New models and facelifts David Knowles brings us up to speed with developments in the ever busier world of the modern MG, where it seems the prospect of electrification is buzzing…
Unsurprisingly with an ex-Harley Davidson India Sales Director at the helm, MG Motor India is not shy in promoting the heritage of the marque to an audience which has yet to see a single MG-branded vehicle in its domestic market. When production at their Halol factory in Gujarat starts churning out locally-built products in 2019, MG Motor India, like China and Thailand, will be in a strong position to tailor what it sells both to market aspirations and to suit the factory facilities on hand.
What the Indian market craves at the moment, just like virtually every other country with a healthy car sector, is the SUV, and MG Motor India should be well placed to help satiate that demand. However, the Indian SUV market is stronger in the slightly larger sector, with SUVs like the Jeep Compass and Hyundai Creta selling well to prosperous Indian executives keen on a stylish, sturdy vehicle with the cachet of a good foreign name-badge. In order to satisfy this demand, it is believed (if as yet unconfirmed) that MG Motor India may take the MG-badged version of the Roewe RX5, which is already on sale in the Middle East. This would also allow roll-out of the electric-hybrid MG eRX5, and there may be the potential for a unique-to-India diesel version of the RX5, using the well-proven two-litre Jeep Compass powertrain; India has yet to catch the same degree of populist dislike for diesel (much of it ill-informed) that’s prevalent in the West.
Another more left-field option might be a mildly restyled and MG-badged version of the SAIC-GM-Wuling Baojun 530, another mid-sized SUV which has already sold well in China after being unveiled at the 2017 Guangzhou Auto Show. Although SAIC has strayed outside the home team for an occasional Chinaonly Roewe (such as the Buick-based Roewe 950 and the largely forgotten Roewe W5 based on the Ssangyong Kyron) this would be the first time a SAIC-era MG had strayed off the family ranch to have anything other than an SAIC-Design platform.
Wuling cars are already exported to Indonesia, so there is some precedent for selling their platforms outside China. The Baojun 530 is Wuling’s largest SUV at 4655mm long, 1835mm wide and 1760mm tall, and in China has a choice of 1.5-litre turbocharged or 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engines. We have to say that unless the styling can be genuinely transformed, the idea of trying to sell a Baojun car in India whilst implying some MG DNA would surely be something of an uphill struggle for MG Motor India, but for the time being the speculation continues.
MG HS ON THE WAY
At the end of August, the important Chengdu Auto Show will be under way, and amongst the anticipated stars of the show will be the production-specification replacement for the MG GS, a new model dubbed the MG HS. Chinese media suggest that the H allegedly stands for hormones, but we rather expect that the narrative may change by the time the new model arrives in the UK in 2019.
Closely related to the Roewe RX5, (which is also due a modest design-refresh,) the HS takes many of its design cues from the MG X-Motion concept which was shown at Beijing in April. However, this does not mean that the MG SUV range is completed, for there remains room above the MG HS for a further model closer in size to the Jaguar F-Pace. There is some talk too of a smaller model to sit below the ZS.
The HS headlights are said to be of a new bi-colour LED type, featuring a dynamic light unit (designed to react to steering inputs) with integrated daytime running lights. Details like the interior and engine bay views are only likely to be revealed nearer the show debut, but already we know that the principal exterior dimensions of the MG HS are respectively 4574mm long, 1876mm wide and 1664mm high (with a shark fin antenna this rises to 1685mm), whilst the wheelbase is 2720mm, meaning the HS is slightly longer, wider and lower than the Roewe RX5, with a modest increase in wheelbase of 20mm. In terms of power, the MG HS (in Chinese specification at least) will see a choice of a 1.5-litre turbo (badged 20T in SAIC nomenclature) or 2.0-litre turbo (30T), with maximum power outputs of 169hp and 220hp respectively. The 2.0T (30T) models will also be available in some markets as four-wheel drive versions. The broad engineering specification closely matches the RX5, including the six-speed manual and six-speed/seven-speed dual clutch transmissions seen in the Roewe. The top-specification models will feature the aforementioned LED light headlamps, keyless entry, panoramic sunroof and other configurations, and in line with the Chinese market MG6 will also offer Trophy Sport Edition variants.
Regular readers will know that the MG GS was facelifted for China and a handful of export markets, but this improved version never came to the UK, where homologation limits sales of the GS to a maximum of 1000 per year – something which Daniel Gregorious, MG Motor UK’s head of Sales and Marketing, promises will not be the case with the all-new model when it gets here in 2019.
THE ELECTRICIFICATION OF MG
The news at the end of June of the acquisition of the UK’s largest car charging firm Chargemaster by the petro-chemical giant BP is as sure a sign as any that the electric vehicle sector is on the rise. Earlier this year BP had forecast that renewable energy was destined to become the fastest-growing fuel source, with an estimate that the number of electric vehicles in the UK would grow from the modest total of around 135,000 at present to 12 million by 2040. BP’s move followed a similar acquisition of another car charging company, New Motion, by Shell in 2017.
In the field of electric vehicles, it is largely a case of where China leads, the rest of the world follows; in my visit to Shanghai last year to see the SAIC Design studios, I was staggered to see that virtually all the mopeds and tiny three-wheeled commercials plying the segregated lanes alongside many of the radial Shanghai highways were electrically propelled. This is to a large extent a consequence of Chinese national and city government incentives on a massive scale, and similarly their active role (as part-owners of the state-controlled companies) in encouraging domestic car and commercial vehicle makers to invest in electrification. Putting this into context, it is estimated that the Chinese government has already committed up to £47bn for so-called NEV subsidies (NEV stands for new energy vehicles) as part of its five year plan for 2015-2020, and a further £3bn is being spent on developing the charging infrastructure. China relies heavily on oil imports, and many of its major cities have a major pollution problem, and so moving the vehicle fleet towards electric and hybrid vehicles ticks many boxes, amongst them the mission to be the world leader in this field.
Naturally as China’s biggest car maker, SAIC aims to stay at the head of the pack and there is a real buzz in the collective offices of MG Motor divisions around the world concerning the arrival in 2019 of an electric version of MG’s strongly selling ZS, which seems likely to be badged either eZS or ZSe (we’ve grown wary of MG’s practice of changing its mind about model names at the eleventh hour). MG Motor UK’s Daniel Gregorious, believes the electric ZS will be a very strong offering, providing a winning combination of space, style, equipment and affordability. And Gregorious knows what he is talking about, because during his previous time at Renault/Nissan he saw the growing market acceptance of the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.
MEANWHILE LONGBRIDGE SHRINKS
Whilst MG Motor and SAIC’s UK operations are in a good place with growing investment and a busy workload, the same cannot be said for the outlying parts of the once vast Longbridge site, large chunks of which have either disappeared under new developments or appear destined to do so. The conversion of some of the old buildings into the Cecil Kimber Training College is something of an exception to this rule. The most recent surprise for visitors to the site was the close-boarded timber fence circling the old showroom known for many years as the Elephant House, which started life as a BMC Commercial Vehicle showroom and had a number of purposes over subsequent decades, including MG Motor’s on-site sales showroom. Now the building has been handed back to the developer St.
Modwen as SAIC no longer have a need for the land or the building itself. It would be sad if this iconic structure, long part of the Longbridge landscape (and, somewhat ironically the inspiration for several Chinese MG showrooms) should succumb to the bulldozer.
MG3 FACELIFT ON THE HORIZON
Although the facelifted MG3 first broke cover in China, a significant step nearer UK sales came on 21 June when the first RHD models were launched in Thailand, taking over from the earlier MG3 which had already been assembled since the factory opened. Under the marketing slogan We Are Fun, the MG3 is being built and sold in Thailand.
Daniel Gregorious told us that the first facelift MG3 will be in UK showrooms by September, and whilst the precise UK spec has yet to be disclosed, it seems that many of the important changes seen in Thai showrooms will also appear in compatible markets such as the UK, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
In its Thai-market specification, the new MG3 features an upgraded 1.5-litre DOHC VTi-TECH petrol engine which now delivers 112hp at 6000rpm (currently 106), 150Nm of torque at 4500rpm (up from 137Nm at 4750rpm), and a new automatic transmission that replaces the clunky semi-automatic on the outgoing version (never imported to the UK). There are said to be eight integrated safety systems, namely Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Brake Assist (EBA), Stability Control System (SCS), Curve Brake Control (CBC), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Start Assist System (HAS), and an anti-skid system when the gear is suddenly lowered with the Motor Control Slide Retainer (MSR).
In addition, a new and improved intelligent i-SMART connection system on the larger 8in colour display touch screen comes equipped with online music streaming and restaurant and hotel recommendations reviews.
The car is unsurprisingly compatible with Bluetooth connection, as well as featuring the inevitable USB port. At the same time the new MG3 is claimed to be able to gather important information about itself to inform the driver at any time via his or her Smartphone about fuel level, air bags and door status. It also helps to alert about unusual vehicle movements that may be caused by theft. The MG3 comes in five colours, known for the Thai market as Tudor Yellow, Ruby Red, Marina Blue, Arctic White and Black Knight. The version sold in Thailand also features a very desirable opening sunroof, which previously MG Motor UK did not offer.
ABOVE: The MG RX5 is a re-badged Roewe RX5 that is already on sale in some territories outside China and the UK; it is thought to be a possible option for the Indian market.
ABOVE: The Baojun 530 is a product of SAIC-GM-Wuling; it is slightly larger than the Roewe RX5 and its new MG HS counterpart.
ABOVE: The MG HS is to be the GS replacement, built on the RX5 platform, but featuring many design cues from the X-Motion concept unveiled earlier this year.
ABOVE AND RIGHT: The Elephant House at Longbridge started life as a BMC Commercial Vehicle showroom, while in recent times it formed part of the MG Motor on-site sales facility.
ABOVE: The recently created Cecil Kimber Academy at Longbridge involved an investment of around £½m.
ABOVE: The face-lifted MG3, seen here in Thailand, was launched there in June. That means it is now being built in RHD form; UK sales will follow this autumn.