Today’s company is Chinese-owned MG Motor, a subsidiary of the seven-million-sales-a-year Chinese mass manufacturer SAIC, which acquired both the iconic British brand and its ex-BL, ex-Rover Longbridge manufacturing plant in 2007 and built cars in small numbers there until 2016. Nowadays, SAIC makes 750,000 MG-badged cars for sale around the world and every UK-sold MG is imported from China by MG Motor UK, a sales company with headquarters on Marylebone Road in central London.
However, this is a very different sort of sales company, as we recently learned in a meeting with Daniel Gregorious, MG Motor UK’s head of sales and marketing. Today’s MGs may be manufactured in China but much of their design emanates from a studio upstairs in the Marylebone building (which welcomes you via a sumptuous coffee shop called the Roadster Cafe). And 120 miles to the north-west, at Longbridge, in the very building where Mini pioneer Sir Alec Issigonis once held sway, several hundred engineers are shaping the inner workings of MG’s and SAIC’s forthcoming products. MG may not be true-blue British any more but local influence remains key to its designs.
MG’s recent success, says Gregorious, has been propelled by the rise of the new B-segment SUV, the ZS, launched in 2018. Before that, the 6 saloon (launched in 2011) was a failure and the 3 supermini (launched in 2013) was modestly successful. But it was the arrival of the modern, right-sized ZS that really started something. Throw in unexpectedly strong demand for an all-electric ZS unveiled last September (a planned 1000 launch models sold out in two weeks) and a successful debut for a brand-new C-segment HS SUV a month later and you have all the elements for success.
Since Gregorious arrived at MG two years ago from increasingly high-powered positions at Peugeot, Kia, Chevrolet and Renault, he has embraced a wide range of duties under MD William Wang, including negotiating with China over the timing, volume, pricing, marketing and model mix of UK cars (“SAIC will make over 300,000 electrified cars next year”) and building the dealer network to its current 120-strong level, which, he says, suits the company’s current vision of the future.
“Our acceleration really started with a significant facelift for the MG 3 in 2018,” says Gregorious, “which went well. Then came the new models. Now that we’re offering a supermini, a compact SUV – with both electric and conventional power – and a new family-sized SUV, we have products that fit many markets right across the globe.”
SAIC’s plan has always been to position MG as its global brand, and its export success compared with less well-known Chinese marques shows the power of MG’s brand recognition, although Gregorious insists that none of it could have happened without the appropriate, well-engineered products the company now sells.