in the UK for the global automotive market. Currently we only build and sell the mid-engined TF sports car here in the UK, but we can now look forward to expanding the range of MG products.’
SAIC Motor has still to conclude an agreement with a European partner for the supply of a much needed diesel powerplant so full specification and price details are yet to be confirmed. However, trials have been undertaken at Longbridge to ensure that the car be built on the track previously used for the Rover 75 and MG ZT.
The press’ initial reaction to the new MG has been somewhat mixed, with many expressing concern about the quality of Chinese components. Most, if not all, of those concerns should be laid to rest once a UK-built car is available for a full road test. One thing is certain: there’s a bright future ahead for MG and, hopefully, UK production will play a key role in that.