The Chinese city of Shanghai is a vibrant, energetic place. Rapid population growth and speedy urban development have transformed it from a land awash with flat green farms to a global powerhouse in less than three decades.
Conveniently, this quick transition almost perfectly mirrors that of one of its newest inhabitants, MG. The once iconic British brand has been under the ownership of China’s SAIC Motors since 2007, and in the decade that’s followed has progressed under the guidance of its new state-owned parent company from being a financial state to eyeing half a million sales by the end of this year.
But this domestic success is starkly contrasted by sluggish sales in other markets, like here in Britain, where it’s as if the brand has barely returned to life, having delivered just 4200 cars in 2016. Admittedly, that’s 1000 up on the year before, but still represents just 0.159% of what is a 2.69 million market.
Matthew Cheyne, MG’s UK sales and marketing boss isn’t concerned, because he predicts things to turn around with the launch of the XS – a new Nissan Juke rival – this November. He told Autocar “We had to find our feet and get some products out there. Now we’ve got the GS and [XS] coming, I think output could almost double. We’re looking at reaching 8000 annual sales in Britain”.
MG’s Chinese bosses aren’t concerned either, with SAIC executives proclaiming that their brand will take on the rest of Europe and even has ambitions to expand into US. To cap it off, MG wants to put its E-Motion concept, a striking electric coupé that was revealed last month, into production within three years. It really is aiming for the sky.
Yet I remain concerned that MG is biting off more than it can chew by making promises it can’t keep. A good example came shortly after the E-Motion’s reveal, when five SAIC executives were unable to explain what type of electric powertrain enabled the concept to achieve its sub 4sec 0-62mph time and 310-mile range.
“We haven’t decided yet,” said one. “That’s something you’ll have to ask the engineers,” said another. We had, and they didn’t know either.
This immediately threw the brand’s claims for production and the car’s performance figures into question – how can they have any performance figures for a car without a drivetrain? It suggests that, despite being labelled as not far from being in a production state, the E-Motion is still in the earliest stages of design. Which means MG has over promised what it has achieved with the car, leading people to question whether it has done the same with the rest of its claims.
This is bad. For MG to become a star on the global stage, it can’t make inflated promises or claims it can't back up. For the brand to be taken seriously, it has to address all of the details, especially those relating to what powers a car it has produced performance figures for. Imagine if Volkswagen had produced a concept with performance statistics but was unable to say what it was powered by…
I want the reborn MG to succeed. But I also know the brand is yet to genuinely convince much of the western world it is worthy of success. Let’s hope the arrival of the XS helps to put an end to that, because if it does, it could ensure the a curvaceous sports coupé makes it to production as an MG halo product. And who knows, maybe it’ll even have a drivetrain by then.