By now, I should be over those horrific events of 2005. Most people that worked the trade knew in their heart of hearts that MG Rover could not survive long term. Any journey to Birmingham that involves using the A38 Bristol Road fills me with dread as you head northbound through the suburb of Rubery towards Longbridge.
The lack of smoky chimneys and grubby looking buildings that once filled the skyline of the B31 postcode district, are a permanent reminder that its all in the past. Personally, I knew it was all over about a month before the official news was announced for reasons I won’t go into right now, but who would have thought that what was once Europe’s largest self contained car plant would fade away from the horizon?
I first visited ‘The Austin’ way back in 1988 when working as an apprentice in the motor trade, if you thought the place was pretty big in times just before the Phoenix Four rose from the flames only to crash and burn again, then let me tell you – Longbridge was so big and so full of activity, by the time your tour was over – you were almost deaf and your feet were sore from the walking.
You left feeling tired but also proud of what you saw, forget about rumours of bloody mindedness and slap dash quality – Longbridge was home to some of the proudest and capable engineers who were salt of the earth belt & braces people. There has been a few opportunities to re-visit in recent years but I have declined, opting to remember the halcyon days instead.
Recently, I wrote a piece regarding my opinions of MG Motor UK and a story regarding a seemingly unhappy owner of an MG6, so when another opportunity arose to visit the plant, I chose to tag along. For those who remember Longbridge for good or bad, the sight of a huge new college where a massive staff car park resided or a new housing estate in the place of the old office complex – is a very emotional sight.
The gargantuan West Works body assembly plant is also a memory along with the conveyor tunnel over the top of the Bristol Road and yet pulling into the visitors car park off Lowhill Lane, the sight of the former CAB1 building greets you while reminding you its far from being all over.
The legendary ‘Elephant house’ now features a showroom and is also home to the ‘Cecil Kimber’ technical training college – named in homage to one of the true fathers of the original MG Car Company. We are greeted and ushered into the auditorium where we are shown a photo gallery and given a talk of a condensed history of Longbridge – its all very tear jerking for any BL or MGR fan.
A re-creation of Lord Austin’s office (not quite the same as the original location I once saw) is there looking most authentic in a slightly spooky and dark environment. We move on to a room filled with a few legacy models, notably the five millionth Rover which was a monogram edition 2.5-litre Rover 75.
But what we really wanted to see was some car production, but sadly, the closest we were going to see was a part of the original plant that was chock full of MG6s. The atmosphere was strange, it almost felt like your dad showing you round his place of work on a Saturday when you were a kid – far from feeling like a weekday Thursday afternoon- erm, which it was.
From there we were shown round the design office where some styling models resided and other manufacturers parts were hanging from peg boards in a kind of quality assessment project – oh and there was also a 3D printer that resembled a Klix vending machine from the future. The sheer lack of headcount onsite was overwhelmingly difficult to accept – it was all very strange.
Within next to no time, we found ourselves back in the showroom and one further thing caused me to stop and think. Were any of the group formally invited by the sales team upon our arrival? sadly not. The sight of almost 20 people wandering around a showroom on a weekday would have most sales execs almost fainting with glee.
Yet I kind of felt were almost ignored by the desk staff – and If I had ever been caught eating crisps and sandwiches at my desk in full frontal view of the punters (of which I witnessed), my sales manager would have hit the roof and probably me too. After reminiscing to one or two others about the plant tours of days of old lasted half a day where you were ferried around the site in a pair of Sherpa minibuses, at the end of this tour – I almost wanted to cry with emotion.
And even so I have found it difficult to really post anything meaty or attention grabbing in this blog, I have a better understanding of what the game plan is with MG. The diesel is here and the new MG3 is not far behind and they have confirmed it will also be assembled in Longbridge, but I have said it before and will say it again – I know this… you know this… but the rest of the populous need to know this if the brand and its UK future are to be secured.
The MG6 seems to be a solid well engineered car and I expect the same of the MG3 yet I still have deep rooted worries about the viability of the brand and the dealer network mainly due to awareness – or rather the sheer lack of it.
Yes I am glad we still have something left of the brand and yes I do truly believe that with the right direction and some badly needed passion and vigour, the MG brand will survive in the UK. Sadly in this country, MG is an enthusiast brand and equally as sad is the fact that many enthusiasts tend to have deep pockets and short fingers when it comes to purchasing a brand new car – and it is here that marketing needs to be addressed.
Everybody knows about the heritage and history of MG, but its the future that everybody needs to be educated about – a car and a brand for all people that sells on merit and capability rather than just being the last remnants of our motor industry bought on a patriotic whim.
The diesel powered version seems to be a deep rooted quality installation and looks purpose designed for the MG6, a quick glance gives you an impression of a Honda Accord/Rover 600 under the bonnet which is no bad thing. MG’s engineering boss Ian Pogson took time out to chat to me at length about the engine, he tells me it’s okay and I certainly believe him when he reassures us all it’s good solid stuff that will go the distance – all it needs is other departments there to do their job and reassure the buying public – Or are they simply not allowed to at the moment?
Come on MG – let’s go to work!