Since then, we have seen and mostly ignored the MG 6, liked the MG 3 rather more and been unmoved by the very ordinary MG GS SUV. MG is now launching the ZS, another SUV and a car that impresses more than any MG Motor product to date. UK sales were 4192 cars in 2016, up from 3152 the year before, and over the first 10 months of this year amount to 3515, its 0.16% market share fractionally up in a sinking market.
So the numbers are heading in the right direction, but MG Motor sales are only just ahead of Ssangyong’s. Not great for a still well-known British brand in domestic territory and not enough to continue justifying the small-scale completion of cars in Longbridge’s enormous car assembly buildings.
So it’s good to hear that a fresh direction is being taken. It’s not a complete change of plan but a promising adjustment and one that also includes a sports model, as discussions with SAIC’s UK managing director, David Lindley, UK design chief Carl Gotham and sales and marketing boss Matthew Cheyne confirm. Early signs of the direction change are to be found in the design of the new ZS, a more shapely car whose new grille design presents a fresh face for MG. Gotham says: “The ZS is the first car from our new design language, which has this emotional dynamism. It’s part of a plan to make MG more emotional in terms of its connection with customers. We feel that it’s definitely got that emotional tie to a lot of people around the world”.
Not that this means we’ll be seeing reheated design themes from the past. “We’re not looking to make a retrospective or heritage brand. That would be wrong,” says Gotham. “However, MG has got huge brand equity, which needs to be leveraged. So the design language is going to be more emotional – and less aggressive. We’re trying to dial that out a bit but also raise the design quality. In China, customers do demand a good quality level and they’re getting more demanding.”
What they’re also wanting more of is electric vehicles, and for very good reasons, as Gotham explains: “The country is taking a very aggressive stance towards electric vehicles with heavy subsidies. You may be aware that a licence plate is around £8000 in China – it’s a one-off payment for life – whereas with an EV, the licence is free. So China’s drive for EVs is not just a statement of intent. They’re putting things in place to make it very real.”
As is MG. The E-Motion concept coupé, unveiled at the Shanghai show in April, “is conceptual”, says Gotham, “but it’s done with intent.