Posts tagged ‘SAIC’


MG SUV soon a reality: good

06.02.2014

I have to admit I get a bit bored of those crying foul now that MG will launch an SUV, one which seems to have some parallels with the Ssangyong Korando C (left).
   They say that MG should have made sports cars as part of its revival, and that the brand should not adorn a bunch of Chinese-made saloons and an upcoming SUV.
   Let’s look at a few hard facts.
   MG did make a sports car when NAC, and later SAIC, took over. It was the British TF design. And they sold fewer than 100 cars per year in the 2007–11 period, despite it being the cheapest roadster on the market in China. It wasn’t just Chinese buyers who ignored them: the TF was the first model revived at Longbridge, with very keen pricing, and hardly any Britons touched them, either.
   So if you were a business and you were confronted with decent sales of your saloon cars and dismal sales of your sports car (after building a whole new factory for them), where do you place your efforts?
   You give the people what they want.
   What’s surprising is that this is hardly unprecedented in MG history. There have been MG saloons for a good part of its existence, but right now, there are parallels with the 1980s. Then, the MGB had died in 1980, and Austin Rover decided it would launch a range of sporting saloons based on the humble Metro, Maestro and Montego. That’s no different to today’s MG range of the 3, 5 and 6—there’s even a 7, based on the old MG ZT.
   And globally, but more importantly, in MG’s domestic and key export markets, SUVs are selling strongly.
   Again: you give the people what they want.
   I was one of the very few people who wrote that I believed the Porsche Cayenne would be a huge hit at the turn of the century, and that the Porsche brand could survive such an extension. I was right.
   MG’s brand can easily be extended, given that it has had a less focused history than Porsche. At two points during its British ownership, it sold estates, for goodness’ sake—once in New Zealand, with the Montego-based MG 2·0 SL, and toward the end of the Phoenix Four era, with the MG ZT-T.
   A good deal of estate buyers now eye up SUVs, and that is simply a trend that SAIC is following.
   A sports car may follow in time. There will be a fastback based on the Auris-like MG 5, and not a moment too soon. A “proper” sports car could come if the rest of the range does well. SAIC isn’t run by mugs, and they know the heritage of the MG brand.
   MG sister brand Roewe has been voted the best in service and customer satisfaction among car dealerships, beating even the foreign-branded competition in China, while the Roewe 350 topped its class for customer satisfaction, according to the China Quality Association. The MG 3 came second in its segment.
   We’re talking about the most competitive car market on earth, and the Chinese equivalent (as far as I can make out) of the J. D. Power survey.
   Those accolades are things that BMC, BL, Austin Rover, Rover Group and MG Rover could only dream about, especially through the 1970s.
   I’d rather people give SAIC the acclaim it deserves for giving MG a decent go where the British and the Germans had failed—and for putting money where its mouth is.

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In the MG world, the Chinese understand Britishness better

20.06.2012

Take a car range that’s not selling too well, and try to pull the patriotic heart-strings to see if you can move a few.
   Trouble is, this ad for the MG 6 Magnette, which is running on some of our sites, is pretty awful.
   It’s not convincing, for starters. Brand Germany has its positioning so well sewn up that it’ll take more than a low-budget campaign to shift consumer perceptions, even in Britain. Whomever did this creative obviously hasn’t realized that even the Metropolitan Police doesn’t always buy British any more—though, by and large, the French police will buy French, and the Polizei will buy German.
   It’s worse than Citroën’s effort in trying to convince us that the C5 is Germanic, though at least in its case, it came off mildly aspirational.
   And how ‘Beautifully British’ is the MG 6 anyway, when it was Chinese funds that propped it up, and most of the car is made in China for only final assembly in the Midlands?
   As Edward Sheldon pointed out in the AROnline Facebook group, a much better approach would be to distinguish the MG 6 by making the notion of “buying German” seem me-tooish. Target the MG 6 at the non-conformist, those individualistic buyers who don’t want to drive yet another Focus or BMW Dreier. Even the off-the-cuff copy that Edward came up with in conversation (‘Exclusivity is a myth. Follow your Heart’) is better than the drivel MG originated.
   While it might not be the better car, at least those who opt for a 6 know they are bucking the trend—after all, people have bought outclassed French cars in some segments because they didn’t want to seem like the chap next door.
   What is even more interesting is that the promotions for the same car in China are far more interesting, with a greater need to cut through the clutter that is 2010s Chinese advertising. The use of MG’s history, the ‘Morris Garages’ legend, and a ridiculous storyline that makes the Milk Tray Man seem dull help turn the 6 into a far more appealing proposition, even if not all of it translates well into English. But Britishness, in this case, seems to work far better—it looks like the Chinese agency understands subtlety, using the smallest of hints. Granted, I am comparing a web ad to a video, but still …

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Endgame: Saab files for bankruptcy

19.12.2011

If you’re a car nut, then you won’t be mourning, too much, the passing of former Czech president Vaclev Hável. Or, for that matter, Kim Jong Il. It’s Saab that has finally died as it files for bankruptcy after GM, which still licenses key technologies to the Swedish firm, vetoed its sale to Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.
   GM has a JV with SAIC, the Shanghai automaker, and believes that if those technologies were to find their way into the hands of a small upstart Chinese rival, it wouldn’t be to its advantage. Saab, which had been teetering on collapse since March, when it first stopped production, decided to call in the receivers today.
   GM had issued a statement at the weekend, saying, ‘Saab’s various new alternative proposals are not meaningfully different from what was originally proposed to General Motors and rejected … Each proposal results either directly or indirectly in the transfer of control and/or ownership of the company in a manner that would be detrimental to GM and it shareholders. As such, GM cannot support any of these proposed alternatives.’
   Swedish Automobile, the parent company of Saab, responded, ‘After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded.
   ‘The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.’
   GM, in the two decades in which it owned Saab, failed to turn a profit with the brand. However, its parting gift, the new 9-5 saloon, was heralded by some fans as a return to form for the company. Hopes were high for it, and the 9-4X crossover, helping Saab back into a position of strength.
   It’s easy to do a post mortem now, but the failure could be levelled at GM’s misunderstanding of the Saab brand. It may have been sensible to shift Saab models on to Opel platforms for economies of scale, but, in doing so, the cars lost some of their character. The lowest point was when GM created a rebodied Subaru Impreza and called it the Saab 9-2X, which fooled few buyers—one has to remember that Saab buyers tended to be well educated. Saab never fitted well in a business which targeted the mainstream: its own cars were always bought by people who enjoyed their quirkiness and the fact they did not follow convention.
   GM only understood this when it was far too late, as the last two models demonstrated.
   When GM itself had to file for bankruptcy protection in the US in the late 2000s, Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn were the victims.
   When Saab was sold to Spyker, its boss Victor Muller invested heavily into the business to try to turn it around—but he, and other investors, would have lost tremendously today. Saab fans will likely remember Muller favourably—after all, he put his own money into the business and shared his supporters’ passion—but in a world where break-even points are at hundreds of thousands of units, Saab’s 30,000 in 2010 were never going to be enough. MG Rover Ltd. collapsed with 2004 sales of 115,000 in 2005.
   As hindsight is 20-20, Saab and Youngman might be accused of wishful thinking, believing it to be unencumbered by GM’s IP rights. However, the American business held the right of revocation over key licences that make up Saab’s 9-3, 9-4X and 9-5 models.
   It’s not the first time intellectual property has got in the way of car businesses. One of the most famous examples was BMW arranging with Rolls-Royce trade mark owner Vickers plc to license the brand for motor cars, as Volkswagen negotiated to buy the Rolls-Royce Motors business. And all Volkswagen really had to do to find this out was visit the Rolls-Royce website home page at the time: right at the bottom, stated clearly, was the message that the Rolls-Royce brand was licensed from Vickers plc.

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MG taps into BMC’s small-car heritage to market the 3

02.01.2011

SAIC is doing a great job in tapping to the heritage of MG and the companies that have gone before. Hop over to the SAIC–MG site and you’ll see this image to tie in to the launch of the B-class MG 3 hatchback:

MG celebrates its small car expertise

   The imagery tells a good deal of the story already: the Austin 7, the Morris Minor 1000, the ADO 16, the MG ZR Mk II, the MG 3 SW, and the latest MG 3. The text refers to the 80 years of expertise that MG has had in small cars (more if you begin counting the other parts of BMC), how they are beloved of the Royal Family, how such old cars are kept by their fans in Britain, and, after the company created the Mini (a particularly cheeky reference to either the 1959 or the 2000 Mini—it’s intentionally ambiguous), it’s moved on to China.
   My Mandarin is non-existent but I’m guessing that the names referred to in the text are Pinyin transliterations of Morris and Cecil Kimber.
   Never mind that there are probably more Britons buying new German cars these days, and that BMW might not be that happy to see MG claim that it created the Mini. Technically, there is no lying here, and gives MG a far better halo effect among Chinese buyers than it ever had with British ones in its waning days under UK ownership.
   It also helps that the mainstream (state-run) media in Red China don’t go around rubbishing MG and Roewe like the British media were so keen to do with MG and Rover.
   Early indications from Chinese websites such as the China Car Times is that the MG 3’s interior quality leaves something to be desired, while MG fans at Keith Adams’s AROnline site are generally negative about the styling.
   This is not the MG that traditionalists know, with the TF, A or B, but then, the latest MG 3 is probably on a par with the MG Metro of the 1980s as a warmed-over hatch. The MG 6, at least, doesn’t look like the Roewe 550 on which it is based—and that’s a step up from the MG Maestro of the same decade. This promotional message might not work perfectly in markets where MG can’t be readily mixed with Austin and Morris, but as a marketing exercise, the copy and the imagery give MG with a sense of desirability (Chinese buyers might be shifting to favouring local brands, but there’s still a bit of snobbery about foreign ones), and of proven expertise (which few of its rivals can claim).
   It’s the sort of sophistication that few would give credit to a Chinese automaker for having. However, it shows that imagination and humour are not lacking in Shanghai—and even if you don’t like the look of the 2011 MG 3, it’s at least original, unlike the Toyota clones coming from BYD. At this rate, the occident should be worried about the rise of the Chinese motor industry, because even the marketing is getting cleverer.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, internet, marketing, media, UK | 3 Comments »


Johnny Foreigner might be better at running a car company in Shanghai

12.12.2010

As I made links for the last post, I noticed there were a lot of comments on AROnline about the replacement for the Roewe 750, the Chinese car that is based on the old Rover 75.
   The replacement will be on the Opel Insignia platform, owned by GM. It’s been followed by a lot of cries that are all too familiar to me.
   Most of them are saying that MG is dead, and has been for a long time, underpinned with the sentiment of ‘How dare the Chinese put this car on an American platform?’
   They ignore that some of the design is still done by a British firm and while the physical British input into the next generation of Roewe and MG cars’ production is much more limited than what we see at Jaguar and Land Rover—or, for that matter, Nissan, Toyota, Honda et al—unlike the Japanese brands, the MGs will, at least, continue to bear a brand steeped in British tradition.
   Many brands are not owned by a company incorporated in the country of their founders, and while I often make my choices based on the parent company, the majority of people do not care.
   The comments also seem rather unfair and steeped in some cry of Yellow Peril.
   I wrote on the site, in response to some of them:

   Brands have, for nearly as long as the motoring industry has been around, been acquired by different groups. Are current Vauxhalls “true” British Vauxhalls, because they really haven’t been since GM bought the place in 1925? From the 1930s, Bedfords went on to Chevrolet platforms, yet history does not seem to judge them as harshly as some of us are doing above. They are not the ‘American Bedfords’ or the ‘faux Bedfords’.
   As the world changes, it is only natural that some of these brands will be acquired by countries that do not share the same heritage as Great Britain. As far as I can see, Tata seems to escape the same level of hostility because India was once part of the mighty Empah. As India becomes more confident, and in, say, 2025 when all Jaguar platforms are exclusively engineered there with the help of a non-British car maker (platform-sharing is just as inevitable in the luxury sector), will they be met with the same criticism?
   This is the real world: globalized, with car manufacturers turning to low-cost options where possible. We are connected with internet and intranets. And SAIC is simply leading when it comes to taking an American-owned platform engineered in Germany and putting the ‘Made in China’ stamp on it. Occidental manufacturers have been doing it for years: as Climbsyke points out, Rover did it with Honda platforms …
   Yet we continue to be drawn to these models not because of their Japanese roots, but because they have some connection to the brand, which stirs our emotions. Some of them had the lion’s share of work done in Japan, not Britain, yet that, too, is conveniently overlooked. No one ever mentions the war (which I will now, and China was one of the Allies).
   While some Red Chinese manufacturers are turning out junk that would not get past injunctions waged around intellectual property issues, at least SAIC has some awareness of the history of MG and is willing to acknowledge it. With Roewe, never mind the pastiche-British marketing that it indulges in for the domestic market where these cars are mainly sold; I’m confident that the Shangaiese are more savvy than many of us are giving them credit. An MG is an MG, regardless of the ethnicity of the parent, and regardless of the shouts of the Yellow Peril, as long as its brand values are somehow incorporated.

   What may well happen is that SAIC, MG’s parent, will build up some cash by selling mass-market models, which are, incidentally, doing very well inside Red China.
   Then as the Chinese demand for them takes off (as it is beginning to), it will release a sports car.
   It should rightly concentrate on its domestic market first, and in recessionary times, working on a specialist sports car while the demand is not there just seems foolish.
   When such a sports car arrives, I wonder if the same critics will be there to shout how un-British it is—even if SAIC has to stick it on a Volkswagen platform.
   In my mind, these cars are no more and no less British than the Honda-based models that kept the MG and Rover brands going through the 1980s and 1990s, and it’s inevitable that more unlikely platform- and engine-sharing will happen. Now that the wave of consolidation has ended—Ford and Mazda have announced they are going their separate ways now—you may see very unlikely alliances indeed as the industry deals with supply and margin issues.
   There have already been rumblings about Mercedes-Benz cooperation with Aston Martin; Volvo must look somewhere for a large-car platform if Geely wants to turn it into an even more upscale brand within China; and all sorts of rumours about the platform for the forthcoming Saab 9-2 have been bandied about.
   Given Britain’s own failure in managing its car industry, cries that stick it to Johnny Foreigner have a sour grapes’ tinge to them, but, then, one sees it from the Foreign Office in fact or in fiction:

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