Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.
Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to maintain a semblance of credibility and keep the fanbase on board.
SAIC/Nanjing appeared to pivot between solicitude and apathy in the aftermath of their takeover, making all the expected noises about marque continuity and UK production; promises which appear to have evaporated rather quickly with exposure to commercial realities. But in a similar manner to how petrol fumes are at their most flammable when released to the atmosphere, the 2012 announcement of the Icon concept, first shown at the Auto China motor show in Beijing that year was met by incredulity and fiery disdain by the massed ranks of MG torchbearers.
In addition to its mission to herald a possible future direction for brand-MG, the self-consciously retro-inflected Icon concept, a compact CUV-style crossover was introduced to coincide with the MGB’s 50th anniversary. Based on SAIC’s ZP platform (which also underpinned the B-segment MG3, Autocar’s Mark Tisshaw speculated that the Icon would preview a production version to be introduced the following year, to be powered by a direct injection 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Styled in a manner which suggested the popular but polarising Nissan Juke crossover, the Icon employed a liberal sprinkling of MGB GT cues, from the grille and headlamp treatment to the roofline, C-pillar and tail. Reflections too of MINI, down to the knowing details like the semi-floating roof and the union flag motif etched into the inset rooflight. The design team was headed by Steve Harper, a former Rover Group stylist who was at pains to emphasise their commitment to the heritage of the brand, citing the Range Rover Evoque as an example of how legacy marques could reinterpret their pasts to bridge to the future.
But if the MG fanbase were unimpressed, the industry itself seemed more enamoured, SAIC garnering the ‘Best Concept’ award at the Beijing show, awarded by US auto title, Autoweek ahead of rival concepts from Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Honda.
Despite the accolades however, there were no meaningful noises from MG’s Chinese owners about a production version, and reading between the lines of Autocar’s 2012 report, they were (as is so frequently the case) applying a strong element of magical thinking to the matter. Having gained SAIC some useful publicity, the Icon concept was cast aside and a decade later, the wait for a B-segment Juke-rivalling MG-badged crossover to sit alongside the wholly underwhelming and decidedly by-the-numbers CUV designs which are currently on sale under the MG name remains as lengthy as ever it was.
Looking at the Icon from a comfortable distance, it does appear rather prescient and given the level of market activity amid the B-segment crossover sector in the current era, probably exactly what they should have been building. Certainly, a product of this ilk would have garnered a significant degree of market interest, even if the retro-inflected styling is likely to have dated quickly.
In today’s era, matters of sentiment and honour are little more than kindling; handy for the occasional PR purpose, but in effect, something of a drag. And since everything else appears to be going up in flames nowadays, it seems oddly fitting that the platonic ideal of MG too is being cast on the pyre. Perhaps a postmodern wink is better after all than a nodding banality after all?