I suppose it had to come – but, by 2013, we’ll finally be able to draw a line under MG Rover. It will be over. The last few dregs of the company that made it to China, then survived the SAIC Motor takeover of NAC, are of some interest to Brit car enthusiasts – but it looks like SAIC Motor will be following a different course for its next generation of cars. Should I be sad? Yes, because for me, I liked the notion that our old cars had some development potential left in them; that they would be replaced by cars that might well have been built by us, had the nastiness of commercial reality not got in the way.
The original Roewe 750 was to all intents the MY2006 Rover 75. The fact that SAIC Motor was building the thing suggested to me that the Chinese had grasped the mantle of what came before, creating a new dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective) company that celebrated its British heritage – especially as there was a rival car manufacturer within the PRC building a near identical saloon, going under the name of MG7. It was Oxford and Birmingham all over again!
However, contrary to expectations, the Chinese got their act together: in a Government ‘encouraged’ merger, MG and Roewe were united, creating Chinese Leyland, and genuine money was thrown at the project. Unlike the 1968 merger of Leyland and BMC, this one seems to have worked, with ruthless rationalisation resulting in a unified range of cars being built – MG for export and, looking rather dapper, Roewe for the home market, somewhat more traditional in style, but with the same, more advanced underpinnings as their MG cousins.
What subsequently became clear was that, however nice the Roewe 750 looks like to AR fans, the Chinese haven’t really warmed to the car and it has sold disappointingly – you know it’s bad when the Chinese media describe it as ‘ancient’. That’s why, in a fit of good judgment, they’re now developing a more contemporary saloon, based on a rather capable platform.
Chinese Leyland, it seems, got good.
Sadly, though, that’s why, for me, it’s pretty much game over. These guys, for all their ruthlessness back in 2005, have gone and created what looks like the most convincing carmaker to come out of the PRC. However, as we all know, this website’s all about despair and bad judgment, punctuated by flashes of sheer brilliance. Chinese Leyland has none of that – it’s fused some UK knowledge with hard-headed business and marketing sense to create what looks like a future industry colossus.
Having said that, the rump of all that we know and love remains alive and well in Longbridge. That is an outpost, which hobbles on regardless of what powers ahead in China. I guess we can cheer ourselves up with that thought – the spirit of mismanagement and disaster lives on!