AROnline visited MG Birmingham recently and our News Editor, Clive Goldthorp, met MG Motor UK Limited’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, and new PR and Events Manager, Doug Wallace, for a comprehensive Q&A session about the MG marque’s future. Here, then, are our questions and Guy Jones’ answers:
Fiat Group Automobiles disclosed Future Product Plans for 2010 – 2014 relating to all of the Group’s brands in considerable detail at the recent Fiat Investor Day with online access to all the key Presentations – are SAIC Motor/MG Motor UK likely to be able to match that level of disclosure in the foreseeable future?
No – Fiat Group Automobiles (FGA) are unique in that respect. Most OEMs don’t disclose as much information as (FGA CEO) Sergio Marchionne felt obliged to do. However, there will be much better and more communication about SAIC Motor and MG Motor UK moving forward. We’re aiming to provide a market-competitive PR service to English language media with more freedom of information.
The current production run of 155 MG TFs is reportedly the last one and the focus will then switch to production of the MG6. However, given that the TF now seems to be selling quite strongly with 129 registrations from January, 2010 to April, 2010, are there any circumstances in which MG Motor UK might reconsider the decision to cease production of the TF?
We’ve just finished the latest production run of 155 MG TF 135s but have made no decision yet as to whether that will be the final run and so batch-building may continue. MG Motor UK will monitor demand but there is no requirement to end production of the TF 135 because of the introduction of the MG6 as the two models are built on separate assembly lines – if sustainable demand for the TF 135 exists, there is no reason why another batch should not be built.
Andy Kitson, MG’s Head of Chassis, told Autocar’s Matt Prior that the MG6’s ride and handling were being benchmarked against the current MY10 Ford Focus’ ride and handling. However, at least in terms of size, the MG6 should probably be regarded as more of a D-segment than a C-segment contender (See: MG6: MG Motor UK starts pre-launch media initiative). How, then, does MG Motor UK intend to position the MG6 in relation to other C-segment and/or D-segment competitors?
The MG6 will be pitched as a C/D-segment model and combine a space/interior package close to the D-segment standard with ride and handling benchmarked against the best that the C-segment offers – a ‘best of both worlds’ package. The MG6 should have a broad appeal and already seems to be perceived as quite a prestigious model.
We’ve not made any decision yet as to the precise Pricing Structure for the MG6 but, that said, we’re determined to maintain MG’s longstanding image as an affordable and desirable brand.
You told MG-Rover.org’s Steve Childs you were unable to confirm whether the UK would see an MG version of the new Roewe 350. However, if an MG model based on the Roewe 350’s platform was to be sold here, would that not have to be pitched against other C-segment cars such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf? Would an MG based on the Roewe 350 be marketed as the MG4 or MG5?
We’re focused on the launch of the MG6 and evaluating the response to the B-segment (c.4ms long) MG Zero Concept at the moment. MG Motor UK is therefore currently assessing how the company enters the B and C-segments but our aim is to launch in both those segments next.
We’ve not, as yet, made any decisions about what the B and C-segment models will be called but the MG6 will be marketed as that and any future models will have numbers rather than names.
The MG Zero Concept shown at last month’s Auto China 2010 in Beijing clearly paves the way for a B-segment MG supermini. Are there any plans to launch a production version in the UK and Europe and, if so, when? Would an MG based on the MG Zero Concept be marketed as the MG2 or MG3?
Yes, as just mentioned, we’re in the process of assessing the response to the MG Zero Concept – that has been exceptionally strong which bodes well for the prospects of a UK and European launch. There has to be a business case to justify UK-build but that’s currently looking good too.
Any production version of the MG Zero Concept will be badged with a number rather than a name but no final decision as to which number will be used has been made.
AROnline believes that the replacement for the MG7/Roewe 750 may well utilise the long wheelbase variant of General Motors’ Epsilon II platform which underpins the new MY10 Saab 9-5 and so be more of an E-segment competitor than the previous MG ZT/Rover 75-based models were (See: MG UK: Longbridge in limbo?). What can you tell us about the MG7 replacement and when might that be launched here in the UK and in Europe?
I am not, at this stage, able to comment about which platform might be used for any MG7/Roewe 750 replacement.
However, whilst there’s clearly a market in China for an E-segment MG model, there’s a question mark over the size of the European market for E-segment models outside of those from established European premium manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
I’m not ruling out the possibility of an E-segment MG model being launched in the UK and Europe but we would need to establish the business case and that’s not a priority – we’re concentrating on the B,C and D-segments first as that’s in line with current market trends.
You told MG-Rover.org’s Steve Childs that new ‘MG sports cars are part of the Product Plan” but declined to comment further. However, MG enthusiasts everywhere will be hoping that you can answer one additional question: can you confirm that any new MG sports cars will have RWD as opposed to FWD?
No, any discussion about new MG sports cars is premature at this stage as we’re about to launch the MG6 and there are other core products in the pipeline before any new sports cars can be announced.
MG Motor UK has made a conscious decision not to do anything to encourage speculation about a new sports car in order to keep the focus on the MG6 during this important pre-launch period.
What timescale does MG’s current Future Product Plan cover i.e. by when can MG Dealers here in the UK expect to have a full range of B, C, D, E-segment models and sports cars on sale in their showrooms?
The current Future Product Plan, which covers existing models and their next generation replacements, is for a rolling ten-year period.
The next five years will be a very exciting time for SAIC Motors, MG Motor UK and the MG marque. The first all-new platform went on sale in China as the Roewe 550 and is about to go on sale in Europe as the MG6. The second all-new platform, the Roewe 350, went on sale in China last month and the third all-new platform has just been previewed with the MG Zero Concept.
The amount of new product in the pipeline should give MG enthusiasts confidence in the future of the brand and there will be a full range in the foreseeable future.
MG Motor UK maintains close links with both the MGCC and MGOC and there has been some speculation that a suitably modified version of the MG6 might compete in Club-level Motor Racing here in the UK next season. However, does SAIC Motor have any plans to take MG back into top-level Motor Racing such as the BTCC or WTCC?
Motor Sport has been part of the MG brand throughout its history. MGs are out there competing around the world every weekend. Racing MGs form some of the largest grids of any brands participating in Motor Racing on a regular basis.
MG Motor UK wants to capitalise on that Motor Sport heritage in an appropriate way and certainly wishes to link into the Club-level activity that’s already well-established. However, with regard to manufacturer-backed projects in high-profile Championships, we have received a number of proposals for MG involving the BTCC – these are under evaluation at the moment but the final decision will depend upon the resources required and the business case.
MG Motor UK (and the other two Claimants) won the High Court Proceedings relating to the ownership of the IPRs to the MG X POWER brand. Fiat has Abarth, Ford has RS, Renault has Renaultsport (and Gordini) and Vauxhall has VXR as their respective high-performance sub-brands – what, then, are the prospects of the MG X POWER badge re-appearing on high-performance versions of forthcoming MG models?
MG X POWER’s a great brand and has been very visible in the recent past – that’s why we fought so hard to rebut the challenge to our ownership of the IPRs. MG X POWER clearly has great brand equity and so has the potential to be MG’s answer to other OEM’s high-performance sub-brands such as Abarth or Renaultsport.
You have talked previously about ‘unleashing” the potential of the MG brand and indicated ‘that, if anything, SUVs are more likely as MG products than MPVs” but, at the same time, have not ruled out the possibility of reviving the Austin brand. What, if any, future can you foresee for the other legacy brands in SAIC Motor’s brand portfolio such as, say, Morris (given the redefinition of MG as Morris Garages in China) or Sterling (See: SAIC Motor: off to a Sterling start?)?
A massive investment will be required in order to re-establish MG globally and a revival of MG X POWER would also require a substantial investment. I would ‘never say never’ but the other legacy brands would only be considered for revival if there was a valid business case for that.
How many workers (British and Chinese) are currently employed at MG Birmingham by MG Motor UK Limited and SAIC Motor Technical Centre UK Limited?
There are currently around 300 employees at MG Birmingham working in automotive styling, design, engineering, manufacturing, distribution and sales. The opening of the new MG Global Design Studio at MG Birmingham next month signifies another step in the evolving integration of the two businesses.
The majority of the 300 employees are British but we have a regular throughput of SAIC Motor employees across all the functions mentioned above.
Does that number now include MG’s Design Director, Tony Williams-Kenny, and his colleagues on the MG Global Design Team and, if not, when will they be moving to the site?
Yes, Tony and his colleagues have actually been on site here at MG Birmingham since February and will be moving into the new MG Global Design Studio in advance of the opening in June.
AROnline understands that, in theory, MG Birmingham has a maximum capacity of 150,000 units per annum and that the Lease between St Modwen Properties PLC and Nanjing Automobile Corporation (UK) Limited was for a term of 33 years from the 22nd February, 2006 at a rent rising from £1.8m per annum. However, most Economists reckon that the ‘Minimum Efficient Scale” (MES) for a car assembly plant is around 200,000 to 250,000 units a year. How, in that context, can MG Birmingham have a sustainable and viable long-term future?
Yes, you’re correct about the terms of the Lease with St Modwen Properties PLC. However, your MES figure of 200,000 to 250,000 units per annum only applies nowadays when cars are being built from scratch.
The correct MES figure for a particular car assembly plant really depends upon labour costs and other value-added factors so the MES figure mentioned in the question is no longer an accurate benchmark in the context of today’s Automotive Industry.
I do not wish to disclose the MES figure for MG Birmingham because that’s subject to commercial confidentiality but, whilst fixed costs have to be overcome, the breakeven point’s certainly nothing like 200,000 to 250,000 units per annum!
[Editor’s Note: MG Motor UK has invited a small number of Journalists (including our News Editor) to the opening of the new MG Global Design Studio at MG Birmingham next month. The Journalists will also be able to see inside SAIC Motor’s new European Technical Centre (SMTC) for the first time and to meet MG’s key Designers and Engineers. We understand that photography will be allowed in most areas throughout the event and believe that this really does serve to underline Guy Jones’ commitment to providing a market-competitive PR service to English language media…]
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