We met Stephen Harper prior to he unveiling of the MG Icon Concept at the Auto China 2012 motor show in China and managed to get the low-down on the car which he oversaw during its creation whilst working for SAIC Design.
Tell us about the car
What we really wanted to do was get the Chinese Design Teamto focus on what was traditional MG design. Theyhad never really understood the passion we have for MG. They didn’t really understand the full meaning of the heritage – what the spirit of MG was. To many people outside China the spirit of MG was always the roadsters but, because it’s a sporting brand, there were other cars as well, whether it was the SA or the Magnettes which could be used as guides.
What we wanted to do was to get the Designers to look at all of the cars. One thing that MG stood for was practicality: usability as well as having the sporting heart. [That’s why], what we wanted to do was exploit a niche where where we could explore a different kind of sportiness. The Nissan Juke and the Range Rover Evoque have already created a new niche for the small SUV, and obviously there was a possibility there that we could introduce a unique type of vehicle.
So, if you think about a vehicle that’s about 4.00m long, it’s not a large vehicle, only being about the size of an MG3, it was an ideal way – as with the Juke – of making something unique and sporty. What we did was we took that sporting heart. We didn’t necessarily copy the MGB. What we wanted to do was create a new architecture. It’s like the skyline of London – it’s that mixture of old and new that gives it its character – and what we wanted was a car that looked 100 per cent new, but had recognisable features.
We took the designs of the old cars we had and deconstructed certain elements. So, maybe the D-pillar of the GT, or the rear haunches of the MGA, and brought them into a fresh design with crisp lines. There are little details here and there, like on the instrument panels – the MG PA all the way to the TF had twin-cowel instruments. There was obviously enough detail there to show the designers that this is a classic MG interior, now go and do a modern interpretation of it.
It’s taking the essence of classic MG and making a thoroughly new car out of it.
The PR line I’m getting from our Chinese colleagues is that SAIC would look at producing this car if there’s a favourable media response.
I think you can never tell what may happen in the future. Every car today you see as a show car has roots based in something. I think, for me, one of the key elements of this is that there’s nothing in this car that’s impossible to do. We always design cars with that in mind.
SAIC made four million cars last year, how seriously do you think they’re taking MG?
I think it’s very, very important, because if you look at the way China is shaping up, they have the joint ventures, but they’re also building up their own brands. [That’s why], from a SAIC perspective, Roewe and MG are very important. They are 100 per cent owned by the Chinese – if, one day, the Joint Ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen finish there is a brand here which can continue to flourish.
I think the future for SAIC is ultimately MG and Roewe. They’ve got to build these brands; they’re already building a strong niche in China. Europe and the rest of the world has to follow for MG – it’s the beginning of a new story, a new chapter for MG.
Do you think Britain’s going to have any part in that production?
It’s difficult to say because, ultimately, as you see with all major car companies, they’ll produce in a place where the cost is the most suited to the product. If for instance, MG Icon was the car that was going to be a huge hit in Europe, but not so much perhaps in China, then they would – perhaps – look to Europe for production. It’s all down to those big business decisions that happen in boardrooms all over the world. And MG’s not alone in that…