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With MG Motors at Shanghai, China 2018-12-06 14:51:10

China is, and has always been, a peculiar country – rich in history and heritage and perhaps, a tad aberrant.

Today, things are a bit different. Whilst the aberrance is firmly retained, the country has transformed itself into an industrial juggernaut, with one of the largest road and rail networks in the world, an eccentric society with a penchant for Artificial Intelligence, and an economy that shows no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. Oh, and the explosion that the domestic automotive market has witnessed in the last 10 years has to be seen and experienced to be believed.

So when you get an e-mail from MG Motor India, requesting you to check out their latest range of cars and their manufacturing / R&D facility in China, you do the right thing and clear your schedule without further notice.

Pulling out all the stops, and all set to make an impression - MG Motor India:

We checked into our hotel on a Sunday afternoon after a 9-hour flight, a brief layover at Hong Kong, and the seemingly impossible visa-related hurdles and innumerable security checks that we had to endure, including nifty facial recognition security barriers straight out of Hollywood’s best. Understandably, we were exhausted. But that didn’t stop the 50-strong media contingent from hitting the streets of Shanghai on foot and painting the town red!

With over 50 people from the press, this was the largest media contingent to have ever been flown overseas by any brand thus far:

After having sampled the local cuisine along with a few SAIC Honchos at a popular spot in Shanghai, the contingent stepped-out for a short stroll towards the city’s famed skyline, through streets riddled with security cameras and subliminal messages, for a first-hand experience of the country’s arguably dystopian future. Look past the hyper-surveillance and subtle propaganda and you will see a bustling city teeming with curious locals, buildings bathed by the faint glow from neon fixtures and holographic projectors, and a large selection of strange looking automobiles from obscure brands.

One could argue that in today’s world, MG is just as obscure. It’s obscure because in today’s automotive climate, the focus is no longer on a car’s sporting pedigree in as much as its ability to ferry 4 or 5 passengers as quietly and efficiently as possible. Cars today cocoon you from the outside world and are increasingly good at numbing general sensation. Whilst cars priced under 15 large may still be a bit bare-bones, anything above it is engineered to desensitize, unless you spring for the special models. Back then, every model was a special model, with charm and character.

People from more than a few generations ago would fondly remember MGs and Morris cars, amongst many other cars from that era, because there is a certain something about the way classic cars look, smell and feel. Such sensations are tedious and impractical to replicate in this day and age, and perhaps a touch misunderstood in today’s world of touch screens, instant gratification and social media. Speaking of which, the MG of today’s times - a company that was packed up and shipped off to the East via the Orient Express - knows exactly which side of their bread is buttered. Which is why, you’d notice - if you are an avid user of social media - their aggressive marketing campaign featuring only their greatest hits, including the MGA, the MG Midget, and the MGB. It’s an attempt at exhibiting the brands legacy from the '50s and '60s - a time when everyone, including the members of the Royal Family and even your friendly neighborhood Moderator, would be seen in one, on a summer’s day with the top down... either cruising through town or dropping a gear and giving it a little more throttle than you would normally on a regular commute, just for the heck of it and not because you’re running late for that meeting.

Funnily though, the MGs of today are designed to appeal to the market’s seemingly predictable needs and thus, engineered to insulate you from the road as far as possible - as is the case with most executive cars. They could pull it off and launch a people’s sports car like the Mazda MX5 Miata, and I firmly believe that they should, if they are serious about actually reviving their legacy as sports car giants from a bygone era. But they won’t, as Rajeev Chaba may have hinted, since the domestic and global consumers would much rather plonk their money on a comfortable, fuel efficient and spacious car - with room for five, enough ground clearance to dismiss speed breakers and pot-holes, and a flashy grille with a familiar logo that makes a statement. They don’t want an impractical two-seat sports car, or a fast little sedan that’s rough ‘round the edges. Between you and I, that’s a crying shame.

That is not to say modern cars are bad, or perhaps mere white-goods and kitchen appliances as I have made them out to be. They’re certainly fast and comfortable. And fewer people die in car crashes these days. You really can’t go too wrong with any car you buy today, because they are all good all-rounders and cater to most people’s needs. The new range of MG cars do it particularly well too, it must be said. The range includes a recently face-lifted hatchback called the MG3, a large Superb-sized notch-back called the MG6 and a Compass / Tucson sized SUV called the MG HS, amongst other cars. They even have a stellar looking low-slung electric sports car concept, complete with gullwing doors, retractable headlights and the kitchen sink. It’s called the E-Motion and it’s due to hit the assembly line in a couple of years, is what MG says. I’ll believe it when I see it.

If it hasn’t been established by now, MG is a sports car marque from the mid-1920s and it was registered by the defunct MG Car Company Ltd. The marque has changed many hands since its inception and its latest owner, SAIC Motors a.k.a. Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation as it was formerly known, is a Chinese automotive conglomerate that has a seemingly insatiable appetite for growth and the financial muscle to get noticed by the big boys from Wolfsburg and Detroit.

SAIC has established four major manufacturing bases across China: Lingang, Nanjing, Henan and Fujian, where MG cars are built. SAIC also produces MGs in Thailand, where they have set up their 2nd facility at Rayong. Presently, MG cars are sold in the United Kingdom, China, Thailand, Philippines, Australia and the Middle East. SAIC is all set for their Indian innings with MG, and are scheduled to begin operations at Halol, India, in the second quarter of 2019. The Halol plant is currently capable of churning out 80,000 cars each year and can be expanded to handle an additional 1 lakh cars should the requirement present itself.

An investment of 500 million USD is being considered for the first phase of SAIC Motors and MG's expansion in India, and it is claimed that this investment should be sufficient for the first 3 years of production and service. A sprawling office space, as well as a MG exclusive brand-store, is also in the pipeline, and this would require an additional 100 crore investment according to SAIC Motors.

Having expressed their intention to penetrate the brand / price sensitive market that India is, SAIC Motors invited us over to the Mecca of MG – Oxford, United Kingdom, earlier this year. The media contingent sampled some of the most desirable cars from the brand's golden age of motoring. This time, however, they summoned us to China, where they have been carrying out operations since the brand’s acquisition by Nanjing Automobile Group in the mid-2000s. Whilst the Oxford visit was purely a marketing exercise, and an event organized to showcase the brand’s history and heritage, the visit to Shanghai was to give the media a sneak peek at their latest portfolio and to demonstrate their abilities in R&D and manufacturing.