How MG Motor is driving its way back to the big time

MG is on a roll. Its biggest roll since the 1920s, you could argue, when an obscure British sales manager-turned-engineer, Cecil Kimber, took just three years to create the world’s best-selling sports car from the everyman Morris Minor – and then built a thriving, highly profitable global business on the back of it.

Now it’s happening again. In the UK alone, annual MG sales have trebled in three years to 13,075 units and are strongly tipped to smash the 20,000 barrier by the end of this year. Even more expansion is predicted through 2021-22, fuelled by the arrival of more well-targeted, mostly electrified models. After a decade in the doldrums, MG has suddenly become the fastest-rising car brand in the UK and its management now realistically views the likes of Hyundai and Kia as role models.

Around the world, the MG brand does best in China but it also finds traction in Australia, New Zealand and India. The brand appeals in some European countries, too, such as the Netherlands, and is gathering strength in South America and the Middle East.

Of course, today’s MG is dramatically different from Kimber’s ‘Morris Garages’, established 95 years ago to make sporting models out of workaday Morrises. That company progressed by tortuous steps to become the BL-owned, Abingdon-based MG Car Co that built the MG B and Midget until it hit the buffers in 1980. Thereafter, the octagonal badge was used mostly on Rover’s mid-engined MG F roadster (from 1995) and a series of badge-engineered Rover saloons.

Do you have much say in the cars that MG builds?

“We have quite a lot of say, because we have important design and engineering operations in the UK. Also, the owners are well aware that the heritage of MG comes entirely from the UK. New models aren’t forced on us: we can choose what we want and then make them better.”

How serious is SAIC about building the MG brand?

“Very serious, I’d say. The company has spent around £7 billion on R&D over the past five years – in both Longbridge and China – on electric car research, connectivity and autonomous driving. It regards Britishness as a vital component of its offer.”

How are you positioning MG?

“We don’t want to be the cheapest. Another brand that plays on low pricing [Dacia] does that very well. We want to offer value for money, but also offer an aspirational product we can legitimately sell on its quality. We see people moving happily moving out of Fords and Nissans into MGs.”

How important is the MG brand for attracting new customers?

“It’s an enormous help. It gives people confidence to come and investigate our cars. We’re pretty confident that if they see, touch and sit in the products, they’ll like them. It’d be tougher with an unfamiliar brand. The seven-year warranty’s important, too.”