A bit Birmingham, a shade Shanghai
The famous British vehicle MG is coming back – only this time it is owned by the Chinese. Rob Maetzig drives the first car we’ll get to see
As media launches of a new vehicle go, this was pretty unusual. For starters the car hasn’t been launched yet. No prices have been announced. A dealership network hasn’t been set up, either. And the car available to be driven wasn’t actually the car forecast to be the volume seller, because it had manual transmission rather than auto.
So the event in Canterbury last week was more a toe-in-thewater exercise by importer British Motor Distributors, designed to familiarise the motoring media with what’s coming this year and beyond.
It’s all a bit exciting really, because the media function did mark the re-launch of a famous British brand that was founded in the 1920s and which in more recent years has suffered a stopstart career involving a series of different owners including British Leyland, Rover Group, British Aerospace, and BMW.
The last owner was MG Rover which ceased production in 2005 when the company went into administration.
The assets were then purchased by Chinese carmaker Nanjing Automobile, which was subsequently bought by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) which is now the largest vehicle producing company in China – it built more than four million vehicles last year – and is fully listed on the Chinese Stock Exchange.
SAIC produces a total of 19 different vehicle brands, including models built via joint venture arrangements with General Motors and Volkswagen. Its MG operation is based in Birmingham in England, and it has production facilities in Britain and China.
Last year it sold more than 162,000 MGs, the vast majority of them to a total of 35 left-hand drive markets. But right-hand drive markets are increasingly being served too – primarily because the Chinese owners recognise the importance of MG’s British heritage – and currently this product is being sold in Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, Mauritius and Hong Kong.
The first MG that New Zealand will see is the MG6 GT, which will be available as a fivedoor liftback or as a four-door sedan called Magnetta. Powered by an updated and turbocharged 1.8-litre version of the Rover K-Series petrol engine that in past years we’ve already experienced in Rover and MG product, the car is of about the same size as the likes of Suzuki Kizashi, Mitsubishi Lancer and Holden Cruze.
Once the car does go on the market in New Zealand – and that’s expected to be around October once the MG dealer network is finalised – it will initially be available with manual transmission only, but that will be quickly followed by a turbodiesel version late in the year and a twin-clutch automatic model next year.
Next year will also see a smaller MG3 hatch launched in New Zealand, and 2014 is likely to feature the arrival of a Ford Focus-sized MG5, a compact SUV, and even a hybrid model.
British Motor Distributors operations manager Kerry Cheyne told last week’s function that MG enthusiasts in New Zealand are expressing strong interest in the new Chinese-built product.
‘‘But we don’t know at this stage what the sales volume will be. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this pre-launch exercise.’’
When the MG6 does enter the Kiwi new vehicle market, one criticism it won’t have to face is for the quality of its build. Immediate impression during a drive programme through Canterbury was that even the entry model – which is expected to retail for less than $30,000 – is very well put together, offers an excellent level of specification including electric sunroof, and it performs well.
The base S model that I drove features the electric sunroof, air conditioning, and electric windows all round. Next up will be the SE which gets rear parking aid, cruise control, and one-touch operation of the front windows.
The top model will be the TSE which will boast leather sports seats, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, and full connectivity including Bluetooth.
Powering this vehicle is a 1.8-litre turbocharged and intercooled DOHC engine that delivers 118 kilowatts of power and 215 newton metres of torque.
MG's return: The MG6 GT liftback, left, and Magnetta sedan which will be launched in New Zealand next month.