All posts by MarkM

Haynes Memory Lane – Day Three – The Sporting Triumphs

From the Potato’s Sack

Today’s instalment concentrates on the sporting Triumphs.

I always thought Haynes were a bit lazy in how they grouped some of these cars together in one book, the relationship is undeniable, but I do think they could’ve split them… The Triumph Vitesse for instance is included with the GT6 book, so one would need both that and the Herald book to do any work on their car. Odd.

More to come. Enjoy

Haynes Memory Lane – Day Two – Morris Marina & Ital

From the Potato’s Sack

Perhaps the largest range of manuals were dedicated to the Marina & Ital with no less than SEVEN different covers.

The original A and B series engined books featured a Mark 1 Marina on their cover.

This was then replaced with 3 books covering the A, B and O series models. The A and O series featuring a rendition of the Marina 3, the B series book depicting the same coupe, with subtle differences to make it a Marina 2 (and of course the B series engine). Disappointingly they missed the steering wheel, which appears to be the later Marina 3/Ital one.

The Ital books followed the same lead, again split between 2 books; one for the A series and one for the O series.

Lovely stuff… more tomorrow

Haynes Memory Lane – Day One – Rover P6, SD1 & Minor

From the Potato’s Sack

We will make a start with the Rover P6, there were 2 versions, one covering the 2000/2200 and the other covering the V8 model.

Although the overall cover image was based on the same drawing, yet with the engine changed.

Similarly, the SD1 manuals were split between the 6 and 8 cylinder variants, the same cut-out used with engine changed, as in the P6 manual (also, note the V8 S alloys on the V8 book).

Finally, the Minor / 1000 one featured a late Traveller in splendid detail.

More to follow tomorrow!

 

Haynes Manuals – A childhood obsession

From the Potato’s Sack

For as long as I can remember, there’s always been something that stirs a pathetic excitement and almost giddiness within me when I see a stack of Haynes manuals.

Those multi-coloured bindings all in a neat row instantly draw me towards them, whether at an auto-jumble, car-boot sale, a charity shop or even at a motor factors, I cannot help myself but to thumb through them to see which models are there.

The fantastic Terry Davey cutaway drawings on the covers get things started in a masterful way, they truly are art and I have spent a good amount of time collecting and studying these over the years.

Upon opening the covers you’re then greeted with gorgeous black and white pictures of the models covered (usually official publicity photographs), before all the technical stuff is dealt with.

Now, I know these manuals aren’t the be-all and end-all, and, in some cases lead you up a blind alley, but, as a youngster they really engaged me into learning how things differed on particular cars and how things actually worked.

The generic bits in the middle showing you how to use filler on body panels (in full colour!) and the diagrams on different spark-plug faults were just as interesting, despite being the same in every manual, but really did, I’m sure, engage my young mind and get me interested in more than just driving cars.

I found it a bit disconcerting when the Haynes range had it’s update and the cutaways were partially coloured-in, but I’ll let that slide. Just.

I find it a bit sad that there are so many satirical manuals now out there, a haynes manual for marriage, one for the Starship-bastard-Enterprise and one for the London Underground, but I do get that people want that light-hearted reminder of a time-passed.

In reality, the modern car’s manual would say nothing more than.. ‘Go and have it plugged in‘.

Such a shame.

So, for June, a pictoral reminder of a large chunk of the firm’s Haynes manual covers will be presented here, live and exclusive on MacDroitwich, to give a gentle stir of emotion, if  nothing else. I hope you all enjoy seeing them.

MG UK : An owner’s view with plenty of maybes.

By Adrian J Clark

As an MG6 owner, I feel that I am somebody that MG should be targeting for future custom.

OK, I didn’t buy new.  (so how can they target you as a customer, one asks – Ed) That’s because it was out of my price range when it was new, but is that the case with other MG enthusiasts?

I’m relatively young and broke, however I’d say that most MG fans are older and can afford new cars with relative ease. So why wasn’t the MG6 a success? “Marketing” I here you say. But MG enthusiasts knew about the MG6, and had the cash to buy one. Some did, of course, but not enough. Was it because the car wasn’t special enough? Maybe.

As an owner, and previous MGR customer, I can confirm that the MG6 drives like I’d expect an MG to drive. If I’d have been a ZS 180 or ZT 190 customer I’d feel a bit cheated though I reckon. As it was the 120 flavour of ZS I owned, the extra performance of the MG6 was welcome. Though the MG6 isn’t quite as agile as the ZS is, the handling and grip are still strong. Having said that, a performance car it isn’t. Maybe that hampered sales with enthusiasts? One thing with MGR products was the options too, something lacking with every MG Motor UK product. Automatic transmission is a big thing, and one I’m surprised that wasn’t offered. Especially when you consider you can buy an automatic 3 and 6 in every other market but ours.

So that’s a huge portion of potential buyers alienated. No automatic option, no performance option, and (in the case of the 6) no personalisation options; which as has been covered, a lot of owners like stick on tat.

So what about the younger generation? I was 32 when I bought my

6, and at around the same time as me there were several others

around my age who took the plunge on a used example. The price was finally right and meant it was obtainable for the first time for many. Initial used examples in 2012/early 2013 were still being offered for too much money from the official channels.

When I bought mine in the October of 2013, prices had dropped to a more realistic level. Had the MG6 been cheaper brand new to start with then more enthusiasts would have took the plunge, even with the lack of options previously discussed.

The S model (of which mine is one) really should have had a headline grabbing price. It comes with just enough gadgets to be acceptable (electric Windows all round, air-con) but not enough to get excited over. It didn’t sell well; most buyers went for the SE or top of the range TSE. If they’d have sold the S for a headline figure of, say, £10,995 then it would have generated interest for the whole range. Not just from enthusiasts, but from the general public too. More column inches would have been given to a large car with a British badge and a cheap price. Which is handy, as MG didn’t really shout out about the cars existence. As it was, the fact that MG asked so much for it, coupled with the lack of options and no marketing meant pitiful sales.

So, back to the question of whom MG should market their cars to. The enthusiasts of the new era MGs seem blinded to facts and deaf to any naysayers. They truly believe that their cars are better than anything else out there, and wonder why more people haven’t cottoned on to that fact. Plus most of them are socially awkward. If you want proof of this then go to any major MG/firm show and speak to one. Or alternatively just browse certain forums or Facebook groups. I’m actually embarrassed to be grouped with some of these people thanks to the car I own.

Let me make a confession; I was one of these people. I’d argue with you that my car was better than your Focus. I’d tell you that It’ll “all be better when the diesel/facelift/saloon arrives”. I’d try and convince you that in 5 years time MG would be a major global player. These days I’m more inclined to tell you that in 5 years time there most probably won’t even be an MG badge, particularly in this country anyway. Maybe even globally. Look at the Chinese sales vs Roewe sales.

I still do rate my MG6 highly, and from time to time I will defend the model when it’s criticised, but I’ve come to my senses. You see, there’s only so much bullshit that you can take in before you start to question it. Matthew Cheyne is full of it. I was at a meeting in early 2014 at Longbridge. This was a meeting designed by the new head of marketing (Cheyne) and head of PR (Keith Harris – no Orville with him) to try and silence the growing concerns of the enthusiast community. There was a bright future ahead, we were told. The forthcoming SUV (what became the GS) would have a “simultaneous launch” in China and the U.K. in 2016. U.K production was a possibility, and there was an MG5 coupé in the product plan. Parts back-up and aftersales care were being looked at and improved too.

Let’s cut through the bullshit then, which was basically all of it. The GS came out in China later that year. We still had to wait until 2016 (by which time MG had missed the boat). As ever, it was launched with just one engine whereas in China they get options. At least it comes with a choice of transmissions this time, but only if you pay your monies and go top spec (too much bloody money). So far it’s not doing particularly well. I won’t go into the reasons why that might be, I’ve already covered it. Here’s the big one though, U.K. Production. We all know what happened there. I’m surprised that much of the site is still standing and not a new Asda yet. The MG5 coupé was basically an MG5 saloon with an ugly back end and no chance of getting any sales here, so they made the right decision and didn’t bother. Parts and aftersales care are still apparently dire. I can’t speak from experience as I’ve never had any need for parts yet, and have always had a great experience with the aftersales team at the MG Sales centre. (NOTE – After writing a window regulator was needed and took 2 months)

So, after all of this there are still some hardcore fans who will defend the products and the company to the hilt but It seems that MGUK are no longer targeting the enthusiasts anymore. This is the right thing to do. All MG are good for now is for trying to sell Chinese cars as cheaply as they can, build up dealers and a new fan base. So far they’ve failed at any of it, but it could still be done. MG quickly learned that enthusiasts don’t buy many new cars. Particularly when they are as pricey as the MG6 was at launch. The MG3 was and still is a minor hit. Some enthusiasts took the plunge, but I’d wager most sales are from ordinary punters who were attracted by the price. I know somebody who recently bought an MG3 for its value, and even I who adored the MG6 only have one on my drive thanks to its depreciation making it cheap. It made no sense brand new. The MG3 was a step in the right direction, but with the GS they’re making exactly the same mistakes as they did with the MG6.

Hope rests with the new small SUV, the XS. Cheyne would have you believe that it will be called something different over here, but I can’t see that myself. Price and advertising will be the key. Annoyingly, I think it looks rather good. But I won’t be buying one. I’ve heard enough bullshit and have had enough of MG. there will come a day when there’ll be no enthusiasts left. MG need to hope that by then enough normal people buy their products.

I SHOULD be the ideal target customer. I’m youngish, have a family, I own one of their products already, and am a previous MGR customer. But I won’t succumb to MG ownership again. So, can the public at large be convinced into buying a failed brand who some still don’t know exist? Over to you, Cheyne.

NOTE – After this piece was written, numerous failed attempts to sell his MG 6 have ensued. It remains in his ownership suffering continued book-drops until someone takes it off his hands.

MG 2016 Report Card – The International Perspective

By JPM Sandie

In the previous  parts we have looked at the stories around and the performance of MG UK in 2016. Now we move on to a brief discussion of MG’s international performance, something often overlooked in UK based reports. This report will focus on China, a market that accounts for nigh on 90% of MG’s present global volume but will also briefly talk about performance in Thailand (a key market and home to MG’s only non-Chinese factory).

MG China: Annus Horribilis or Annus Mirabilis?
The last time we reported on MG’s international performance we reflected on 2014 which had been an Annus Horribilis for MG in China. An ageing product line up had seen sales plummet by 30%. However, the landscape has changed somewhat since then. And, as predicted back then in that article, this proved to be largely due to the GS and the Chinese lust for SUVs.

2015 proved to be a year of recovery for MG in China as sales swelled to 70,377 an increase of nearly 35% but still short of 2013 levels. 62% of all 2015 sales were down to the GS which arrived in February but didn’t hit its stride until April. This had disguised the continued declines from the older products. Whilst the GS had a strong first year, the MG3, MG5 and MG6 once again lost volume dropping 47%, 78% and 78% respectively. That’s a brief summary of what we missed from the 2015 so did a full year of the GS mean it was finally an Annus Mirabilis for MG?

Not quite. China is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic new car markets in the world and consequently provides an environment where standing still is not an option. Chinese MG sales increased in 2016 to 80,389 an increase of 14%. However, this growth was just below a buoyant market which had swelled 17% over 2016 to a whopping 23.6million cars overall.

Again, the GS proved to be key accounting for 61% of MG sales but its performance in the latter part of 2016 should give us pause for concern with sales dropping against 2015 every month from August on. By December the collapse had hit a rather a severe 55% which is more than a little bit worrying considering it’s dominant position within the make up of MG’s sales figures.

For point of comparison, local assembly of the Land-Rover Discovery Sport commenced during 2016 and by November and December it outsold the GS. This may not seem like a surprise from a UK perspective, but the GS is the product of a vast state-owned manufacturer in China whilst the British car has a limited supply network and costs roughly three times as much. The GS was also outperformed by the Borgward BX7 from that car’s launch in the summer. Borgward being effectively a start up brand considering that it was unknown in China and defunct in Germany for over 55 years. With another smaller SUV, the GS-rivalling BX5, launching very soon what odds on the German ghoul brand outperforming the entirety of MG in their second year?

MG’s saving grace in the last months of 2016 proved to be the GT. Launched in 2014, the GT was immediately installed as the most popular MG before dropping like a stone after just a few months. After over a year in the doldrums it suddenly rallied in August 2016 and achieved over 2,000 sales in each of the following months. It’s because of this that the GS collapse didn’t send MG sales into negative territory. For the remaining models it still wasn’t good news. The already low domestic sales of the MG3 and MG6 endured a third successive year of decline dropping 19% and 14% respectively. Meanwhile, only 89 MG5s were shifted all year, a drop of 95%.

In spite of being an “own brand” of a state-owned giant MG are far from a major player. Market share peaked at 0.55% in 2012 but in 2016 was 0.34% which was marginally down on 2015 and doesn’t even appear particularly successful compared to the 0.16% they claim in the UK. In 2016, MG were 41st in the brand ranking (between Leopaard and Landwind) but by December they were 48th and 2,000 units below Yema. A company who not that long ago had a range consisting entirely of cars based on the platform of the dear old Austin Maestro. SAIC Group build millions of cars every year but over 90% are joint-venture products and of the remainder only a quarter wear an MG logo. Years on SAIC are still struggling to make MG relevant to the Chinese.

It wasn’t all mediocre news from SAIC, as well as those successful joint-ventures with VW and GM it was a very good year for Roewe whose sales jumped 142% to 241,328. This was entirely down to a relative of the GS, the RX5, which arrived in July and by the end of the year was regularly accounting for over 20,000 units each month. This was more than four times the volumes the GS was making at the same time. Indeed, the collapse of GS sales mentioned above coincided with the RX5s arrival.

The reasons are obvious, the RX5 is more handsome than the GS and appeals more strongly to a market with conservative aesthetic tastes. It has a far better interior design including a high-tech infotainment system developed by e-commerce firm Alibaba. This system has internet capabilities that can allow the owner to pay for parking, fuel, tolls and the like without leaving their seat. 70% of RX5s sold in China last year had the system underlining the extent to which it acted as a selling point.

So what’s MG’s outlook for 2017? The XS compact crossover arrived on the Chinese market in March and this should become MG’s most popular product and, considering what we’ve noted above, it needs to be. A lightly facelifted GS will arrive around the same time though it is questionable how much that can accomplish considering the strong internal competition provided by the Roewe RX5. A new MG6 and a facelifted MG3 will be seen this year, though the existing versions have been stagnant for a long time so is it too little too late?

There is some hope for growth for MG in China. However, there is a large, tusked mammal in the room. Since October 2015 the Chinese market has been buoyed by tax breaks on cars with sub-1.6 engines. Tax was halved from 10% to 5% but 2017 will see that increasing to 7.5%. This has boosted the market substantially particularly last year as people have rushed to buy before the incentive ends. It simultaneously provides an explanation for the much improved GT performance and leads us to question why other small engined MGs like the MG3 haven’t done better. With the tax break ending, analysts are expecting growth to cool to 3% or even the market to decline making any growth more difficult to achieve. That said, as Brexit and Trump showed analysts and experts are not always correct in their predictions and projections and any impact hasn’t been obvious in the first figures released for 2017.

Thailand
Back in the 2014 piece, we saw a difficult start for MG in Thailand. Ambitious plans for local assembly with huge targets stalled after the launch of the MG6 which ran at around tenth of sales targets. It’s a different story now.

According to BSCB, In the first 11 months of 2016, 7,148 MGs were sold in Thailand an increase of 156%. This was made up of 4,776 MG3s, 1,276 MG5s (The Thai MG5 is actually a re-badged MG GT), 783 MG6s and 313 MG GSs. Again, we see a single product making up the vast majority (in this case the MG3 with 67%) of units. After a very successful December, 2016 saw a total of 8,319 MGs delivered. Very near double MG Motor UK’s efforts.

Those figures equate to 1.1% market share compared to 0.34% in China and 0.16% in the UK. MG are 12th in the manufacturer table (higher if one excludes CVs) and nestle between BMW and Mercedes. Quite clearly, Thailand is the most successful MG market in the world.

Most people would be happy with this performance but back in the early days of Thai production, MG had hoped to get to 14,000 annual sales in 2015 once the MG3 came on stream. Now, they have just over half that with the 6, 3, 5 and GS. Were these targets, like many of those we have seen from MG Motor UK, completely unrealistic? Thailand is a market dominated by the big Japanese companies particularly Toyota and there was never that much room for MG. Do SAIC have a problem with Chinese managers setting delusional and unrealistic targets for markets they don’t understand then employing inexperienced local managers to deliver them as they do in Britain?

Work has now commenced on the second Thai plant and when it opens in 2018 MG’s production capacity in Thailand will be 200,000 p/a. A future Longbridge? In Britain, MG launched with ambitious plans announced with much fanfare, followed by disappointing sales and the bulldozers moving in. There are other parallels, when I wrote in 2014, exports to other AESAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia were mooted for 2015. As of 2017, these plans haven’t come into fruition. Is this similar to the constant carrot of European exports dangled for Longbridge and totally shelved in 2016? As things stand, MG Thailand look like a slightly more successful version of MG Motor UK but have yet to see the reality check following over-ambitious targets that the UK importers saw last year. Their saving grace might be supplying other RHD markets like the UK and Australia but as things stand both markets are supplied by China.

Concluding Thoughts
As we’ve seen over the three parts, it continues to be difficult to find a compelling MG success story. The nearest they have came to cracking it is in Thailand but, somewhat predictably, performance has proved below expectations. Coincidentally, it is years of such below-par performance that resulted in a 2016 that saw MG Motor UK cutback on their British. Meanwhile, the brand struggles to make an impact at home in China. Sales have recovered in the past two years but have only done so back to previous levels which were also somewhat underwhelming. This comes in spite of huge growth in the Chinese car market as MG finds itself failing to become relevant and eclipsed by start up brands in its home market.

There are of course other markets could be covered. MG make a handful of sales in the Middle East and South America amongst other places. They have also tried to make some difficult first steps in Australia which have been undermined by the still available and heavily discounted stock of the previous importer and negative reviews2. SAIC’s plans to try and spread the MG marque around the world show no sign of abating however. The latest development being ambitious plans to enter the Indian market with local assembly.

However, considering the lukewarm reception to the brand in many corners of the globe so far – including markets like China and the UK where they SHOULD be doing well – one has to wonder the sense in the strategy. SAIC seem to over-estimate the love for the brand and particularly how they are using it. They are the automotive equivalent of the drunk that sits next to you on the train, talking to all and sundry oblivious to how their audience isn’t really interested. But, hey, maybe the XS compact SUV will change that. Maybe.

Maybach: The folly of Stuttgart

By Chucky de Hammer

Throughout their history Mercedes-Benz has very rarely put as much as a toe wrong. You could point to the occasional dumpy effort (CLA), slow (nearly every W123), badly built (W210 although there are a good few more) or downright lethal (every single one with a swing axle rear end) example. But a Mercedes that was simply a stupid idea from start to finish? Bit more of a challenge.

But they did triumphantly manage it, and quite recently, with a car that wore a name few beyond Wayne Carini or Idi Amin would know or indeed care much about either. Welcome then, to the ultimate back-yard bodgeshop cut-n-shut Russian whore carrier; the straight-outta Stuttgart Maybach 57.

How Maybach ended up having its proud automotive history being shat on is a familiar tale of boardroom vanity, pride and hubris. Back in the mid-Nineties some chaps from Rolls-Royce flew over to Mercedes to have a chat about using engines supplied by Stuttgart. It turned out the boys from Baden-Württemberg rather liked this idea, so Crewe despatched a team quick-sharp to Germany to do some exploratory work. When they came back the board of R-R was told that working with M-B was indeed An Excellent Wheeze – so Rolls-Royce promptly shitcanned the whole shebang and toddled off to work with B** instead. Like you do.

This meant Mercedes, after spending loads of time courting the Brits to the point of enjoying plenty of pre-marital nookie, were sitting on some half-baked proposals lying about the place and, like a jilted bride in full-scale revenge mode, it got them thinking about parking their Panzers on Crewe’s immaculate lawns. Cue the 97 Maybach concept car at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show.

‘Styled’ by Olivier Boulay the 97 Maybach successfully managed to look both hideously bloated and utterly nondescript at the same time. From the perverse headlamps to the cummerbund that went along the flanks and wrapped round its arse this was the winning card in All-Time Minging Top Trumps. The interior, a diarrhoea fest of beige, fared no better, with a lattice glass roof scattering light round a dreary, euro-corporate waiting room. At this point it was clear that Mercedes were hell-bent on capturing the ultra-luxury market – and had not a single clue how to go about it.

For a concept looking to take on the might of Henry Royce the Maybach was both confused and hackneyed. Which is hardly surprising when you look at how Mercedes had treated the brand. You see, before WW2 there were two brands in Germany which were for the seriously wealthy. You could have something like Maybach’s imposing and advanced DS8 or the delectable 670 from Horch. Both V12 powered, gorgeous, beautifully made and wonderfully exclusive You didn’t bother with Mercedes; they were for short politicians. Yet after 1940 neither badge would spank the Mercedes arse again. Maybach concentrated on commercial engines until it was bought by M-B in 1960 and then, like a Ghia badge on a Fiesta, started appearing only as a coachbuilder name on pimped up limousines. This meant Mercedes had no real brand or backstory to fall back on when coming up with the new model – they were just tacky S-Class derivatives for more money. Which is all the Maybach was.

The most amusing thing about the new Maybach was how Mercedes tried to represent it as some sort of pinnacle of technology and engineering. The sneaky fuckers were reusing the outgoing W140 model underpinnings, then stapling selected bits from the new W220 to the old platform mixed with rehashed tat from the options pages of the limo catalogue. You might get away with that sort of recycling old stuff approach when you’re pushing out a repmobile made down in the Eastern Cape, but not when you’re trying to compete with one of the most snob-laden rarified brands around. All those parts from various products made by Mercedes and development work done by the firm’s engineers ensure the Maybach rode, handled and felt like, well, a Mercedes. It simply wasn’t worth over three times the prices of the S-Class. The Maybach was nothing more than a warmed-over turd with glitter sprinkled over it. And the con stank just as bad.

Sales of the Maybach 57 (an apt name for such a mongrel) started slowly and steadily went nowhere. Someone rashly mentioned a target of 2,000 cars a year, but eleven years after production began, total sales for the Maybach staggered over the 3,000 mark and the Luger was finally taken out the drawer to end the fiasco. And no-one, except for those who suffered the cliff-face depreciation of a Maybach first-hand, remotely cared.

It does make you wonder why Mercedes flounced off when they had the chance to buy Rolls-Royce. When Vickers announced they were looking to palm off the company, They were very loud in saying they were not interested, perhaps rather too loud. After previously getting the bums rush from Vickers it smacked of petulance, which is a terrible weakness in business. They had, on a plate for small change, one of the most well-known badges in the world, knew something about the firm and the people, and were more than aware they could get new models out pretty quick and for a quite low investment. Instead, they decided their own, bumbling, in-house way was better.

There is, however, a footnote to all this. Audi, created by Horch after being booted out of the company that bore his name, got the name back off Mercedes some years later. Now you would hope that the Volkswagen will have watched what happened to Maybach, remembered the burning smell of the money they threw away on the VW Phateon, and decided that it would be a ridiculous idea to create a competitor to their football player-friendly range of Bentleys.

I so really hope they do it.

MG 2016 Report Card – Sex, Lies & Registration Figures

By JPM Sandie

Last time out, I went through three major stories from MG Motor UK in 2016. We saw the demise of the MG6 and final assembly at Longbridge with the GS crossover coming in to make up for it.

In truth it marked a year of retrenchment from pie in the sky unobtainable targets as MG decided to accept a more modest position in the meantime. Of course, the important thing is performance against key indicators like registration numbers and size of the dealer network and this is the scope of this second article.

Possibly the greatest standing joke from the comedy club that is MG Motor UK is their sales targets. Over the years, we have seen some comedy gold in this area usually followed by a resounding failure to meet the target being slowly demonstrated with each passing release of registration figures. Can you believe that at one time they expected to sell 5,000 MG6s per year? However, as I argued in my last article, 2016 saw the start of a re-focus with the company cutting back and – for the moment – setting more modest goals.

So, with that in mind, what was 2016’s target? At the GS launch, sales and marketing director Matthew Cheyne gave this as 5,000 “sales” aided by an increase of dealer numbers to 90. Much like I found in 2014, they failed to meet both targets with a final total of 4,192 registrations and 71 dealers.

Scottish giants Arnold Clark were persuaded to take on a franchise in September which was spun as a successful development for the franchise. However, they are at odds with the qualities MG were previously looking for in dealers. Namely small independents2 without other franchises to distract them3. Those descriptions fitting Britain’s largest dealer group to a tee and giving the impression that rather than having a strategy for the MG franchise Longbridge make it up as they go along.

The reasons for MG’s continued failure to hit targets for the dealer network are many, varied and mostly obvious. Whilst over 4,000 registrations sounds like a lot when you divvy it up between 70 dealers and over 12 months you end up with an average of 1 or 2 cars per dealer per week. That’s assuming that each registration is a sale which is obviously far from the truth between pre-registrations and demonstration vehicles. Some minor brands with sales figures in the same region, like Abarth and Alfa Romeo, actually have fewer dealers than MG.

If the return on an MG franchise is starting to sound worryingly small the next issue to consider is margins. The vast majority of MG sales come from the MG3 which is a car that costs around £10,000 with slim profit margins. For comparison, over the year Subaru registered 500 fewer cars than MG, however, their most popular model is the Forester which, in its most basic form, costs over £26,000 and consequently generates larger margins. Even the cheapest Subaru, the Impreza (yes, that thing is still going), retails at nearly £19,000. Similar tales of premium rather than value priced products also apply to Abarth and Alfa Romeo. Therefore to hit ambitious plans for network growth, MG either need to increase sales (which leads to a chicken or egg situation with expanding the network) or increase margins by increasing sales of more expensive models or the prices of cheaper models.

In truth, achieving around 80% of their projection for registrations is a success by MG Motor’s standards. Back in 2014, registrations were less than 60% of their expectations. It’s worth noting, however, that back then they were anticipating 10,000 units from 100 dealers in 2016. See what I mean about comedy gold? As we know, these projections were built on shifting sands with sales and network expansion proving below expectations and their considerable aspirations for the GS being reduced since.

Why did MG once again come up short of a publicly disclosed target? It wasn’t because of the MG6 which sold as well as expected with a final result of 366 registrations. Targets could not be higher as they only had limited stocks available. Sales value was poor, however, with heavy discounts needed to shift the final stocks of the unsuccessful hatchback.

As for the GS, registrations totalled 583 over 7 months on sale. This being short of their unambitious target of 7-800. There was a moment of profound bafflement in December as MG issued a gushing press release claiming the GS had broken national sales records. A claim based around the rather arbitrary measure of being the quickest MG to hit 500 registrations4. Isn’t that like being the tallest delegate at the dwarf and midget conference? Especially considering it took nearly 6 months when Nissan probably sell 500 Qashqais in about 6 days. The total included demonstrators being sent to every dealer and a fair number of pre-registered vehicles. A significant number of which went to pile ’em high sell ’em cheap merchants Arnold Clark who pre-registered consignments in both September and December.

One can assume that the remainder of the 5,000 target was to be borne by the MG3 which in the end reached 3,243 registrations. That was an increase of a quarter for what was its most successful year. I don’t think it’s fair to criticise the MG3’s performance which was achieved as a product heading to its third birthday (fifth if we take day zero as its launch in China) and with minimal advertising. The lame GS advert accounted for the vast majority of the marketing spend in 2016.

Is it just me that finds it strange that the marketing budget was spent mostly on trying to sell a product that was only intended to account for less than a fifth of sales whilst expecting their core product to thrive without much promotion at all?

That status as core MG product is not in doubt. When both were available, the MG3 outsold the MG6 by a margin of nearly 6 to 1 in 2016 and the GS by a margin of over 4 to 1. With that in mind one of MG Motor’s biggest tasks for 2017 is to keep the MG3 successful.

Conclusion and Outlook
It’s undeniably positive that MG registrations have once again increased. However, it’s also undeniable that 2016 marks another year of missed targets, failure to make a breakthrough and, as described last time out, general uselessness. Missed targets were coming at a time where the brand has retrenched after a few years of underwhelming (albeit improving) results. Targets have been reduced from a few years ago and costs have been cut through things like ceasing local “production” and seemingly not putting the GS through full type approval. Be under no doubt that these were sound business decisions.

What should we look out for in 2017? It’s once again being sized up as another breakthrough year (like every year since 2011). Hopes are being pinned on a full year from the GS. However, it’s foolish to expect too much there. Whilst it will no doubt perform better than the MG6 the putative type approval cap means registrations are limited to 1,000. Last year’s large MG registrations numbered 949 between 366 MG6s (effectively replaced by the GS) and 583 GSs so there’s not a huge amount to be gained. A facelift GS has been unveiled in China but whether it will launch here in 2017 remains unclear. Expanding appeal and sales from larger, more expensive products would probably be the easiest way to make an MG franchise more compelling to the good people of the motor trade but this doesn’t seem likely to happen in the short term.

Long term hopes will be best pinned on the XS B-Segment crossover. Stated for a reveal (in UK spec) at the London Motor Show in early May and a launch at the end of the year I have already wrote about how it has a chance to be the first Chinese MG to be well suited to UK market due to its efficient GM engine and positioning in a growing sector. It should also, due to expected sales and a slightly higher price point, encourage new dealers to the fold. Matthew Cheyne has already stated that he expects the XS to be the motor for a quintupling of MG sales to 20,000 by 2020 so they have high (one might suggest bordering on delusional) hopes for it. However, at the earliest it won’t arrive to the latter part of this year limiting the impact it will have on this year’s performance. If the gap between Chinese and British launches continues on past form we might not see XSes on forecourts this year at all.

That leaves the MG3, the car that is the heart of the MG marque in Britain and, until the XS comes and they have something else saleable, it has to be their focus. Any serious declines in MG3 sales will eventually have an impact on monthly MG totals with the likely limited impact of the GS. Word is, that a refreshed MG3 is on the way – but not until 2018. This leaves MG needing to either do some promotion or relying on blind faith that MG3 sales will keep growing because they have done every year so far. Generally, in the global car industry that’s rare without something to inject new appeal. January registrations for MG overall dropped by over a third and, whilst it’s an isolated figure resulting from a number of factors, I’d be surprised if that wasn’t down to lower MG3 sales. Time will tell whether this is a one-off or a trend, however 2017 may prove to be a year where MG’s market performance suffers for neglecting the MG3.

For more on MG’s registration figures, there are regular updates of figures and analysis from the Macdroitwich forums panel of panel of industry experts* here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=55

This series will conclude soon with a third piece that provides a précis of MG’s international performance.

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.