Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future be imported from China fully built.

There was, however, a new MG on the way, the GS, a medium-sized five-door FWD crossover. The model was launched at the London Motor Show in May 2016, with sales beginning later in the year. The GS was powered by a 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 168 bhp (125 kW). This unit was developed jointly by SAIC and General Motors.

The GS was built on a new, scalable platform developed by SAIC for all the company’s crossover models. The wheelbase and overall length were 2,650 mm (104½”) and 4,500 mm (177¼”) making the GS slightly larger in size than the Nissan Qashqai, the segment market leader. The styling was neat and contemporary, if again somewhat anonymous.

Autocar magazine tested the GS shortly after its UK launch. The outstanding feature was its entry price. At £15k, it was around £3k cheaper than similar rivals. It was roomy inside and performed well. The claimed 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time was 9.7 seconds but the reviewers achieved a sub-nine second result.

Unfortunately, that was the total of the plaudits it received. The engine, although strong, suffered from a flat spot at 3,000 rpm and was buzzy and breathless at higher revs. This was especially disappointing for the newly co-developed unit. The ride and handling, previously an MG strength, was poorly resolved with inconsistent damping and an unsettled ride on even moderately poor surfaces. Fuel economy was below the class average, and there were inconsistencies in build quality. Overall, the reviewers felt the GS represented much less of a step forward over the MG3 than that model had been over the MG6. In some areas, notably ride and handling, MG had regressed.

The GS did little to improve MG Motor’s fortunes in Europe. Over three years on sale, a total of just 2,904(1) found buyers before the model was discontinued in 2019. Fortunately for the company, the now ageing MG3 was continuing to find buyers, helped by a facelift and new interior in 2018. This gave the car some much needed identity, with a hexagonal grille in the centre of which was positioned an enlarged MG octagon badge. European sales from 2017 to 2020 inclusive were 12,152 units.

2016 MG GS (c) mg.co.uk

Having missed the target by some margin with its first attempt to join the burgeoning European market for crossovers, MG Motor launched a second, smaller model in 2017, the MG ZS. This was a compact crossover, with a wheelbase and overall length of 2,585 mm (101¾”) and 4,314 mm (169¾”) respectively, which pitched it directly against the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.

It was unveiled at the London Motor Show in May 2017(2) and went on sale at the end of that year. The styling, whilst clearly derivative of compact crossovers already on sale, was not unpleasant and had what would become MG’s new ‘face’, the hexagonal grille containing a large MG octagon badge.

Autocar magazine tested the ZS at launch and the reviewers were considerably more impressed than they had been a year earlier with the GS. The entry price for the ZS of £12,495 undercut the cheapest Nissan Juke by £2,385. The top of the range Exclusive model tested had a list price of £15,495 and was very well equipped, with climate control, heated door mirrors, an 8” touchscreen, DAB radio and Apple Car Play, rear parking sensors and camera all as standard. The interior was spacious, and nicely designed and finished. Although there were some areas of hard, scratchy plastic, it was on a par with its competitors in this regard. The model also came with an impressive seven-year / 80,000-mile warranty.

Previous MG models had been let down primarily by the poor performance of their unfashionably large capacity engines, but the ZS came with an optional 1.0 litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 109 bhp and driving the front wheels via a smooth shifting six speed automatic transmission. The new drivetrain cost a premium of £2k over the 1.5 litre normally aspirated engine and manual gearbox, but the reviewers thought it would be money well spent.

Dynamically, the ZS was in a different league to the GS. The reviewers summed it up as follows: “The ride can be a touch lumpy, but there’s decent body control and not too much roll in bends, the steering is light and direct and the suspension does a good job of brushing off potholes and broken patches of road.”

2020 MG ZS EV (c) mg.co.uk

Suddenly, MG Motor had a model to offer that was broadly class-competitive and without any notable weaknesses. The market responded: sales started strongly and continued to accelerate in 2018 and 2019. However, there was more to come from the new model. The platform on which it was based had been designed for both ICE and EV applications, and a ZS EV was launched at the 2018 Guangzhou Auto Show. This model went on sale in Europe in mid-2020.

The ZS EV features a 44.5 kWh battery and a front-mounted motor producing 141 bhp (105 kW) which is good for a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 8.0 seconds and top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h). The WLTP range is 163 miles (263 km), significantly shorter than some rivals, notably the Kia e-Nero which achieves a WLTP range of 282 miles (455 km). It is, however, perfectly adequate for many potential users’ needs.

Auto Express magazine tested the ZS EV in June 2020 and rated it at four stars out of five. It was practical, roomy and well equipped, with just a few areas of sub-par finish that betrayed its budget origins. The extra weight of the drivetrain seems to have had a negative effect on both ride and handling over the ICE model, although it was not unacceptable. The pricing was the ZS EV’s trump card: the mid-range Excite model cost £24,995 after UK government grant, putting it on a par with smaller supermini EVs such as the Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa.

In late 2019, MG Motor introduced the larger HS crossover, available in both ICE and, from December 2020, plug-in hybrid models, further widening its offering. The HS is another competent if not outstanding model, selling for between £18k and £25k, which represents a saving of up to £6k against its competitors.

One slightly unusual recent addition to MG Motor’s European range is the MG5 EV, a C-segment car available in estate form only. This is not actually an MG, but SAIC sister company Roewe’s Ei5 model, unchanged apart from its MG badging. It is rather frumpy looking, sitting on small wheels with a heavily indented and high waistline, but its technical specification and performance shows further progress.

It has a 52.2 kWh battery and a 154 bhp (116 kW) electric motor that gives a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 8.5 seconds, top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h) and WLTP range of 214 miles (345 km). It is priced from £26,995 after UK government grant. It received 3½ stars from Autocar, who thought it great value and only let down by some inconsistency in body and cabin fit and quality and its un-MG-like appearance.

2020 MG5 EV (c) mg.co.uk

The advent of the ZS has had a dramatic impact on MG Motor’s European sales performance.  In 2018, total sales more than doubled over the previous year, then increased by a further 55% in 2019.  In 2020, total sales were 22,225(3) units, representing another substantial 58% year-on-year increase. This is a remarkable achievement in a year so severely affected by the Covid pandemic, where total European auto sales are forecast to have fallen by around 25%.

2020 MG HS Plug-in Hybrid (c) mg.co.uk

Throughout this piece, I have referred to MG Motor’s ‘European’ sales, but these are, effectively, UK numbers: the company only returned to mainland Europe in 2020, so has barely started to exploit the wider potential in this market. It is certainly one to watch in 2021 and beyond.

 

(1) All sales data from www.carsalesbase.com.
(2) Initially, the new ZS was to be called XS in Europe, to avoid confusion with the MG Rover-era MG ZS hatchback. That plan was abandoned before the new model went on sale as the ZS.
(3) Of which 89% were the ZS, highlighting the critical importance of that model to MG. Moreover, 85% of ZS sales in 2020 were of the EV variant.

 

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

16 thoughts on “Making Good? (Part Two)”

  1. In Germany it is difficult to buy an MG – they have even fewer dealers here than Alfa Romeo, and that is saying something.
    But it looks like one is not missing anything. Just take something from Hyundai and change the logo. Fits.

    There are many ways to remove a brands core, but what happened to MG in the last 30 (?) years has set the bar pretty high.

    1. Hi Fred. I’m not sure anything the Chinese have done to MG is any more egregious than this:

      To be clear, I don’t dislike the Farina BMC cars, but one could never accuse them of being remotely sporting.

    2. That’s an interesting metric Fred. We have 33 Alfa Romeo dealers in the Netherlands and 3 MG dealers. Yet MG outsold Alfa by a ratio of almost 7 to 1.

  2. That Farina MG made me smile. However, it was at least part of a range which included other, sporty MGs and it had some character and lineage.

    MG as it is current formulated appears to be ‘just some cars’. What the company is doing is fine, it’s just that the badge is inappropriate. Perhaps that will change as the brand develops.

    While I agree that the MG brand has been comprehensively hollowed-out, it’s remarkable what brands can stand. It appears that what customers find unforgivable is product failure with inadequate remedial action which leads to personal loss and MG hasn’t suffered from that, so perhaps they have a bright future. There – I managed to write that without mentioning Lancia. Doh!

    1. Hello Charles. Ah, yes, Lancia, I thought it might pop up in this context. It still outsold MG in Europe by ratio of 2:1 in 2020 with only the Ypsilon, and that selling only in Italy. That said, MG and Lancia are on diametrically opposite trajectories, unfortunately for the latter, sales of which were down 27% year-on-year.

      Would people be better disposed towards MG if it introduced a small roadster alongside its crossovers? Possibly, but there is, I’m sure, no business case for it at the moment. Perhaps, down the road, an EV MGB successor would be feasible?

    2. Hello Daniel – interesting (and you know your contributors well). I wasn’t envisaging a roadster, necessarily, just something that fits in with the brand a bit better – something a bit more sporting, perhaps. I don’t want to overdo it on the heritage front and put the brand in a straight jacket – at the risk of enraging MG enthusiasts, MG was, after all, just Morris Garages taking Morrises and making them more interesting.

    3. Perhaps a ‘warm hatch’ in the mould of the the MG Metro would do the trick, assuming that there will be a successor to the MG3? It would need a much better drivetrain than the current model, however. Actually, the 1.0 litre turbo engine from the ZS might work nicely in the MG3.

  3. An excellent two part summary, Daniel, thank you.

    Our neighbour has had her blue MG3 for nigh on six years now. The only trouble she’s suffered are kerbed wheels and flat tyres, impressive when you see how she parks; anywhere from 6 to 18” from the kerb and of course, no fault of the car itself. She is no speed freak nor interested in design. When asked what engine the car has, her reply was “petrol. Pause. I think (it is).” The 3 was cheap, came with that (as far as I know) unused warranty and the dealership is close by. The 3 is inoffensive, the blue is nice; what else can one add?

    Regarding pricing, at a car show in the summer of 2018, the same local dealer had a bronze coloured GS plastered in banners shouting just how good those deals were. The sales chap was inundated with enquiries. Yorkshire folk are known for being thrifty so something several grand cheaper than a Cash-cow or Joke, add in that warranty to get a reasonable looking, practical, family hack. Thus I believe quite an amount of those sales are near me. Again, the car doesn’t really offend but nor make me hanker for an octagonal badge anytime soon.

    But as you say, a brand to watch with more than passing interest.

    1. Hi Andrew. Thank you, and glad you enjoyed the piece. The GS was a dud but the XS and HS show promise. The HS in particular has some really nice sculpting to its bodysides and a pleasing absence of superfluous decoration such as fake vents, etc. If it carried a mainstream maker’s badge, I think it would be quite highly regarded. It is particularly striking in a metallic red reminiscent of Mazda’s colour:

  4. Two things: MG is following the new brand path. They have some milquetoast designs and mediocre quality and from there make improvements. See also: Kia and Hyundai. They have ten years to get somewhere.
    Interestingly, they aren´t doing too badly compared with the repeated failure of GM to launch storied Cadillac and also they make me wonder about Isuzu and Daihatsu who have given up despite well made cars.
    Second, have you seen what´s going on with grilles. There are some fascinating textures out there now. The GS one looks like it was borrowed from Mercedes who also did one with radiating dots.
    Ford´s Vignale texture still gets my vote as the most subtly lovely one. It really is not obvious – a design delight.

  5. I have long ceased to care about the MG marque – nothing newer than a ZB Magnette or MGA attracts my interest. Perhaps it’s a blessing that Riley have died and escaped Chinese ownership…

    1. I hate to upset you Mervyn, but Riley is not quite dead, merely dormant and, like Triumph, nestling safely in the bosom of BMW…..

  6. The first 2000 customers could buy the ZS-EV for £21500 (and a free wallbox for the first 1000), which will have given it a boost. Even now, it’s £24500 for the 5EV (after the government grant) or £1000 more for the ZS; only a little more than a Fiat 500 or Honda E, both of which are a lot smaller. You pays your money and you takes your choice?

    Richard: what’s that I spy in the rear seats? https://www.parkers.co.uk/mg/hs/review/practicality/

    I think the MG6 was withdrawn because the diesel engine, whichwas by that time the sole option, was not Euro6 (?) compliant, and it wasn’t worth updating for the level of sales it didn’t achieve. The price of the entry version was reduced to £14k, which wasn’t a bad amount of car for the money. I think I recall they had to discount the final few cars to clear them before the Euro deadline. I wonder what their price was. The MG6 continues, and is available as a plug-in hybrid. You never know, they didn’t get Riley, but they do have the Wolseley brand…

    In other MG news: they are trying to relocate Herbert Austin’s office from the remains of Longbridge, to the British Motor Museum. I realise the significance, but I think they would be more upset if it suffered accidental* damage or fire during the demolition of the rest of the site.
    https://www.hagerty.co.uk/articles/campaigners-in-fight-to-save-herbert-austins-office/

  7. The MG electric SUV seems quite popular here in Nederland; at least, I have seen quite a few around.

    I know I shouldn’t care, and Daniel’s points about decades of brand-engineering are well made, but I can’t help but feel that this latest effort is somehow more ‘wrong’ than previous abuses of the MG marque. The cars are ordinary, perfectly OK-ish, contemporary efforts that nonetheless debase the badge they wear; one that should have been allowed to die with dignity after the MG Rover collapse.

    I’m probably a bit emotional on this one, as I love (my) Rover and MG feels like a sibling brand.

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