Could Vauxhall’s GT Concept point the way to a new MG sports car? We can dream…
Ask diehard MG enthusiasts which new model they would most like to see SAIC Motor launch and the vast majority will probably say a two-seater sports car. AROnline has discussed ‘the sports car question’ with both Guy Jones, the then Sales and Marketing Director of MG Motor UK Limited, and David Lindley, the Managing Director of SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK), when interviewing them in the past, but recent developments have made their respective responses all the more significant.
Guy Jones went on record as saying that ‘MG sports cars are part of the Product Plan’ while David Lindley told us that: ‘I share the passion and enthusiasm of many of your readers to see a new MG roadster in the future. I also believe that it is essential to maintain our brand value that we consider having this type of product within our model range.
‘Any replacement for the MG TF will, of course, need to present a viable business case. The comparatively low-volume forecast for this type of product means that the programme profitability becomes far more sensitive to engineering investment and production costs. Reduction in these costs can potentially be achieved by platform sharing between OEMs [such as the Joint Venture between what is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Mazda Motor Corporation which resulted in the new Fiat 124 Spider and fourth-generation Mazda MX-5]. The alternative route is to utilise a suitable architecture (or major architectural elements) from within the group.’
The disruptive dynamics – think autonomous driving and electric or plug-in hybrid powertrains – currently at play within the global Automotive Industry might, at first glance, make establishing a commercially-sustainable business case for a two-seater, MG-badged sports car an even harder task now. However, the recent developments already alluded to above may, in fact, have provided SAIC Motor/MG with a real opportunity to do exactly that…
What, then, are the recent developments concerned? Well, firstly, SAIC Motor’s partner in SAIC General Motors Corporation Limited (SAIC-GM), General Motors, will be unveiling a new Opel/Vauxhall GT Concept at this week’s Geneva Motor Show. Our colleagues at CAR Magazine say that the GT Concept, which takes some styling inspiration from both the 1965 Opel Experimental GT Concept and the 1966 Vauxhall XVR Concept, will be powered by a three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged engine which produces 143bhp and 151lb ft and will have a kerbweight of less than 1000kg. The engine is one of the Small Gasoline Engine (SGE) family which has been jointly developed by General Motors and SAIC Motor – a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre turbocharged derivative will feature in the new MG GS SUV when that hits the UK market in June.
Vauxhall describes the GT Concept as a ‘template for future sports cars’ so a production version could be on the cards. However, as Automotive News Europe’s Guild of Motoring Writers award-winning UK Correspondent, Nick Gibbs, has pointed out, ‘the problem is scalability. Last year, in Europe, Mazda sold fewer than 7000 units of the MX-5, the so-called ‘people’s sports car.’ Opel couldn’t make those numbers profitable on an all-new [rear-wheel-drive] platform.’ Gibbs has a solution, though: ‘Opel needs halo cars like [the GT Concept] and so does GM’s Chinese partner, SAIC… An Opel-MG rear-wheel-drive sports car reviving the iconic MGB sports car and developed by British and German engineers at Vauxhall and Opel would give MG a big boost in Europe and in China, where MG Motor uses its British heritage as a big part of its sales pitch.’
The comment from David Lindley cited above suggests that he and his colleagues at SMTC UK may already have had the same idea as Automotive News Europe’s Nick Gibbs and that what we might be about to see here is the first evidence of some carefully-crafted, Chinese-backed corporate choreography… However, even with the additional volume which a two-seater, MG-badged sports car based on a production version of the Opel/Vauxhall GT Concept might generate with sales in the UK, Europe and, possibly, the USA – remember that SAIC Motor already has a bridgehead there with SAIC USA Inc. in Birmingham, Michigan – both General Motors and SAIC Motor will still need to ensure that their respective sports cars can be manufactured and marketed profitably.
Interestingly, that commercial driver makes the second recent development referred to above particularly relevant. The British-owned company behind the re-launch of the TVR marque planned for 2017, TVR Manufacturing Limited, announced last year that the next generation of TVRs – at least four new models will be brought to market over the next ten years – would be manufactured using the Gordon Murray Design Limited (GMD)-developed iStream® assembly process. AROnline readers can access the relevant Press Release via this link but here is the important part: ‘The simplified [iStream®] assembly process means that the manufacturing plant can be designed to be 20 per cent of the size of a conventional factory. This could reduce capital investment in the assembly plant by approximately 80 per cent.’
AROnline understands that, even now, MG Motor UK’s manufacturing facility at Longbridge has a theoretical maximum capacity of 150,000 units per annum – more than enough to accommodate the production of, say, Chevrolet, MG and Opel-badged two-seater GTs and roadsters in significant volumes. MG Motor UK’s then Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, told AROnline back in May 2010 that the ‘Minimum Efficient Scale’ (MES) or breakeven point for Longbridge was ‘certainly nothing like [the] 200,000 to 250,000 units per annum’ which we had assumed.
Think, then, what the MES might be if General Motors and SAIC Motor (or even a new Joint Venture company) were to convert the existing CAB1 and/or CAB2 buildings at Longbridge to GMD’s iStream® assembly process and manufacture their new two-seater sports cars there. Remember also that the Lease on the site between St Modwen Properties PLC and Nanjing Automobile Corporation (UK) Limited was originally for a term of 33 years from 22 February 2006 and so should have another 23 years to run…
That said, even if the projected numbers did support a commercially-sustainable business case, the product would still have to be bang on the money in order to be a sales success – especially in the US. Our US Editor (and Automotive News Engineering and Technology Reporter), Richard Truett, takes the same view as his colleague at Automotive News Europe, Nick Gibbs – back in January 2014, Richard wrote: ‘When the time comes for MG to return to the US, it should do so by starting with a proper two-seater roadster, rear-wheel drive, of course. Such a car fits the American image of MG.’
A rear-wheel-drive Toyota GT86-like MG GT 2+2 and/or a two-seater roadster based on the Opel/Vauxhall GT Concept, which was designed, engineered and built in the UK, should stand a real chance of success in the US. After all, as our man Truett has said, ‘MG and affordable high-performance with British style is a recipe that can work here in the US.’ Imagine, then, a top-spec model powered by the 250bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged version of the SMTC UK-developed MGE (formerly NLE) engine which the company’s David Lindley mentioned to us back in August 2012…
Ironically, AROnline’s Editor, Keith Adams, visited the Longbridge site last week and subsequently observed on social media that ‘the place was like a ghost village.’ Hopefully, though, there may soon be some grounds for believing that might just change in the not-too-distant future.
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