After almost a century of on-off production, the vehicle assembly lines at MG’s Longbridge car plant in Birmingham stopped for good, once again, on Friday 23rd September.
The reason being that the bosses at the once British, now Chinese-owned brand, deemed the Midlands facility unnecessary, and have decided that all production will now take place at its native China-based factories.
The repercussions for the UK are 25 redundancies and another casualty to Britain’s carmaking heritage, but while production here has ceased, around 300 MG staff – based in the sales, marketing and aftersales departments – will remain based at the plant because in truth, MG is actually doing alright (more on that in a sec).
Sales are booming
No actual models have been built at Longbridge since the MG6 saloon was dropped earlier in 2016 after poor sales.
Instead, those 25 laid-off factory workers were tasked with applying ‘finishing touches’ to the MG3 supermini and more recently, the Qashqai-sized GS SUV [below] bound for UK customers; quite the contrast to the factory’s hey-day in the 1980s when it employed 25,000 workers.
An end to any form of production in the UK doesn’t mean that MG dealerships will start vanishing; if anything, there could be more. Sales have been booming in 2016, with MG shifting 1,005 cars in September, its strongest single month yet since relaunching in 2011.
By the end of September, MG had already sold more cars than in any full year previously, cementing 2016 as its most successful year yet. Those 3,305 units registered up until the end of September pale in comparison to the 70,000-plus shifted in China.
Many consider that enough to assume that those executives pulling the plug on UK production are trying to protect profits and sustain growth, especially at a point when it is expanding its model range.
A spokesperson for MG Motor UK said centralising its production to China would fuel the brand’s future growth and speed up production in the face of ever-increasing customer demand.
Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield since 1992, feels that MG’s decision was ‘premature’.
Mr Burden said he appreciated that the business concerns of Longbridge assembly had been aggravated by the weakened pound in the wake of June’s Brexit vote, but reckons that MG should have explored alternatives before calling it quits.
“Having spoken to the government, I know they are willing to meet MG to discuss and explore options and help that may be available and I am sure the same will be true for the local authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership,” he told the Birmingham Mail.
Where now for MG?
MG is going through something of a youthful rebirth at the minute. It was once known for sleek sports cars, but after dumping the dated and heavily flawed MG6, their only two models are a supermini centred around customisation and a mid-sized SUV – one of the most fashionable vehicle sectors right now.
The well-specced and spacious GS [above] may have provided a huge sales boost but it suffers from an awful ride, lumpy handling and anyone coming to sell one down the line risks cracking their jaw on the floor when they find out how little people are prepared to pay to take it off their hands.
Meanwhile, the MG3 [below] tries to mask its shortcomings by distracting its naive target market with a multitude of customisable options. Yes, they’ll make the car their own but it won’t be a car worth owning.
A smaller SUV has been spied testing and is expected to go up against the Nissan Juke over the coming year. The compact SUV will resurrect the ZS name, first used by MG’s sports family car between 2001 and 2005 which was essentially a tuned Rover 45, which is itself a facelifted Rover 400.
It’s sure to provide a further sales kick but what MG fans really want to see is the return of the TF roadster. However, MG bosses won’t revive the two-seater roadster until they’re satisfied it has broader global appeal than just the UK.
Going for the two most popular sections of the market is obviously going to result in a sales uplift, especially when figures were in the toilet anyway, but when it has to pick the higher-hanging fruit and compete in fiercer segments, MG could be on a road to nowhere.
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