I was there : MG3 first drive, September 2013

MG3 launch

Picture the scene… It’s September 2013, and after months and years of sitting here and watching the agonising rebirth of MG it looked like the company was finally about to get serious. One only needs to look back through this site’s blogs and news stories to see how the 2011 arrival of the MG6 had been a false dawn of the worst kind – the newly-rebranded MG Motor UK told us it was taking things seriously while forgetting to market the car, and consequently sold a mere handful of this potentially-capable family hatch and saloon.

Fast forward two years, and MG’s shameful pretence at being a UK car manufacturer was coming to an end. The MG3 was the latest addition to the brand’s portfolio and, while the firm alluded to aspects of it being ‘assembled’ or ‘finished’ in the UK, we all knew that it was an import from China – although there was some Britishness in the way it looked and drove, thanks to SMTC UK’s input.

Anyway, I digress. The seriousness levels at Longbridge were certainly ramping up. The firm hired an actual Public Relations (PR) and Events Manager who I’d heard of and, when the invite to attend the launch of the MG3 came in, it appeared to be an actual programme.

Generally, a UK launch of any new car involves being based in a hotel (generally one with a spa located somewhere in the Cotswolds), where you meet up with other journalists and company executives the evening before. There’s an evening meal, followed by time in the bar, and then it’s bed and an early start to drive the car around a predetermined route encompassing town, suburban and country lane driving. It’s a well-trodden path, and one I can imagine all car launches following since the year dot. QED.

MG tries to do it differently

Butlins Bognor Regis

After the MG6 and MG TF ‘launches’, which involved pies and pasties at the Longbridge showroom, a catch-up with good guys like Ian Pogson, a quick look to see what’s by the bins, a spin around the Brum environs, and home for tea, the MG3’s programme looked promising. We’d be going to a hotel on the South Coast, there would be company executives along for the ride (and to field awkward questions), there’d be an overnight stay and we’d get a full day driving…

Where it became more interesting was MG’s choice of venue. It would be held at Butlins at Bognor Regis, and we’d be stopping over in a hotel block usually reserved for longer-staying guests… What could possibly go wrong?

After arriving at Butlins, I settled in my room. I have to say that this was a real surprise. Far from a Holiday on The Buses-style accommodation block, it was an expansive suite with a large bedroom, and view over the rest of the camp. Nice. I’m relaxed. Then it’s down to meet the troops at the bar downstairs, where we’d talk product, MG and test the company’s claims that there would be at least 100 dealers in the network by the end of the year (they missed that by a margin).

Pre-dinner entertainment abounds

There are a lot of A-lister journalists on the event. Considering by this time, MG’s market share was negligible, that’s a good result. I’m not one of them, but I’m here for CAR and find myself chatting with Richard Bremner, who’s writing it up for Autocar. We’re both very positive about the MG3 – it looks good on paper, with neat packaging and a very tempting list price. Could they finally have cracked it?

After drinks and mixing, all of us are ushered towards the restaurant. But before we get in there, we’re herded into a small theatre for a good old-fashioned comedy show. There are no seats, nor windows, and there’s a whiff of old-school music hall here, but with standing room only we’re shoulder to shoulder, wondering what on earth is going on.

The curtains rise and a man and wife comedy duo begin a routine. It’s mildly funny, and we’re smiling, especially at the poor attempts to engage the audience. The lack of enthusiasm, fed no doubt by sheer confusion, doesn’t go down well with the pair, who are clearly fighting a losing battle. They then start to insult us, then each other – we assume it’s all part of the act, but the banter has gone, and they’re just plain irritated before descending into a fully-fledged argument with each other.

Then, as quickly as it begins, the curtain goes down, the lights come on and the doors open. Show over. The PR officer ushers us out and seems to be speechless. We’re even more confused now. Bremner whispers something sardonic in my ear that I simply wouldn’t repeat here.

Things do get better

After that it’s dinner – fish and chips, which I definitely approve of – drinks and bed. I’m still confused by the earlier show… Was this some kind of bizarre effort to make the firm seem more quirky? I doubt it. But then, in a climate where we’ve been told so many different things by so many long-forgotten MG executives (including one beaut who said the MG3 was a credible rival to the MINI and another who thought MG’s main rival was SEAT), it doesn’t surprise.

The next morning and the cars are all lined up for us. I share with Adam Sloman, and we enjoy a traffic-congested, stop-start route where a no point do we get to stretch the MG3’s legs. And yet, in this circumstance it’s easy to like the MG3. It looked good on the road, striking and modern, while the interior was functional enough, with a useful built-in ‘phone holder that far too few manufacturers provide.

When we returned, the PR officer seemed more relieved than pleased to see us – I was late as always after going off-piste on the route – and flushed with embarrassment when asked about the previous evening’s shenanigans. Was it a prank? No… Turning the conversation around, was the car any good? I liked it – and still do.

I think launching it at Butlins was a cute idea, but didn’t quite come off in the end. Actually, in many ways, that’s something we could say about the MG3, too. Nice try…

Keith Adams

11 Comments

  1. I was involved in organising the logistics of media events during the same era. I didn’t work for MG, but I did work with Peugeot on an equally odd one. This was the UK launch of the Peugeot 407, which was built around giving journalists a ‘typical 407 owner’ experience. As most of them were going to be fleet sales this included about 100 miles of motorway and then lunch, I kid you not, at a Little Chef. Not one of the Heston Blumenthal rejigged Little Chefs, but a thoroughly old fashioned one where everything was cooked on a griddle or in a microwave. We gave the journalists free choice from the menu, and one enthusiastic eater managed to get through two Olympic Breakfasts followed by a plate of pancakes. So at least he enjoyed himself.

    Feedback from the groups was a general air of bemusement, and there were a fair number of snarky comments in the resulting media coverage. As the cost of having taken over a Little Chef for three days was barely less than doing the same with a nicer country pub would have been I have absolutely no idea of the logic behind it.

  2. This reminds me of the press launches I attended for the original Audi TT Roadster in November 1999 and for the 2003 Model Year specification Rover 25, 45 and 75 in October 2002. One was held at Goodwood and was a glitzy affair complete with ‘must wear’ Audi TT branded anorak and woolly hat (which I still have), a long road trip to see an Auto Union Silver Arrow grand prix racing car being painstakingly restored, followed by some speed trials of the famous circuit in an Audi TT before a star-studded style evening meal (which was too elaborate for my dietary requirements) at Goodwood House.

    The other event was held in a more low key hotel in rural Wiltshire and involved an ensemble of staff from the Press Office, Marketing department and even the design team who greeted us with a bacon roll breakfast by a roaring log fire in the sitting room, followed by a brief presentation about the products before we were let loose to follow a shorter road trip on our own. This was followed by lunch, further discussion and another chance to drive the cars in a relaxed manner. When I happened to look back at the hotel, the PR Manager joked with me whether I was trying to find the Rover 75 Vitesse (he was aware of my interest in the Rover Vitesse), which quickly saw us moving on to discuss the SD1 Vitesse from two decades before until his colleague Ian casually asked, what is the SD1 Vitesse?

    Both events were poles apart – one being more laid back where we didn’t feel rushed and we could actually engage in ‘real’ conversation with representatives from the manufacturer, whereas the other felt over-choreographed to the point where it was stifling and full of bravado from the slick PR execs (some of whom I already knew) and even some of the fellow journos.

    The expensive 24-hour event with Audi would prove to make me feel out of my comfort zone and I declined the opportunity to stay overnight in Goodwood House or stay for the evening meal, whereas the Rover event was pitched at a much more enjoyable level that I still remember with fondness. All of which proves you don’t need to have the deepest of pockets in order to create an enjoyable press drive event.

  3. As a lifelong petrolhead and motor trade worker of 41 years,I wish to vent. Anyone who reads my posts will know I have strong views. But,stay with me. I look at the skills of an ever more diverse workforce in car factories in the uk and europe , and I’m proud of them. Weather you agree with it or not though,(and I do not agree with it) globalization has put everything on a different footing. Global wide shareholder payouts. hidden money, tax havens, it’s a different game completely .
    And then we have China. The most most repressive state on earth, the leaders of witch ran students over with tanks in broad daylight and told the world it never happened, and so on and so on. We now see this genocidal country engaging in torture, murder, repression and even eugenics. The Uyghur people have endured a great deal, and I feel extremely sorry for them. The Chinese state claim that in their concentration camps they learn quite a lot. Well why not employ them in the car factories.

    Nobody should buy lease or otherwise these Putin allied machines and not be involved in, or have anything to do with this horrible regime.

    Like South Africa, things may get worse before they get better, but surely propping them up by sucking up to their car industry will not help things.

    • Those on this site continuing to support MG “UK” need to have a word with themselves. These cars from a totalitarian state have no connection with MG as was.

    • Hopefully this has lead you to the website so you can read all of his articles? I find them highly amusing and happily re-read them regularly as there are unfortunately no new ones…

      • Sniffpetrol , absolutely brilliant, and he’s a fellow Malbec fan! Have just read the article on fuel injectors. Hilarious.

  4. Like it or not, China is the biggest manufacturing country in the world and due to outsourcing and China buying up brands like MG, that some people might still think are British made, everyone must own something Chinese as they dominate electronics, clothing, children’s toys and throwaway products like lighters. Unless the West started making products like computers again and people were prepared to pay more, it is very hard to see how Chinese industry can be beaten

  5. Great insight there Keith, thanks for sharing.

    I don’t agree China is the most repressive state on earth, think that title goes to somewhere else.

    Echoing what Glenn Aylett said above, it’s hard to avoid Chinese industry in most parts of our consumer lives really. Not just MG either, Volvo Cars is Chinese owned too remember.

    • Thanks Andy . What I meant to say was that it was one of most repressive countries. Saudia Arabia of course needs no introduction here. the constant sucking up to them by BBc Top Gear, motoring bloggists , and internet so called influencers realy grates.

      I realy like this website, and I have been reading with interest Marina vs Avenger. Watch this space .

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