Federico Ercoli traveled to MG Motor UK to find out how the British car manufacturer is coming back with a roar.
There was a time when British cars sales had a sharp edge over foreign brands. In fairness, the premium luxury vehicles market is still going strong (last year, Jaguar Land Rover sales spiked up to 9%), but it’s the small producers that have struggled to keep afloat and still have a tough fight ahead against the giants.
MG probably knows this better than any of them. The Longbridge-based company went under the radar for many years after the fall of Rover MG in 2005, seeing ownership repeatedly shifting from hand to hand and some 5,000 employees let go.
Several management boards later, the company was acquired by Nanjing Automobile in 2005, which subsequently fell under the ownership of Chinese colossus Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC) in 2007 and was re-named MG Motor UK.
Getting the company back in shape to fight any Goliath (and possibly win) surely sounded like a dangerous gamble back then, but if there is one thing that long time MG employees have proven over and over throughout the years, is that resilience is deeply embedded in the spirit of the iconic brand.
With a seemingly new dawn ahead, the number of challenges MG Motor appeared endless, so, when requesting a factory tour, my hopes were somewhat muted as very few firms found picking themselves up after having fallen would want prying eyes upon them.
Surprisingly, I was lucky enough to be granted access to the factory and facilities, which boosted my confidence that the once well-established brand was now ready to open the doors and show the new set of muscles many expected and desired.
I was greeted by Doug Wallace, PR and internal communications manager, who took me to the showroom centre and put a mug of tea in my hands. Moments later, I was sitting in a meeting room with the head of marketing for MG Motor UK, Matthew Cheyne, who didn’t waste too much time in formalities and jumped straight into conversation.
“This is, by all means, an entirely new company,” he told me.
“MG Motor UK has gone through some necessary re-modelling and re-shaping of its commercial and production practices, all thanks to the investments of SAIC.”
So far, around £400m has been invested in the redevelopment of the new facilities, which now extend for approximately 65 acres of land, making the 200 acres occupied during the 1930s sound like a reminder of a true golden era.
Although, as many would argue, size is not everything. In fact, the Longbridge headquarters house the global head of design & engineering, sales and marketing departments and the production site where vehicles are assembled, tested and checked for quality controls.
“The vehicles are produced in China for logistics and financial reasons, but then, the soon to be cars are sent back here for the final production,” Wallace explained. “If you will, the cars are sent back to the UK for Europeanisation,” added Cheyne.
For a company that exports to more than 40 countries worldwide that might not sound like an efficient rationale, but when looking at stats one can only marvel at the rapid growth MG Motor UK accounted for in the past two years.
With a simple two-model lineup, the MG 3 and the soon to hit the market, new MG6, the marque’s cars ranked in top 10 charts for customer satisfaction for two years in a row and experienced a boost in sales of 361% in 2014.
Q1 in 2015 witnessed a 57.33% increase compared to last year, accounting for the best first quarter ever by MG Motor UK and as if that was not enough, a brand new showroom is about to be unveiled in Piccadilly, right in the centre of London.
“This is a £30m investment. A whole building has been completely renovated and refurbished from top to bottom. It’s a clear statement for MG,” Cheyne said. I couldn’t hide my doubts regarding the investment and the risks of potential fallout the brand could experience from failure to comply to numbers and sales KPIs or obligations, but he shook his head and promptly said, “No. Absolutely not. This is not a risk. We’re here to stay and we want the world to see it.”
With plans for expansion, MG recently encouraged people to open MG dealerships to reach the target number of 70 around the UK by the end of the year. “This is part of the second phase for MG. We want to increase production and sales from 2,500 to 4,800 vehicles by the end of 2015,” Cheyne said.
“Through a product development process and an extended dealer franchise we want to praise the hard work the team has put into delivering the new cars,” he added.
That’s what is required nowadays from an old glory to stand up and fight against the bigger competitors. Call it ego, call it pride, in the end, the engineers, designers and mechanics must have done a truly remarkable job as every parking space contained MG3s and MG6s that they themselves have bought after creating. That should count for something, right?