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The new MG: made in China, fine-tuned in Birmingham

After 16 years, the MG is about to hit the road again – thanks to the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation

The automotive offspring of an Anglo-Chinese collaboration will roll off the production line in Birmingham on Wednesday to show the world its sporty snout, aggressive grille and a familiar octagonal badge into which two famous letters have been squeezed.

The MG6 fastback, which was designed and engineered in Britain but built mainly in China, is the first all-new MG to be launched in 16 years.

It is also the 21st-century incarnation of an 87-year-old marque that was once a byword for all that was nippy, open-topped and carefree about British sports cars.

Little wonder then that the company has opted for a little glitz to mark the day when full production of its cars resumes.

"It will come through a showcase arch with a bit of fanfare," said the company's PR manager, Doug Wallace.

Production of the car at MG Birmingham – a factory on the former Longbridge site – would not have been possible were it not for the company's Chinese owners, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

Six years ago, MG Rover Group went into administration and MG was bought by China's oldest carmaker, NAC. Two years later, NAC merged with SAIC and the MG marque was once again reborn.

Despite the ownership, and the fact that it is three-quarters built in China before being shipped over and finished off by the 40 or so manufacturing workers in Birmingham, Wallace insists the five-door hardtop is a true MG.

"All of the design work for the car, all the styling and all of the actual engineering design work is done here, and all the engineering development and proving of the car is done by that team on site here at MG Birmingham," he said.

"The driving dynamics of the car are [also] overtly MG: it's very sporty going through quick corners and bends and we think that's a particular thing that sets us apart."

But those fantasising about the whoosh of wind through their hair as they tear down country lanes might want to rein in the romance: the MG6 is looking to take on the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

Lest there be any doubt that the MG6 is not exactly a sporty coupe, Wallace added: "A lot of people compare it to the Skoda Octavia and the Vauxhall Insignia, for the body shape."

To others, though, the new car is about a lot more than the reinvention of a beloved brand.

This week is the sixth anniversary of the closure of the once-great Longbridge plant, with the loss of 6,500 MG Rover jobs.

The Labour MP Richard Burden, whose Birmingham Northfield constituency includes Longbridge, describes the MG6 as a milestone and, hopefully, a glimpse of real recovery.

"We're never going to see Rover's return of 20,000 people engaged in mass car production, but what you're seeing here is not just a new model rolling off the tracks at Longbridge but also a new model that was designed and developed at Longbridge," he said.

"Britain now excels in performance engineering and in automotive-related environmental technologies … [and] Longbridge can be a centre for that."

All the talk of corporate and regional revival, however, will prove premature if the marque fails to hit the mark this time around.

According to Richard Ladds, editor of the MG Owners' Club magazine, Enjoying MG, the new car is "very good, very capable, very competent … it's not a BMW but it's not a low-rent car either".

Nor is he bothered about where the car is mainly built.

"It's a bit like an Apple computer: I think, 'Oh that's a lovely Apple computer', I don't think, 'Oh it's built in China'."

The main thing, said Ladds, is that the old Morris Garages badge is once again on the bonnet of a new car.

"There's a somewhat strange brand loyalty and it's nice to be able to say yes, we can go and buy a new MG," he said. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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