This article was written prior to the start of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship season.
This year MG will enter their first new cars into the British Touring Car Championships since 2003.
One of them will be driven by Jason Plato, the most successful driver in the history of the BTCC.
MG’s Public Relations Manager, Doug Wallace, is bullish about how competitive the new team will be: “We’ll have to wait and see! We are new to the grid so there will be a steep learning curve but we hope to do very well with podiums and wins.
“MG has always been a sporting brand. Involvement in BTCC will promote this, the brand and hopefully increase sales.”
It’s a remarkable comeback considering MG Rover went bust seven years ago leading to the closure of their Longbridge factory and the loss of about 6,000 jobs.
In 2007 the remains of the company, including the MG brand, the Longbridge factory site and the rights to produce MG Rover’s cars, ended up in the hands of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
SAIC failed to acquire the rights to the Rover brand which led to them creating their own Roewe marque.
Doug Wallace: “SAIC Motor sales last year totalled more than four million. MG is an international brand and will sell in many markets. The Roewe is envisaged as a China only car.
“We are ambitious but the brands are relatively new in China and MG is rebuilding the brand in the UK.”
The vast majority of the cars sold by SAIC are the product of joint ventures with western manufacturers like General Motors and Volkswagen. The attraction of MG is that it gave the company their own internationally recognised brand that they could sell outside of China.
SAIC’s commitment isn’t just to the brand, they’ve chosen to re-establish a design and engineering centre at Longbridge. This employs more than 300 engineers about 30% of whom are ex-MG Rover employees.
The founder of the popular MG-Rover.org web site, Steve Childs, was given access to the design centre: “One of the really interesting things is to see how the engineering teams here and in China actually work. The design is all UK-based. There’s a team of engineers here and there’s a team out in China as well who both work together on the same things.
“The work that the engineers do here when they go home is all sent over the internet to China who then start their day and then continue on from where the UK engineers left off. In effect it actually works extremely well because you almost get two work shifts out of one day.”
So far this team has been responsible for designing and engineering the Roewe 550/MG 6, the Roewe 350 and the MG 3. That’s three all new cars launched in the space of as many years.
MG Rover, by comparison, failed to produce a single all new model in the course of their six year existence. Before that, during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Rover Group and British Leyland often scrabbled to get new cars out by raiding their parts bins and cunningly repackaging existing cars.
The first of the new MGs to be launched in the UK was the MG 6 last year. This car forms the basis for the MG BTCC cars.
Steve Childs, who’s only owned Austin, Rover or MG cars since he bought his first car, an Austin Maestro 1.6 HLS in the early nineties, got to take the MG6 for a test drive.
Steve: “As a car it’s a fun car to drive. It handles as well as the old MGs did. As their first car on the market it is a remarkably good car to start off with really.”
The engine in the MG 6 is effectively a heavily reworked version of Rover’s K-series from 1988.
Steve Childs: “It does betray its age a little bit when you push on hard because it does sound a bit loud and a bit, well, loud!”
Two all new petrol engines and a diesel engine have been designed by the staff at Longbridge. Steve expects them to be installed in the car when it receives a face-lift.
Next year, the MG3 will be launched in the UK and some time after that it will be joined by the new Roewe 350-based MG5.
Steve Childs: “I think the next five years are going to be really interesting for MG in the UK and in the EU as they begin to sell back into the EU as well. The future looks a lot more interesting now than it did in April 2005.”