MG 2016 Report Card – The Start

By JPM Sandie

It was nearly two years ago that I blogged a review of MG’s 2014 for the predecessor of this refulgent blog. This covered a range of subjects through missed targets and the 90th Anniversary special edition debacle in the UK to MG’s difficult first steps in Thailand and what was an annus horribilis in their home market of China.

There was no review of 2015 due to a hiatus for the Macdroitwich blog but we are back to discuss MG’s 2016. As we shall see, whilst much looks to have changed there’s plenty that’s stayed the same. One thing that hasn’t changed is that they have provided a vast volume of material meaning that the review will span three pieces. In the first two parts we shall discuss MG Motor UK in 2016 before going on to discuss the brand from a more international perspective in the final article.

So without much further ado let’s look at MG Motor UK’s 2016…

It seems that almost every year is meant to be a breakthrough year for MG Motor UK and 2016 was no different. At the start of the year some of the more enthusiastic supporters of MG Motor UK were drawing the lines. The GS was going to come along, boost MG to a three model lineup and, by being in a fast growing sector, be a far more successful large MG than the MG6. However, almost as soon as the dream of the three car lineup was formed a death was announced.

Were this a VAG blog, our review would be dominated by discussion of the mishandling of the emissions scandal. MG, however, had emissions problems of their own. The 1.9 DTI-Tech diesel engine – exclusive MG6 engine choice since the April 2015 facelift – did not meet EURO6 emissions standards meaning that no MG6s could be built after September 2015 or registered past September 2016. For many on the Macdroitwich forum, the writing was on the wall almost as soon as the facelift came out. Why bother introducing a heavily revised model that does not meet standards introduced six months after your new car if your engine was capable of meeting them?
A restricted colour palette and the loss of desirable features like larger wheels saw an unpopular car become even less desirable and with a deadline for registrations MG had a problem. 600 facelift 6s had been manufactured prior to the legal cut-off in August 2015 and monthly registration figures were typically around 20 (and even dipped into single figures) which would have left them with huge stocks of unregisterable cars come September. A bullet was bitten and new MG6s were heavily discounted by Spring 2016. Higher spec MG6s were available for £11-13,000 new and this saw registrations rally sufficiently to clear out stocks.

At the time of writing there seems to be little prospect of a second generation MG6 hitting the UK. When drawing out the future for the marque at the GS launch Matthew Cheyne was clear that future additions to the range would sensibly focus on crossover vehicles including a larger seven seater model similar to the Nissan X-Trail or Skoda Kodiaq.

This begs the question of where their BTCC involvement will go. MG have two years of a three year deal remaining and it seems like this will be seen out with the team using a defunct model. For something seemingly at the centre of their marketing activities this is more than a little bit strange.

That said, we think few (particularly within the dealer network) will lament the MG6’s passing. For those looking for a killer* fact there were 2,804 MG6s registered in total between April 2011 and September 2016. The most successful year was 2012 with 774 registrations. What a flop!

The MG6’s demise was bad news buried by the arrival of the GS compact crossover in the summer. The GS was hyped up in some quarters beyond belief as some seemed to believe it was going to catapult MG into the stratosphere. The first indications of impending disappointment were the issues with the DTI-Tech engine. No diesel engine would undermine the GS in a sector where cars like the Ford Kuga have a vast majority of sales in favour of a diesel engine. With fans having got excited with talk about a diesel or the higher performance 2.0 Turbo available in China, the GS launched with a “choice” of one engine, a 1.5 Turbo Petrol co-developed with GM which excited no one.

And what a launch it was. There are so many details one could go into about the GS launch. The website littered with misspellings and Chinglish, the attempts to create excitement about unveiling a new car that had been out in China for 18 months, the lukewarm press reviews… One could go on but this section is meant to be a few hundred words long so just read this thread.

The most laughable part of the launch was the advertising campaign. Oh yes, they actually deigned to advertise this one! Most car manufacturers do some grand advert that persuades you that their identikit faux-by-faux will fit into your fantastic active lifestyle. MG, instead, decided to run an advert where some dreary family drove their dreary car from their dreary Barratt Home to a restaurant to eat a dreary pizza. There was actually a better shot of the pizza than of the car.The whole thing then ended with a cheap and plain white screen as some bloke with a droning voice said we should “Get Set” for the GS. The entire budget presumably went on the pizza.

Proudly trailed on the company’s social media pages the advert got an overwhelmingly negative reaction. The Don Draper of Lowhill Lane, Matthew Cheyne, was even directly targeted by irate enthusiasts on Twitter. A dignified silence proved beyond the marketing supremo as he defensively tweeted about how he was proud of the advert as it had “got people tweeting about MG” and boasted about how many orders had been placed.

What targets there was were set very low with at 7-900 for the “first year” before an increase to 1,000 in 2017. The mention of a specific target for 2017, leads us to believe that the 700 figure was the target for the seven months remaining in 2016. This seems low considering that in full years the MG6 was generally attaining 5-600 registrations and that was a byword for failure.

These low targets were explained when it became known that the GS was allegedly not submitted for full type approval. Instead it has Small Series type approval that sees it limited to less than 1,000 registrations per year. This has considerable advantages in terms of lower costs and bureaucracy as well as lower technical standards. This works well for companies who want to sell relatively few cars. For similar reasons, the GS also hasn’t been crash tested and is unlikely to be in the future. This is rather surprising for a supposedly family friendly car. Parents tend to be interested in how safe a car is as flawed as the current Euro NCAP system is.

The GS launch was the story MG Motor UK wanted everyone to be talking about this year, however, their most impactful announcement transpired to be the decision to cease final assembly at Longbridge. The issue to be had with this was not the decision itself which made good sense considering the low level of sales so far but how badly it had been handled. Rumours had mounted early on in 2016 but this was denied by workers who had obviously been given assurances. MG’s most recent accounts claim that the final decision was reached in June, a full three months before things became official.

The announcement created a minor backlash and gained far more attention and column inches than anything else MG had done in 2016. It needn’t have been this way. MG had built up the fact their cars were finished in Britain and in the early days made bold claims of greater production in the future. In doing so they had created a rod from their own backs. The reality was that it was a small number of workers doing a small amount of work. In the case of the MG3 the majority of cars had been coming in fully built from China as far back as 2014. The reaction would perhaps have been less negative was there more honesty about this.

In an attempt to counter negativity a recently appointed external PR consultancy were seemingly briefed to issue as many positive releases as possible. The problem here is that it was badly botched. Sending out a release about, for example, employing a single graduate in engineering (whose name they spelled wrong) and spinning it as big deal sounds daft when everyone knows you laid off twenty staff the week before. Once again, it would have been appropriate to maintain a dignified silence.

There was much more we could have covered about 2016 at MG Motor UK. Nonsensical press releases (my personal favourite being the one proudly announcing rubber mats being available on the GS like it was some kind of innovative feature), bizarre marketing, dire customer care and the late submission of the annual accounts all continued the long-standing impression of them being a bunch of incompetent amateurs playing at running a car firm.

But that is the story of almost every year for MG Motor UK. What was new last year was how it marked a year of cutbacks following the failures of their earlier years. This retrenchment can be seen in a few of the issues that have been discussed here particularly the end of “production” at Longbridge. The early days of MG Motor UK also saw large investments in things like a unique diesel engine for the MG6. In 2016, however, MG chose not to invest in updating that engine to continue the MG6 or maximise the potential of the GS. We also saw cut costs around the GS launch with fewer adaptations for UK specification than on the 3 and 6 and the car not being submitted to expensive type approval or crash testing programs amidst modest sales targets. After years of unwise investments and sales performance that has been continually below expectations these decisions were probably sensible ones much as some won’t like to see it that way.

And on that note we’ll finish. Next time, in part two of three, we will discuss MG UK’s 2016 “sales” performance and the outlook for 2017. I’m off for a pizza first, though.

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