What have David Beckham, Prince William, Princess Kate and Kate Moss got to do with the British car industry?
Funnily enough, everything, especially if you subscribe to the theory that it’s a case of when, not if, the Chinese-owned car makers start to prevail throughout the global industry. Even so, discovering that fact at the Bao Shan MG dealership on the outskirts of Shanghai was a surprise.
The visit, arranged, by MG, was designed to get a flavour of this booming car market; what I had underestimated was just how strong a part Britishness and heritage plays in persuading Chinese buyers that MG is the brand for them.
Here was a large dealership, part roomy, pristine and impressive, part looking like someone had thrown together a parking lot on a particularly unkempt piece of ground. Given it was next door to a Bentley dealership and up the road from similar Ford, Audi and Kia dealerships, the ramshackle outside jarred with the ordered calm inside.
But here was the rub. This MG dealership sold 1000 cars in 2012, and was now selling 35 cars a week. Inside, by the entrance doors, were handwritten whiteboards with customers’ names on. This week’s collections? Nope, a long list of the cars that were leaving the dealership today and tomorrow. No wonder the outside space looked like an especially cramped parking lot…