Currently reading: How MG Motor is driving its way back to the big time
The doyen of British motoring is rejuvenated and going places with a plan that includes an electric-only family estate and perhaps even a Porsche rival
Steve Cropley Autocar
News
6 mins read
26 January 2020

MG is on a roll. Its biggest roll since the 1920s, you could argue, when an obscure British sales manager-turned-engineer, Cecil Kimber, took just three years to create the world’s best-selling sports car from the everyman Morris Minor – and then built a thriving, highly profitable global business on the back of it.

Now it’s happening again. In the UK alone, annual MG sales have trebled in three years to 13,075 units and are strongly tipped to smash the 20,000 barrier by the end of this year. Even more expansion is predicted through 2021-22, fuelled by the arrival of more well-targeted, mostly electrified models. After a decade in the doldrums, MG has suddenly become the fastest-rising car brand in the UK and its management now realistically views the likes of Hyundai and Kia as role models.

Around the world, the MG brand does best in China but it also finds traction in Australia, New Zealand and India. The brand appeals in some European countries, too, such as the Netherlands, and is gathering strength in South America and the Middle East.

Of course, today’s MG is dramatically different from Kimber’s ‘Morris Garages’, established 95 years ago to make sporting models out of workaday Morrises. That company progressed by tortuous steps to become the BL-owned, Abingdon-based MG Car Co that built the MG B and Midget until it hit the buffers in 1980. Thereafter, the octagonal badge was used mostly on Rover’s mid-engined MG F roadster (from 1995) and a series of badge-engineered Rover saloons.

Today’s company is Chinese-owned MG Motor, a subsidiary of the seven-million-sales-a-year Chinese mass manufacturer SAIC, which acquired both the iconic British brand and its ex-BL, ex-Rover Longbridge manufacturing plant in 2007 and built cars in small numbers there until 2016. Nowadays, SAIC makes 750,000 MG-badged cars for sale around the world and every UK-sold MG is imported from China by MG Motor UK, a sales company with headquarters on Marylebone Road in central London.

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However, this is a very different sort of sales company, as we recently learned in a meeting with Daniel Gregorious, MG Motor UK’s head of sales and marketing. Today’s MGs may be manufactured in China but much of their design emanates from a studio upstairs in the Marylebone building (which welcomes you via a sumptuous coffee shop called the Roadster Cafe). And 120 miles to the north-west, at Longbridge, in the very building where Mini pioneer Sir Alec Issigonis once held sway, several hundred engineers are shaping the inner workings of MG’s and SAIC’s forthcoming products. MG may not be true-blue British any more but local influence remains key to its designs.

MG’s recent success, says Gregorious, has been propelled by the rise of the new B-segment SUV, the ZS, launched in 2018. Before that, the 6 saloon (launched in 2011) was a failure and the 3 supermini (launched in 2013) was modestly successful. But it was the arrival of the modern, right-sized ZS that really started something. Throw in unexpectedly strong demand for an all-electric ZS unveiled last September (a planned 1000 launch models sold out in two weeks) and a successful debut for a brand-new C-segment HS SUV a month later and you have all the elements for success.

Since Gregorious arrived at MG two years ago from increasingly high-powered positions at Peugeot, Kia, Chevrolet and Renault, he has embraced a wide range of duties under MD William Wang, including negotiating with China over the timing, volume, pricing, marketing and model mix of UK cars (“SAIC will make over 300,000 electrified cars next year”) and building the dealer network to its current 120-strong level, which, he says, suits the company’s current vision of the future.

“Our acceleration really started with a significant facelift for the MG 3 in 2018,” says Gregorious, “which went well. Then came the new models. Now that we’re offering a supermini, a compact SUV – with both electric and conventional power – and a new family-sized SUV, we have products that fit many markets right across the globe.”

SAIC’s plan has always been to position MG as its global brand, and its export success compared with less well-known Chinese marques shows the power of MG’s brand recognition, although Gregorious insists that none of it could have happened without the appropriate, well-engineered products the company now sells.

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More MGs are coming. In the middle of this year, there will be a plug-in petrol hybrid version of the HS, a model designed to take advantage of new UK benefit-in-kind laws for company cars and to suit zero-emissions legislation coming to city centres. Gregorious confirms that the HS can also be built with an all-electric powertrain like the ZS EV, but no decision has yet been made to do it.

Next on the new-model agenda is an all-electric estate similar in size to the Ford Focus but available with battery power only. “That’s exciting,” says Gregorious, “because it’ll be our first model that’s truly unique in the market. We expect success but it’ll be fascinating to see how it plays with fleet and business customers.”

The new electric estate will use a very similar powertrain to the ZS EV’s but is likely to have a greater touring range. MG hasn’t named it yet – Gregorious has made suggestions but hasn’t heard any decision – although ZT might well suit a range that already contains a smaller ZS. Beyond that, MG could eventually consider sportier petrol engines for the ZS (it already has higher-tune petrol engines that would suit a kind of ZS GTI), although it seems to regard electrification as a better high-performance avenue.

If the plug-in HS and new electric estate sell well, Gregorious says MG’s next move will be to launch a production version of its handsome E-Motion high-performance four-seat sports car, unveiled as a concept at the Shanghai motor show in 2017. It’s a twin-motor, all-electric design with 3.0sec 0-60mph acceleration plus exotic styling aimed at moving it into Porsche or Jaguar territory.

“The car is still in our plans,” says Gregorious, “and it will make a great halo flagship car. We’re only planning one model like it at present. But if we can do well with mainstream models, there could be plenty of opportunity for more sporty models in the future.”

Q&A, Daniel Gregorious, head of sales and marketing, MG Motor UK

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Do you have much say in the cars that MG builds?

“We have quite a lot of say, because we have important design and engineering operations in the UK. Also, the owners are well aware that the heritage of MG comes entirely from the UK. New models aren’t forced on us: we can choose what we want and then make them better.”

How serious is SAIC about building the MG brand?

“Very serious, I’d say. The company has spent around £7 billion on R&D over the past five years – in both Longbridge and China – on electric car research, connectivity and autonomous driving. It regards Britishness as a vital component of its offer.”

How are you positioning MG?

“We don’t want to be the cheapest. Another brand that plays on low pricing [Dacia] does that very well. We want to offer value for money, but also offer an aspirational product we can legitimately sell on its quality. We see people moving happily moving out of Fords and Nissans into MGs.”

How important is the MG brand for attracting new customers?

“It’s an enormous help. It gives people confidence to come and investigate our cars. We’re pretty confident that if they see, touch and sit in the products, they’ll like them. It’d be tougher with an unfamiliar brand. The seven-year warranty’s important, too.”

READ MORE

MG to bring HS plug-in hybrid to UK in 2020

MG ZS EV gets extended discount offer following record sales

The MG Motors plan - and Longbridge's important role

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26 January 2020

MG was the 'people's sports car', small, fast(ish) and fun at an affordable price. For all the sales talk, the one word that seems to evade the current MG line up is 'sport'. Every time I look at the MG3 I think, what a missed opportunity, especially as they have a turbocharged version of the 1.5 litre engine available. Surely there is a market for a sporty supermini?

26 January 2020
Although they seem to be attracting attention for the the ZS EV they still have a problem with lack of a Dealership network. I live in Farnham, Surrey and nearest dealer is in Twyford, Berkshire. Just not practical to have a dealer/servicing centre so far away.

26 January 2020

Reads more like an advertorial, with a distinct shortage of metrics. Perhaps when I actually see one on a road....

As somebody said, "there's no success like failure"

 

26 January 2020
It is absurd and insulting to read this sort of article.

The pretence that there is any continuity whatsoever between this company and the MG of old discredits Cropley and Autocar.

It is like Switzerland renaming itself Atlantis, and then Autocar celebrating the discovery of Atlantis.

26 January 2020
It's true that the current MG has little relationship with the mg of old, but, I'd like to suggest that in fact MG was just a badge for a long time.

So, in a sense, the new MG is more a proper brand now that it represents one maker with a range of cars, than it was a just a badge.

And just like many other products, I'm pleased the highly skilled well paid design jobs are here in the UK, this is an increasingly common pattern.

26 January 2020
eseaton wrote:

It is absurd and insulting to read this sort of article.

The pretence that there is any continuity whatsoever between this company and the MG of old discredits Cropley and Autocar.

It is like Switzerland renaming itself Atlantis, and then Autocar celebrating the discovery of Atlantis.

Hardly the correct comment to make, I agree they’ll never recreate the halcyon days of MG, but it would be nice if they could come up with better bread n butter cars first, and then try a sports car.

27 January 2020
In its best years 1975/1976 MG ONLY sold 57,500 vehicles worldwide based upon production figures, not allowing for stock piling cars, whereas the last year full numbers are available is 2018, based on production figures, MG sold world wide 345,000 just in China, the UK and Thailand, that's quite a lot more than a lot of more established brands.

27 January 2020
eseaton wrote:

It is absurd and insulting to read this sort of article.

The pretence that there is any continuity whatsoever between this company and the MG of old discredits Cropley and Autocar.

It is like Switzerland renaming itself Atlantis, and then Autocar celebrating the discovery of Atlantis.

I dont remember reading you saying similar of Rolls Royce for instance which has far less of "any continuity whatsoever between this company and the" RR "of old" than the latest iteration of MG does. The same applies to Bentley too.

27 January 2020
A ridiculous comment typos1.

VW and BMW bought fully functioning businesses from Vickers with no interruption of production.

There is total continuity of company 992897 incorporated on 28th October 1970 and Bentley Motors Ltd now. It is the same company. Bentley even still (just) uses the same engine.

What has MG got to do with MG, except a badge and a feeble attempt to play on nostalgia? Actual MG made little sports cars. New MG makes?

27 January 2020
eseaton wrote:

A ridiculous comment typos1.

VW and BMW bought fully functioning businesses from Vickers with no interruption of production.

There is total continuity of company 992897 incorporated on 28th October 1970 and Bentley Motors Ltd now. It is the same company. Bentley even still (just) uses the same engine.

What has MG got to do with MG, except a badge and a feeble attempt to play on nostalgia? Actual MG made little sports cars. New MG makes?

NO, MG actually started to make badge engineered sportier versions of Morris cars, and continued to do so for the entirety of its existence, until the sports cars, it was then badge engineered Austins/Rovers, again, until the RV8, and then the heavily based on other cars in the Rover Groups Range, the MGf.

Also to base a range of cars on something from 50 years ago, is downright stupid, or are you going to say that the cars back then were far better, more reliable, better equipment and so on, if so then i can't wait to see a new Escort, Cortina, Allegro, Maxi, Morris Minor, and so on and so on, back on our roads, as those cars are all now extinct, and have been for decades, no production of them for so long that even Maggie Thatcher was not PM then.

Brands, have to evolve, whether you like it or not, there is an all new sports car coming, even today the boss man at MG has again confirmed this, if brands did not build what the public were buying or wanted to buy then that's when the brand will go bust, even the likes of RR, Bentley Ferrari, Aston, Maserati, Lambo and so on all make SUV's, all something unheard of 20 years ago, let alone, 50 years ago, when they all made sports cars and saloons, so to say that MG has nothing to do with old MG, is right, but then NO brand has anything to do with the old versions of themselves, they have evolved and grown, or its goodbye.

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