News Analysis : Alfa Romeo and MG – two famous sporting marques fighting for their futures…

Clive Goldthorp

Two of the most iconic names in motoring history, as they are today. Photo credit: Auto Express
Two of the most iconic names in motoring history, as they are today. Photo credit: Auto Express

The third of Top Gear’s  “Ten Commandments for Proper Petrolheads” reads as follows: “Thou shalt own an Alfa Romeo.” Messrs. Clarkson, Hammond and May reckon that, “to be a bona fide petrolhead at some point you have to own, or have owned an Alfa Romeo.” Indeed, when Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the Alfa Romeo 4C for Sunday Times Driving back in October 2013, he affirmed: “Alfa Romeo is still my favourite car maker. I still believe you can’t really call yourself a petrolhead until you’ve owned one.”

AROnline’s regular readers will need no reminding about the outcome of Mr. Clarkson’s last review of an MG6 Magnette 1.9 DTi-Tech – suffice to say, he clearly does not have the same affection for MG as he has for Alfa Romeo! However, irrespective of whether Mr. Clarkson’s conclusions on that occasion were justified or not, what he failed to mention was that the two marques still, arguably, generate more passionate debate amongst petrolheads the world over than many others which have achieved more sustainable sales success – in short, many petrolheads still really care about the fate of both Alfa Romeo and MG.

AROnline Editor Craig Cheetham's claim to being a 'petrolhead' was this 164, sold in 2009 - a move he's regretted ever since
AROnline Editor Craig Cheetham’s claim to being a ‘petrolhead’ was this 164, sold in 2009 – a move he’s regretted ever since

Last year marked MG’s 90th Anniversary while this year will be Alfa Romeo’s 105th Anniversary – both marques share a notable Motor Racing heritage but success on track has not always been matched on the showroom floor. Alfa Romeo and MG have undergone numerous changes of ownership and that might, in part, explain why they have each had a somewhat chequered history to date – that they have both survived may just be down to the emotional connection which successive Alfa Romeo and MG models have made with their owners.

However, the parallels between Alfa Romeo and MG extend beyond their oft problematic pasts to the present. Alfa Romeo’s European sales totalled 58,976 units which equated to a market share of 0.46 per cent last year while SAIC Motor’s combined sales of MGs and Roewes in China stood at 180,018 units – that was down 22 per cent on 2013’s total of 230,020. Here, in the UK, where 2,476,435 cars were registered in 2014 – a ten-year high – Alfa Romeo’s market share fell to 0.22 per cent while MG Motor UK sold 2,326 cars, which increased the company’s market share to 0.10 per cent. That said, Alfa Romeo UK’s 55-strong Dealer Network’s cause will not have been aided by having just two ageing volume models – the B-segment MiTo and C-segment Giulietta – and the low-volume 4C sports car to sell. MG Motor UK’s 57-strong Dealer Network would probably identify with that issue – currently, they have only the B-segment MG3 and C/D-segment MG6 to tempt buyers into their showrooms.

A two-model portfolio does not alone provide either the OEM or the Dealer Network concerned with a sustainable, long-term business model – for evidence of that, look no further than some of the comments made by Mitch Millett, the former Dealer Principal of Manchester-based Alfa Romeo dealership Bauer Millett & Co. Limited, when his 40-year-old, family-run company went into Administration shortly before Christmas last year. Alfa Romeo and MG clearly need to generate more volume to survive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace and that surely means expanding their respective product portfolios in order to increase sales and market share in their existing markets and to return to former markets – namely, in Alfa Romeo’s case, America and, in MG’s case, Europe and then, possibly, America.

The famous Bauer Millett showroom on Deansgate was part of the fabric of Manchester for over 40 years...
The famous Bauer Millett showroom on Deansgate was part of the fabric of Manchester for over 40 years

What, then, have Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA) and SAIC Motor Corporation Limited (SAIC Motor) revealed about their respective marques’ Future Product Programmes? Well, that seems to be where the parallels between Alfa Romeo and MG come to an end.

The comprehensive Investor Presentation delivered by the Head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati, Harald Wester, during FCA’s Investor Day at Chrysler World Headquarters, Auburn Hills, Michigan last May was, in fact, the fourth turnaround plan for Alfa Romeo to be announced since FCA CEO, Sergio Marchionne, was first appointed (as CEO of what was then Fiat S.p.A.) back in June, 2004 – that was largely down to the five years needed to overcome a number of significant financial and legal hurdles before FCA could be incorporated and listed on the Borsa Italiana and New York Stock Exchange last October.

However, the savvy Sergio might just have seen the previous three versions of his turnaround plan for Alfa Romeo as a way of maintaining the brand’s equity whilst starved of new products – the risk of both Alfisti and the global Automotive Industry media losing faith in Alfa Romeo outweighed any loss of personal credibility – or loss of face – on his part.

Alfa Romeo is set to revive the famous Giulia name for its new Jaguar XE rival
Alfa Romeo is set to revive the famous Giulia name for its new Jaguar XE rival

Marchionne, in short, aims to move Alfa Romeo into the heart of the prestige space predominantly occupied by Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz and has committed FCA to a massive £4 billion (€5 billion) investment in a new all/rear-wheel-drive architecture derived from the Maserati Ghibli’s platform – reportedly developed under the codename Project Giorgio, this new architecture will underpin every new Alfa Romeo model including the replacement for the current front-wheel-drive, C-segment Giulietta.

The Investor Presentation mentioned above gave brief details of eight new models which featured in Alfa Romeo’s Future Product Programme. Automotive News Europe’s Editor, Luca Ciferri, neatly summarised those details in an article published shortly after the Investor Day last May but, in a piece published last September, he cited “sources with direct knowledge of the plans” as suggesting that “the timing and complete description of… Alfa’s new range are still open.”

More recently still, Harald Wester disclosed some additional information about his plans for Alfa Romeo to CAR Magazine’s  European Editor, Georg Kacher, in this interview. The long-overdue replacement for the Alfa Romeo 159  – which will, according to Kacher, be called the Giulia – seems set to be revealed on 24 June 2015, Alfa Romeo’s 105th Birthday. The D-segment saloon will be aimed squarely at the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class as well as Jaguar’s new XE and will, Kacher claims, now be the first of nine new Alfa Romeos – three saloons/hatchbacks/estates, three crossovers/SUVs and three sports cars (including a V6-engined version of the 4C) – due for launch between this summer and 2018.

Meanwhile, as Reuters’ Bernie Woodall reported back in May, “critics of the Alfa rejuvenation plan, including investors, industry analysts and bankers, cite concerns [over] distribution, the challenge of bringing eight new models to market in such a short time frame and the intense competition of the market.” Indeed, many of those individuals continue to be sceptical about whether Alfa Romeo, which, after all, only recorded global sales of 74,000 cars in 2013, will achieve Marchionne’s ambitious target of 400,000 units in 2018.

That said, as Autocar’s Associate Editor, Hilton Holloway, observed, perhaps the most surprising feature of Harald Wester’s Investor Presentation last May was his “unashamed exposure of the company’s past mistakes.” Wester was right to adopt such a candid approach, though – the mistakes of the past should be used to inform the success of the future and, if Marchionne, Wester and their colleagues in the latter’s skunk works can put those lessons into practice, then maybe Alfa Romeo will, at last, be turned around successfully…

The open and transparent nature of FCA’s Investor Presentation on Alfa Romeo last May and Harald Wester’s subsequent willingness to discuss the marque’s Future Product Programme with one of Europe’s most highly-regarded Automotive Industry journalists contrasts markedly with what seems, at least from a UK perspective, to be SAIC Motor’s continuing reluctance to share any meaningful information about the company’s plans for the MG marque with the English-speaking Automotive Industry media… The only information about MG’s Future Product Programme available to Automotive Industry media professionals and MG enthusiasts around the world emerges onto the Internet via a few English language, China-based websites such as Automotive News China and CarNewsChina or the occasional Google translations of articles about SAIC Motor/MG on Chinese language websites.

An example of the latter is an article published by the Chinese business website last July which, when translated by Google, suggested that SAIC Motor’s then recently appointed Chairman, Chen Hong, intended to establish MG as an “independent” brand and that MG was “likely to introduce an international team” to “operate” the brand. However, the English version of the headline – SAIC Chairman Chen Hong took office another gun Roewe and MG separate operations – does call into question the accuracy of Google’s translation…

The new GS SUV - is this MG's great white hope?
The new GS SUV – is this MG’s great white hope?

AROnline did wonder whether, given the timing, the still unexplained resignation of Briton and former Austin Rover Group man, Simon Thomas, as Global Head of Marketing for Volkswagen Group AG and of Volkswagen Passenger Cars a few weeks later as well as MG Motor UK’s subsequent £28 million acquisition of 47-48 Piccadilly and 1-3 Albany Courtyard in London’s Mayfair for use as a showroom and office headquarters might be a part of Mr. Chen’s strategy but no official confirmation of what those plans mean for the future of MG has been forthcoming to date. Indeed, although images of the MG5-based MG GT, the facelifted MG6 and the forthcoming MG GS SUV, which will debut at Auto Shanghai this April, have been circulating on the Internet for some time, not even those in MG’s UK Dealer Network are able to say whether and, if so, when each of those models will reach their showrooms.

Admittedly, MG Motor UK’s then PR Manager, Laura Biss, quit last November and Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, left at the end of January so the company must be in the process of re-structuring the Sales and Marketing Department and, indeed, has now advertised for a Press Officer, but the concern here is that, while any re-structuring is underway both in the UK and, seemingly, at SAIC Motor/MG in China as well, MG’s brand equity is gradually slipping away – a decade has now passed since MG Rover Group went into administration and there is already a generation of younger car buyers to whom MG means little or nothing at all. Moreover, and worryingly, some of the younger followers of the BMC>MG story are now wondering whether SAIC Motor’s strategy for MG is one of preparing to fail – at least, in so far as any long-term design, engineering or manufacturing presence in the UK is concerned.

MG Motor UK's former Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones
MG Motor UK’s former Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones

All that, though, begs this question: what creates brand equity? Well, for a start, intelligent use of a company’s heritage and products to build an emotional bond between the customers and the brand. However, as with all relationships, the bond between brand and customer must be based on respect and trust. Chinese corporate philosophy traditionally places considerable emphasis on the need to earn respect and trust – in any culture, that process only occurs over time but, once gained, both respect and trust can be lost overnight…

MG may still be SAIC Motor’s adopted ‘English Infant’ (if the Google translation of the article mentioned above is accurate, the Chairman, Chen Hong, has only recently described MG as “a baby in his hands”) but, perhaps, the company now needs to extend that parent-child analogy to the wider MG family and take some positive steps to earn their respect and trust. Indeed, a failure to do so would mean that the company was in danger of squandering 90 years’ worth of brand equity – on a rational level, that surely defies commercial logic and, on an emotional level, such a wasted opportunity would be nothing short of a tragedy.

PSA's Carlos Tavares - a man who understands the importance of brand equity
PSA’s Carlos Tavares – a man who understands the importance of brand equity

Carlos Tavares, the Portugese-born former Chief Operating Officer of Renault S.A., who was appointed as Chairman of PSA Peugeot Citroën (PSA) in March last year, would, one suspects, agree with that assessment. Tavares produced his operational framework for the company’s turnaround just 15 days later – one of the standout features of his ‘Back in the Race’ presentation was the decision to accelerate the implementation of his predecessor Philippe Varin’s plan to make Citroën’s DS line an autonomous premium brand.

However, notwithstanding that PSA has opted to link the 60th Anniversary of the original Citroën DS to the introduction of the now standalone DS marque’s first model, the DS 5, at next week’s Geneva Motor Show, Tavares is clearly under no illusions that achieving his objectives for DS might take between 20 and 30 years – he admitted as much when giving this interview to CAR Magazine’s Editor, Phil McNamara, last November. Just imagine, then, what he would probably give for DS to have 90 years’ worth of brand equity…

Interestingly, just last week, Peter Schwarzenbauer, the Chairman of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, and his colleague, the Chief Executive, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, published this ‘Open Letter… on the subject of a new Rolls-Royce.’ The pair concluded by saying: “This new journey begins now. We will take our time in developing and perfecting this new concept in luxury. We will include our customers, enthusiasts and media along the way and will keep you informed of our progress.” Just imagine the positive impact which a similar statement of intent from their opposite numbers at SAIC Motor about the future of MG would almost certainly have on that famous marque’s credibility – that should also go a long way to preventing any further erosion of MG’s brand equity…

A final point: with FCA’s Sergio Marchionne so clearly marching Alfa Romeo into the global automotive market’s prestige space, SAIC Motor has the potential to position MG as an affordable alternative to Alfa Romeo in the value sector.

Are there any AROnline readers willing to bet on the third of Top Gear’s  “Ten Commandments for Proper Petrolheads” being amended to read ‘Thou shalt own an Alfa Romeo and an MG” in, say, ten years’ time?

[Editor’s Note: MG Motor UK now appears to have withdrawn the advertisement for the Press Officer vacancy which had been at the link in the seventeenth paragraph of the above article. Hopefully, then, that may mean that an appointment might just be in the offing…]

Clive Goldthorp


  1. Meticulously researched, Clive. You make a good point about Peugeot and Rolls-Royce’s efforts at reaching out, whereas MG appears to be playing its cards close to its chest, straining the loyalty of its brand. Brand loyalty is just one of the ingredients of brand equity.

    It appears to be running things like a little fiefdom over in Shanghai without regard to its supporters, perhaps not recognizing how important the UK market is to its long-term marketing. It might not sell many vehicles in Britain, but for its Anglo-oriented marketing to have any authenticity, it needs the support of a new generation of British fans.

    Chinese netizens are not stupid, they rely on the internet for information about cars, and many are Anglophones. Should they ever discover that MG is verging on being forgotten in its country of origin, the “British” message in its home-market promotion could fall flat.

  2. Incidentally, by way of a postscript to the above article, any AROnline readers wanting an up-to-date snapshot of MG’s sales performance in China can do so by following this link to Matt Gasnier’s excellent Best Selling Cars website:

    China January 2015: Market up 7% to 2.3m units, Haval H6 on podium

    The best-selling MG in China last month was the MG GT which ranked No. 194 (out of 353 listed models) with 1814 units sold – scroll further down the page for the sales figures of the other MG (and Roewe) models currently on the market there.

  3. Alfa cars are famous for their character, raciness, Italian brio, and, er, unreliability! This applies whether it’s a Spyder or an Alfasud, a GTV or a 156.

    MG is famous for 2-seater sports cars. Sure there may have been more MG saloons sold, but never in its history has an MG saloon been THE definitive performance saloon in a way that a Golf GTi is for example, especially as the majority have just been badge-engineered sportier Morris or Rover cars (unlike Alfas which have never been pure badge engineering exercises)

    Thus, it’s hard to see what the MG badge adds, when trying to sell a compact SUV model or a modest hatchback. The Koreans have shown that, if your product is good, you don’t need a Western brand to sell it.

    • Not sure what the effect of the Chinese manufacture of saloon-only production has been but historically, saloons represented about one-third of MGs built.

  4. I though they sold more MGs than that number in China. Clearly they are struggling with something. Actually, it’s a 1% market share of a huge market. Those of us with a classic MG are probably going to be dissapointed if we think a nice coupe is on its way any time soon. I think the wrong type of company is using the MG name for the wrong cars. But they own the name and can do what they like to repay their ‘investment’ in the name.

  5. Alfa Romeo has slumped to a tiny number of cars produced. Like Rover they were nationalized at some stage and billions were spent bringing out models and building factories in the South of Italy. They benefited from FIAT’s large market share on the home market and on holidays you would typically see the local police almost exclusively driving Alfas.

    I stayed in a small town on Lake Garda, Brenzone I think it was. A tiny town had a huge police station and, of course, had several Alfa 145/155 as well as FIATs and motorbikes. Even that market has now stopped – I assume because of the financial cutbacks etc. – and I think all the marques are now in private hands. It seems madness to spend 4 billion to bring out new models and hope to sell 400,000 cars and they are going to ‘compete’ against BMW? At least MG are being a bit more realistic as bringing out an SUV makes some sense.

    • John,

      Just a quick point of information – according to CAR Magazine, three of the forthcoming nine new Alfa Romeos will be Crossovers/SUVs.

      Have a look at the Investor Presentation delivered by Harald Wester last May (which you should be able to access via the link in the seventh paragraph of the article) for confirmation of that…

  6. Alfa Romeo’s problem isn’t so much its cars, which are interesting enough, but their lack of reliability. For years Alfa Romeo has sat at the bottom, or near the bottom, of every reliability survey. They really need to improve this if they want to compete with Audi.

  7. I hate to talk down MG, but I fear that both of these marques are doomed.

    Alfa first: global sales of 74k; only 16k outside Europe; almost all B and C class cars. No future in that policy. RWD would be nice, but there’s a lot of development cost in spinning all those models off one platform, and it’s a large platform. A limited shrink worked for Studebaker’s Lark; but that was a long time ago, in a market far, far away.

    More recently, I knew guys who worked on the Rover TCV at TRW; they said the 75 platform was too expensive, too complex and too heavy for a 45-sized car. BMW are thinking of making the next 1 Series FWD: if they can’t make money from RWD, who can?

    On the other hand, if Alfa can use Fiat engines and electronics, and Chrysler’s US dealers to get back into that market, they may have a chance. As for Lancia – that may get squeezed out between Fiat and Alfa.

    Alfa would need a big marketing spend to expand into new sectors: the campaigns would need to be at least as cheeky and imaginative as BMW’s “Mini adventures”.

    MG: a small subsidiary of a relatively small Chinese company, which could end up entirely building Western designs under contract. No sales in US or continental Europe, and only a handful in the UK. Time is running out…

    • Ken,

      Well, I am open to correction here, but my understanding is that SAIC Motor, the parent company of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Company Limited – which, by the way, may now have been re-named Morris Garages Limited – is widely ranked as the eighth largest global OEM.

      Ironically, that is just one slot behind Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. …

  8. I saw an MG 6 today on a Wigan plate. It looked very similar to a Mazda 6 and looked well screwed together. All these cars need are a wider and more efficient range of engines, an aggressive advertising policy and more dealers as the car certainly looked good in the metal. However, the marque is slowly growing and last year over 2000 were sold, a big improvement on the penny numbers in 2011.

  9. Well, if Craig is still missing his Alfa Romeo 164 – and who can blame him – there is an ‘H’ registered 3.0 V6 example for sale at Pinhoe Garage in Exeter, Devon. Sadly, I have no further information about it beyond the fact it is solid red over grey and has grey velour seats, but it is a locally-registered example (to Exeter) and still has its original number plates and dealer sticker in the back window.

  10. “MG’s brand equity is gradually slipping away…..”

    I’d argue it’s virtually disappeared.

    I’m a petrolhead, love the MG marque, own a ratty ’73 Midget but even I would be embarrassed to turn up in a modern MG-badged offering. My mates would ridicule me for the very thought of parting with hard-earned money for some Chinese tat. I’d say the game is almost over for MG.


    • Nige,

      Well, having just last month part-exchanged my 06/06 MG TF 135 – which came off the assembly line at Longbridge on 16 February, 2005 and so was one of the last built by MG Rover – for a new 15/64 MG3 Style, I would, unsurprisingly, disagree with your description of my new car as “Chinese tat.”

      I cannot help but wonder whether you have ever driven an MG3 and/or an MG6 – if not, I would respectfully suggest that you do so and then re-visit your assessment from a more informed and objective perspective.

      • Well, Clive, at least you have the courage of your convictions! And I suppose that as long as you get say 3 years’ use out of it, even if it is worth absolutely nothing at the end of that period, it will have been cheaper than, say, a new Skoda Fabia, or Fiesta each year. But I fear that depreciation is the fatal toxin for these cars, and I am sorry to say that I have never seen an MG3, and only 1 MG6, despite living on the outskirts of a major conurbation.

        • Chris,

          Yes, that was precisely my reasoning – although, given the annual mileage my wife and I now do and that she has a 14/14 Honda Civic 1.8i-VTEC SR, we are intending to keep the MG3 for five to six years.

          Anyway, as I believe that we may both live in the same part of the world, there is a chance that you might see me out and about in the ‘3 – look out for one in Red Rose on an old-type, six-character private plate! 🙂

  11. At the age of 50 and even having driven (and really enjoyed) MG Maestro EFis back in the mid and late 1980s, I can not remember a time when MG wasn’t referring back to its “illustrious past”. How long can they keep doing this for with any hope of success, especially when applying the badge to such ordinary Chinese cars? Yes, I know I haven’t driven one, but I don’t need a test drive to tell me that I stopped buying 5-door hatchbacks 25 years ago for a good reason.

    I would suggest that, to the majority of buyers under 50 and outside of specialist interest forums, MG is about as relevant as Cotton Oxford rugby boots, PYE gramophone players or Werther’s Originals.

    I’m really not sure how the marque can be successfully resurrected yet again.

  12. Clive,

    With respect, you are missing the point. Whether they are any good or not is almost irrelevant, (though motoring press reviews appear to confirm that they are pretty unspectacular). To a car enthusiast, the road to any purchase starts with desirability and positive perception.

    The MG 3 and 6 offerings have neither of these. Therefore the point I’m making is that fellow car enthusiasts would view them as cheapo Chinese offerings and the subject of ridicule. I for one would not shell out several thousand pounds just to be laughed at.


    • Nige,

      Well, I always try to “speak as I find” – the MG3 is honestly, in my book, a really decent little steer for the money. I am from Scottish and Yorkshire stock and would not have parted with my hard-earned savings if that had not been the case! 🙂 What other top-spec, B-segment supermini can you buy for £10,000?

      However, I do take your point about how car enthusiasts currently perceive the MG marque – indeed, that concern, in part, prompted me to write the article. That said, based on my albeit time-limited experience to date, most of my friends (petrolhead and non-petrolhead) who have seen my car, have been impressed – one of the latter even said: “it’s like a MINI!” and was more than surprised to learn how much less expensive than a MINI the ‘3 was…

      Anyway, if I am correct in inferring from your above response that you have not driven an MG3 or MG6, then why not do so? After all, you do not have to tell your friends! 🙂 Seriously though, if your fellow car enthusiasts dismiss the current MGs “as cheapo Chinese offerings,” that probably says more about how uninformed they are than anything else. I can assure you that nobody has been laughing at me!

  13. Maestrowoff…..Not sure that is correct actually. There is a Lancia Main Dealer near where my partner lives in the South of France. They were selling the Ypsilon, Delta and Thema (basically a Chrysler 300C) and I was last there a month ago. If they have disappeared I shall be sorry. Sad end for a great marque

  14. Both marques are ones which I care about – they seem to have been under serious threat for most of my life and they always seem to survive. Not sure that Alfa need 3 4wds but going for the BMW market head-on makes sense. As for MG/SAIC, there has never been a proper sales and marketing strategy in the UK and that continues. No wonder they aren’t selling many and the brand is losing equity. A roadster would really help, but only if people knew about it.

  15. Gents

    Clive is bang on the money in my book. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. My MG6 has is now up to 22k miles, with absolutely nothing of any significance having gone wrong – wish I could say the same for BMWs and Volvos I’ve had in the past. True, it’s mainly motorway miles but this it deals with very, very well and comfortably too, though mpg could at times be a little better, I concede – varies between 39 and 34, depending on how much turbo you use.

    It is well put together and well-finished and is a steal at the price, especially in the second-hand market. My only complaint? A notchy change from 1st to 2nd until gearbox warms up.

    More importantly, for us Gentlemen of a certain age, who remember MG saloons of the past, it handles brilliantly, has an impressive turn of speed on turbo and still has some UK genes. Plus, you never see another one on the roads, which I love…

    OK, bottom line? My MG ZS Stepspeed would still give it a run for its money on a B road but the MG6 is a different type of car – a sports cruiser rather then a bruiser.

    Try one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Chinese tat?? As I say, try one.

    PS: Does anyone have any experience of re-mapping these cars since I reckon the chassis could deal with quite a bit more power very easily?

  16. I think Alfa Romeo and MG are dead, at least in the Western world, Alfa particularly so. 74,000 cars a year is just penny-packets in today’s world, and as for MG, they are completely dead in Europe if not in China, too! I really do wonder why SAIC keep hold of the Longbridge factory, it must be costing them an absolute fortune to run.

    The introduction of the Euro has essentially done for any car company in the European Union/Eurozone that is not German, as the French and Italians can no longer rely on cheaper prices to the German marques. Essentially, the Germans have won the market. Even Honda are struggling with their once-vaunted Japanese quality and they are made, (or is it assembled at Swindon) here in the UK!

    When I got married to my Italian wife way back in 1981, I visited Italy quite a lot, and often asked her and her mother how the Italians could live the Life of Reilly without any comeback. I mean half the population were paying a pension to the other half!! The Black Economy (Economia Nera), was reckoned to be about 30% of the official GDP! It was all completely unsustainable, but they were able to keep it going over quite a few decades by continuous devaluation of the lira. Once that option was closed off with Italy converting to the Euro, life became a lot tougher. So that soft easy life (La Dolce Vita), has now come to an end, Alfa are effectively dead and Fiat have only been saved by the success of the Fiat 500. Do you ever see any other Fiats on the road apart from these? No!

    As for France, at one time there were Renault dealers all over the place in England, but again, they seem to be dying, although being nationalised, no doubt the French Government will rescue them. Citroens do seem to sell, but not in the numbers I remember of 30 years ago.

    Let’s face it, the Germans have won the economic war, even if they lost the last fighting one.

    • That’s an interesting personal experience of Italy. Thanks for sharing.

      I was really surprised when I last looked at the Fiat website, there was hardly any range at all anymore with variants of the 500 covering virtually everything that they do. It’s a bit sad to have to trade almost entirely on the past and I’m not sure how sustainable it is to trade almost entirely on the past. Surely, there has to be a point when everyone with fond memories of a the retro’s original has now had one of the new car and got it out of their system? I’m sorry to say that this applies to Cowley, too…

      I’m saddened by the way the market has been dominated by the Germans. I see so many parallels with Coca Cola, MacDonalds and Starbucks in that it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the wretched brands are everywhere and so much local identity is lost.

      I imagine that SAIC will retain their import operation at Longbridge for as long as they see sufficient value in retaining such an historic address on their letterheads. It may not fool many people here in the UK, but even the illusion of UK manufacture has a cachet in many parts of the world. As such, it might still be a justifiable overhead.

      • Even if you look at the Italian site, it’s still pretty bare once you factor out the 500 copies –

        Didn’t know they had killed off the Bravo, shame as I always liked the look of it.

        I think the new Panda hasn’t taken off as well as the previous model, still see loads of MK2 Pandas kicking around, but hardly any of the current shape.

        • Blimey. I didn’t realise things were quite like that. Other than the Vans (which is what those ‘MPVs’ are) and the 500 (where the management appear to be copying BMW’s model for MINI, but not as well!) there are startling parallels to Phoenix-era Rover (a couple of ancient designs that have been badly updated in the Punto and Panda and another manufacturer’s car (the Freemont) which appears to fit in that range about as well as the XPower SV or CityRover did in MGR’s.

        • It’s done very well, but the growth has largely stalled and the Fiat 500 outsells it month after month in its home market in the UK. I bought two BMW MINIs new and was heavily into all of the new MINI clubs and events, but virtually all of the club events and even the clubs themselves have largely ceased all activities. It’s a real shame.

  17. Surely the important thing about Longbridge is the R and D facility. It would be a major wrench to remove that.

        • Of course that’s important, but we must not forget that the MG cars are made in China!!! Buying these cars is contributing to the closedown of car factories in Europe!

          I’m also huge fan of Rover and MG and I have nothing against the Chinese in particular, but I have to admit that employing 300 workers is almost nothing. For example Nissan, a Japanese brand, employs 6000 workers in Sunderland. After all, which brand is more British?

        • 300 good jobs no doubt, but a tiny team when compared with rivals. Ford employ 5,000 at Dunton, while JLR have 6,000 at Gaydon.

        • If I may just add one thing to what joao.slr and maestrowoff have said, while the staff at JLR and Ford are designing products to keep British and European factories competitive, those 300 staff are currently showing the Chinese industry how to build better cars and (worse still) how to design them.

          As long as the Chinese build cars like the SAIC/MG 3 and the 6, then their impact will be limited. If, like the German designers have done for Kia, they are shown how to produce cars that are properly competitive and even desirable, but with a Chinese cost base, then the European industry may have a serious new competitor.

  18. The Italian car industry, except for supercars that only the super rich can afford, is slipping away. Decades of poor quality, the rust issue that killed Lancia in Britain and underwhelming cars like the Fiat Brava have caught up with them.

    Their best selling car, the Fiat 500, is made in Serbia and in Italy Fiat Auto has seen its market share fall below 30 per cent as buyers flock to much better made cars from Germany, South Korea and Japan.

  19. My apologies, I did go “off-piste” a bit last night !

    However, I think it is valid to cite the Euro as essentially a German industry benefit scheme. I personally, cannot see any car maker in the Euro zone surviving the German onslaught unless the Eurozone breaks up. Each country has its own peculiarities that prevent German-like levels of efficiency being achieved. Devaluation of the currencies allowed adjustments to take place.

    However, I didn’t say very much about MG. It seems to me that a car marque is far more than just the name. The Chinese were originally in discussions with MG Rover about a joint operation but seem to have made the decision at the time to just let MG Rover go to the wall so they could buy up the bits cheap. But in doing this, whilst they got “MG”, I don’t think they got the MG market, by which I mean people who liked to buy MGs. People aren’t fools, they can see that what is now on sale as an MG has absolutely nothing to do with the old UK MG cars. Maybe the cars are designed at Longbridge as they claim, but they don’t seem to have any vital MG “spark”, certainly I find the styling monumentally dull. I am not saying the MG 3 isn’t a bargain, and is probably a good car, but it is lost in a sea of small hatches. The MG6 is similarly lost. The cars have no identifiable unique aspect apart from the MG badge. They look foreign which, of course, they are.

    Whilst it would be nice to see more MGs on the road, I somehow think that they will remain a minority player, and a very small minority at that. Of course, the Chinese market will no doubt take all they can make so they have no worries really. It is a real puzzle to me why they persist with the Longbridge operation. Are there no Chinese design engineers?

  20. @ Fraser Mitchell, the Germans are extremely powerful in the European car industry now. VAG is a huge corporation that makes everything from city cars to Bentleys and has factories in seven countries, while BMW has turned the Mini into a huge brand as well as its own successful products.

    I often wonder if some kind of rationalisation in European-owned car companies will take place where the ailing Fiat could be a casualty with Lancia done away with, Fiat reduced to making 500s and Pandas and some kind of tie up between BMW and Alfa Romeo to make sporting saloons.

  21. A great article, well researched and written.

    I’m glad to see many MG3s on the road, the local MG dealer seems to be doing well at marketing and selling them.

    I don’t see Alfa Romeo as dead, more in limbo. In terms of reliability, according to surveys they’ve been steadily increasing since the 1990s. The 159 was solidly built (Saab had a hand in the platform, which unfortunately made it a little too heavy to be a sports saloon).

    Their plan is to spearhead a US return with the new Guilia, Crossover and sports car models. Will be interesting to see how the Guilia turns out, the Mazda 6 is a similar proposition.

    I hope that VW don’t get their mits on Alfa. They’ve ballsed up Seat, which was meant to be their Alfa, but it only produces hatchbacks, a small Skoda and a secondhand Audi. That said, in the ‘affordable sporting hatchbacks’ space, Seat is probably the closest brand to MG.

  22. Alfa Romeo or MG car brands are like knowing Hungarian today: it’s nice, but you don’t need it. Today you need reliability and global purpose.

  23. I hadn’t realised that MG and Alfa were so close in terms of sales, dealer numbers and limited range.

    Success for both is perfectly possible – even with currently limited model ranges, a greater promotional push would help sales. Most car buyers aren’t enthusiasts – they only know of cars they see about on the roads and in adverts; they won’t really know that MG and Alfa even exist. Some big adverts would let them know!!

    I do sometime wonder though why MG sales are still so low. You’d think the TV adverts, saloon car racing, adverts in papers would have had greater impact. Still, I suppose many buyers will be put off when they discover how far their nearest dealer is. Having said that, my nearest MG dealer, Graham Walker Limited of Chester, has hardly achieved any local sales either. Strange…

    As a footnote to show the loyalty of a small band of people – I was stopped at the lights today in the ZR and a black MG 6 turned left into my road. We both smiled and gave a thumbs up. Such loyalty (for Alfa as well) can be played upon, leading to a growth in sales to those less enthusiastic as they see the cars about.

  24. I know it’s tempting to look for another famous brand as down in the dumps as MG to provide some sort of consolation, but not sure Alfa Romeo fits the bill. It is still part of a relatively large Euro-American conglomerate that does operate at a profit and does have access to some fairly decent platform technology. The new Giulia will platform share with the Maserati Ghibli, no less. MG could only dream of having this sort of corporate home.

    • Paul,

      Just a quick point of information – SAIC Motor, the parent company of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Co. Limited, the company responsible for MG and Roewe, has separate joint ventures with both General Motors and Volkswagen Group and is widely ranked as the eighth largest global OEM. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is ranked just one place higher at seventh.

      SAIC Motor almost certainly has the financial resources to establish MG as a truly global brand over time – the company just needs to demonstrate the commitment to do so.

  25. This is a really interesting article with some even more interesting comments made about it. I’ll declare straight away that I am an MG enthusiast, have owned several models and currently have a 75 BGT V8 in the garage. Oh, and I have just ordered an MG3!

    Reasons? I wanted to downsize from my 05-plated Freelander, I was looking for something a bit nippier to drive and lower my running costs. Looked at various models and narrowed it down to the MG and the Fiat Panda 4×4. The Panda turned out to be just too small when I saw it in the metal and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to seat 4 comfortably – there was very little room behind the driver’s seat once I’d got it where I needed to be comfy. The MG by comparison is vey spacious with good seat adjustment.

    I had two test drives before making my decision and found nothing really to grumble about. I don’t tear about and, in normal driving conditions, it seemed a very respectable little motor car. As for its heritage, I feel it is a successor to the MG 11/1300, Metro, ZR et al. British? Well, at least it has had some UK input and is assembled on the Longbridge line. That probably makes it significantly more British than most Vauxhalls these days.

    What makes a true MG is a very emotive subject. It’s nice to see such badged vehicles still on the road and I really hope that the SAIC high command have a game plan for its future. A true sports car is needed in the line up and some other variations on the current range. I can’t be the only person who thinks the MG6 would make an excellent coupe and tourer?

    One other reason for my purchase – the insurance grouping. I have a teenage daughter learning to drive and the quotes I had for some cars where truly horrendous. The MG knocked all of them flat which means I can get a new car with all the perks and my 17-year-old can get driving experience. My other child will be able to drive in a few years so the MG will remain until then so they can cut their teeth on it, too.

    MG3, it just made sense.

  26. Speaking as a long-term Italian car nut, I find the whole Lancia/Alfa thing profoundly depressing. I know the perceived reliabilty problems were a huge factor, although in my 30 odd years of driving I’ve not found Italian cars to be any more or less unreliable than any other, but the way Fiat has mismanaged Alfa and Lancia has been staggering.

    It is every bit as bad as Austin Rover, just thinking of the incredible technological, sporting and frankly glamorous reputations of both marques, it is an object lesson in self-destruction to see how they ended up…It is hard to comprehend how a marque which made some of the most beautiful cars on the planet (Gamma Coupe et al) and still holds the record for WRC championships ended up being a badge-engineered Chrysler 300C.

    Interesting that the new Mazda 6 gets mentioned… I actually bought a 175hp Sport in Soul Red last year – my first Japanese car, incidentally. It is exactly the car that Alfa should have made – very elegant-looking in the red great and fun to drive but, as much as I enjoy it, I always wish it was an Alfa…

  27. The big advantage with Alfa Romeo, which MG lacks, is that, whilst neither brand has been in the USA for decades, Alfa will return to the USA with the benefit of having the Chrysler dealer network. The USA is a critical factor in the potential to establish Alfa as a premium global automotive brand, as the Germans do not have the same stranglehold over the Premium market they have in Europe.

    Fiat’s Alfa products have not simply been good enough, effectively being squeezed out like SAAB by the volume brands and premium brands by lacking perceived quality of the big 3 German brand compact saloons (in reality the perception comes more from the AMG, M and S variants than the actual capabilities or reliability of the cooking versions).

    However, whilst the Alfa 159 V6 was not the best saloon car I have ever owned, it is still one I miss more than any other car. I note I do not miss for one moment the ZT260 that preceded it – the ZT260 was, when I think about it, a much better driver’s car and full of character, but it never got under my skin in the way the Alfa did. The Alfa 159, of course, looked better, but also the interior looked and felt a much nicer place to be, even though the quality was below the bits of the ZT that had not benefited from Project Drive. However, the bits that had benefited from Project Drive felt like they had come off a Daewoo. The Alfa just felt special which I think must be put down to the power of good styling both inside and out and I note I don’t get that special feeling sitting in a 3 Series etc either.

    If Alfa can bring that “special feeling” to the market in a RWD competitor to the 3 Series, A3, C Class then it stands a chance, but it must (and this goes for Jaguar as well) make sure it has a version that can hold its own if not better the M3. That’s because, to me, cooking 159s and ZTs were better than 318, 320s £ for £, and, when driven my mere mortals, quicker on the road. However, they did not benefit from being illuminated by the glow of outright perfection from the M3 that the 3 Series does.

    • Something that puzzled me, even in the UK, given SAIC’s work with GM, why can’t they leverage the Chevrolet network?

  28. One surefire way to help Alfa would be some kind of tie up with the Japanese, where the styling and the bodies came from Italy, but the Japanese provided the technology and the reliability. I’m sure Toyota would be an ideal partner as for all they have the Toyota brand for their bread and butter cars, and Lexus for the luxury market, they’ve had nothing sporting since the Celica went. Surely, a modern Sprint Veloce with Toyota underpinnings and a Toyota-powered replacement for the Mito could save them…

  29. Alfa had their hands burnt with the Arna / Cherry Europe tie-up with Nissan, so they might be reluctant to, but it would be good if it worked out.

  30. We also purchased the MG3 Style last year and the only thing I’ve not been able to get answered by the MG VIP Club is why the electric cooling fan is running all of the time even when the outside temp drops to minus six.

    My colleagues working in China are informed that the soon-to-be-released MG SUV may be launched with the same size engine but with 50% power – if that proves to be correct and it fits the MG3 shell, then we could have a potential hot hatch in the near future.

    The 3 is nearer to my Mother-in-Law’s Streetwise than our old Maestro 2.0i but it seems to handle town driving and the occasional 200 mile sprint to Wales without any major problems.

    If any one on the forum has an MG3 then, if they could let me know if their engine cooling fan works all the time, it would be appreciated.

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