It’s my first trip to the Shanghai show, so it was fascinating to see the Chinese incarnation of MG Rover in its home territory.
As you’ll probably remember, the British bankruptcy process managed to sell the Longbridge production equipment to a small carmaker called Nanjing, even thought the design rights to most of MGR’s products had already been acquired by Shanghai Automotive (SAIC).
In the end, the Chinese government forced Nanjing to allow itself to be partly absorbed by SAIC so the blueprints and the production equipment were re-united.
SAIC failed to buy the rights to the Rover name (Land Rover bought the name back from BMW) so it invented the Roewe brand, which is designed to look old-school British to the domestic Chinese market.
The Rover 75 remains entirely recognisable, despite numerous changes including a headlamp transplant on the late-model 75 grille, a wheelbase stretch and a re-designed rear end. The 75’s fine dashboard has also been replaced with a generic interior of decidedly average quality.
Interestingly, one of the 750s on display boasted a hybridised version of the 1.8-litre, turbocharged, K-series.
Alongside the fake Rover brand was MG. SAIC was pretty pleased to get its hands on the old marque because, while the Chinese manufacture a huge amount of the world’s consumer durables, they lack globally recognised brands, which rather restricts potential exports.
The MG stand display included this Austin Seven, which is not completely illogical as SAIC also own the Austin badge. It’s also quite odd to see the MG name spelt out as ‘Morris Garages’ The overall effect seemed, to my BL-addled brain at least, to inadvertently recreate Austin-Morris.
I have to admit that I rather admire the MG6 fastback. It’s a return to a classically British and handsome format (think Rover SD1 and 800) that’s also very practical. The MG6’s boot is properly family-sized, unlike the average Focus luggage compartment.
The MG3 supermini is pretty neat, too. The interior, while not of the best surface quality, is nicely and geometrically drawn and the car seems well-packaged.
Compared to domestic rivals such as BYD, SAIC’s MGs are, in terms of interior and exterior styling, a generation ahead. For that, SAIC can thank its Longbridge-based engineers and stylists. Whether there’s any chance of the Chinese MG gaining a foothold in the hyper-competitive European market is another matter altogether.