NOTE: If you were expecting the conclusion to my ‘Remembering Rover’ epic, then I’m sorry to disappoint but (or ‘I’m pleased to report that…’, depending on how you enjoyed the first part) I’ve decided to carry that particular entry over to next week, because this week has been crammed full of MG Motor-related goodness and I’d like to talk about that because it’s still topical and, I suspect, much more interesting. And now, down to business.
It’s been a busy week up in Longbridge for MG Motor UK Limited (division of SAIC Motor Corporation Limited), with no less than three things of interest pinging into my inbox. Conveniently, they can each be summed up by a punchy two-word subtitle, starting thusly:
1) The Good
The MG6 diesel is finally here! Yes, only 19 months after the car went on sale and about 6 months after it was first slated for introduction you can now buy a compression-ignition MG6. This means that the company finally has a product that might actually have some genuine, broad-based appeal rather than selling exclusively (and at a huge discount) to members of the MG Car Club.
Why the need for the vinyl graphic of the engine on the bonnet? Couldn’t they just open the bonnet itself? A cynic would say that that isn’t actually a diesel MG6…
The first impressions from the motoring press are generally positive, verging on the enthusiastic. Autocar, in particular, were singing the car’s praises but then I don’t think I’ve read a review containing any negativity from Autocar for about three years. The consensus seems to be that the new engine (which is accompanied by a 6-speed gearbox- no news on whether or not this will be being slotted behind the existing TCi-tech) is well up the scratch although tuned more for cruising than thrashing along a B-road, but that’s what you’d expect from a diesel, even a modern one.
Incidentally the engine isn’t, alas, the stillborn Rover –developed G-Series but an all new 1.8-litre ‘DTi-Tech’ engine (I notice from the press pictures that the engine cover actually says ‘Turbo D’, thus nicely continuing the BL heritage of inconsistent badging) developed by SAIC with a big dollop of input from the guys at Longbridge. The only criticism that I can make, on paper, is that the emissions figure of 139 g/km is high for the target market, which is rapidly closing in on the magic 100 g/km and above the 120 g/km figure that is so crucial for many fleet sales. Still, I doubt MG are deluding themselves that the car is suddenly going to overtake the BMW 3 Series as the ‘must have’ company car and the figure isn’t cripplingly high.
The main criticism of the MG6 when it was launched was its outdated and inefficient engine, the old-fashioned gearbox and a few iffy bits of interior trim and switchgear. I can say from personal experience that there is nothing wrong with the interior design or quality of the MG’s interior and it seems that the new drivetrain has largely put to rest the other reservations.
Now that the MG6 actually makes sense as a car that you might have to use on a daily basis all it needs is some decent exposure and a marketing push. This is where I hope that the theory that I subscribe to, that the lacklustre marketing campaign coming from MG since launch has simple been because they’re biding their time until they had a decent product to sell, is proven to be true.
MG now has a well built, good-looking car with a demonstrable race pedigree and a decent engine. I hope they get nearer their sales projections (a decidedly modest 2,000 a year) than they have so far.
PS- It’s not off to a good start. The news feed I usually get my images from is normally full of mundane, unimportant news from MG about how one of their dealers is now offering Custard Creams instead of Bourbons or how the 6 has won a Bronze Award for Best Smelling Boot Carpets and so on. But is there a release or some images of the MG6 diesel? Hell, no!
2) The Bad
The MG3 is still a good six months away! Despite having been on sale in several markets around the world since March 2011 (and having been designed and engineered almost entirely in Britain) MG still don’t have a definite release date for the MG3 supermini in the UK beyond ‘spring 2013’, when it was originally supposed to be here in the middle of 2012 .
Supposing it does reach the UK market in the second quarter of next year the car will then be just over two years old. The strange thing is that MG officially ‘unveiled’ the car to the UK press and confirmed that it will be available well over a year ago. Since then the car has in fact had a facelift. Even Ford, with their bizarrely long ‘release-to-launch’ gaps have never left it so long that the car has needed a facelift before going on sale.
For all my optimism about the MG6 above, I have never expected great things from it. It’s a car competing in an over-crowded sector with a very limited appeal, regardless of how good it is, simply because it’s a strange size and it’s from an unknown company with a badge with a less-than-stellar reputation and image.
On the other hand the MG3 has real potential. The one true success story of the MG-Rover years was the MG ZR- the ‘Halfords-spec’ Rover 25- which, despite being uncompetitive as a hot hatch sold very well because it was cheap to buy, cheap to insure yet decently quick. It also handled well, could take a lot of modification/personalisation and came out of the box with the three things the 18-25 male driver market wanted, namely big spoilers, a garish paint colour and some vaguely sporty seats.
Austin Seven Chummy–>Morris Minor Convertible–>MG 1100–>MG ZR–>Streetwise–>MG3. Not the most logical progression. And where’s the Maestro? Or would that be bit weird, seeing as how you can still buy them new in China?
The supermini market is largely free from badge snobbery, which is why every newcomer to the motoring scene starts off there. People in the market for a cheap small car will drive almost anything provided its cheap enough and vaguely reliable. In fact MG is in a favourable position because unlike KIA, Hyundai and Perodua the name actually has some glimmer of familiarity to the UK public. Not in a particularly good way, admittedly, but with a decent marketing campaign (spotting a theme here?) that can extract the good bits of the brand’s image and apply them to what seems to be a very capable little car then things could start to happen. Offer an MG3 with a bodykit and some free insurance (aka The Citroen Method) and watch them roll out of the showroom.
I will say that, whilst I think the MG3 needs to get here ASAP it’s only worth doing if the product is good. The car is currently only available with one engine choice- a 1.5-litre petrol with horrible power and emissions figures. MG Motor UK say that they are developing a smaller 1.3-litre engine, better tunes for the 1.5 and, ultimately a tax-beating turbocharged 1.0-litre triple. A performance turbo version of the 1.5 and diesel versions are also in the works along with a DSG-type gearbox. This is all promising stuff and I’d rather wait a bit for the MG3 to be launched as a sellable product rather than have it languish in obscurity because it has a useless engine like its bigger sister.
It’s a fine line though because if MG can’t keep to their spring 2013 date, and recent history says it’s quite possible that they won’t, then the MG3 as a whole will begin to slip behind the market and we’ll be back to square one.
3) The WTF??????
MG Motor recently had a chat with some people from PistonHeads and said that they wanted to develop “a new breed of sports car”. Apparently the market for traditional sports cars is shrinking and the car markets which are growing (China and India, mainly) don’t buy them anyway.
The Man From MG doesn’t seem to have given any hints as to what this new breed would be and how it would be different from all the other variations on the sports car theme that have been tried over the years but this doesn’t sound like a good move.
MG as a brand is virtually synonymous with ‘traditional sports car’ across the globe. Car geeks like myself may know that the whole company began making tuned versions of normal Morris cars and that saloons have been an almost continuous presence in the Octagon’s range but to the general public MG means a two-seater roadster with the engine in the front and the power at the back.
Of course people have said that the sports car as an entity was dead before- in the mid 1980s, just before the Mazda MX-5 came along and proved that the only things that were dead were leaf-sprung Austin Cambridge-based sports cars from the ‘Fifties, not basic, mid-performance drivers’ cars as a whole.
I hope that what MG has in mind is some sort of MX-5 for the modern age, that just takes the successful formula and presents it in a modern package. Just because that’s traditional doesn’t mean it has to be old fashioned. The Toyota/Subaru GT-86/BRZ is a very traditional sports coupe but no one would say it was outdated or old fashioned.
Personally I’d like to see a modern incarnation of the Midget (although I doubt that name would be used these days…). The car industry is cottoning on to the concept of weight reduction and a small , lightweight open-topped car with only the bare essentials as an interior, a small but rev-happy engine with lots of tuning potential and a simple manual gearbox and a decent suspension set up with rear wheel drive would be both fun and in keeping with the market trends.
It needs to combine the raw simplicity of the Caterham Seven with the charm and fun-factor of the Morgan Three-Wheeler and the practicality and reliability of the MX-5. That can’t be too hard, can it?
Maybe it is, after all?