New Chinese MG Lands in The Americas
By Andy Bannister
To be known as the MG 550, the new design has emerged from the ruins of the British MG Rover company, which collapsed in 2004 and was sold off to two Chinese firms, SAIC and Nanjing, which have since themselves merged.
The 550 was under development in Britain when the venerable UK carmaker bit the dust, and has been brought to market by the new Chinese owners, with European engineering assistance. It was first shown earlier this year in Beijing wearing the recently-contrived Roewe badge (a variant of Rover, since SAIC cannot use the name, currently the property of India’s Tata Motors, owner of Land Rover).
The Chinese management have repeatedly insisted they are determined to reassert the heritage of the once-great MG brand. To this end they have recently placated enthusiasts in Europe by restarting – in tiny numbers – the assembly of MG’s old TF convertible in a corner of the historic factory in Longbridge, England, which previously built its last car four years ago.
Disappointingly, however, the MG introduced in Chile seems to be anything but a bespoke sporting model. Under the previous regime, MG saloons were extensively re-engineered to be credible sports saloons with uprated drivetrains and better-looking exteriors, but the 550 simply differs from its Roewe sister in terms of badging.
The 550 has been developed from the old Rover 75 platform, which was actually introduced a decade ago whilst BMW controlled Rover, so has a reasonable pedigree. The new car uses the British-designed 1.8-litre K-series engine, tooling for which was moved lock, stock and barrel from the UK to China.
Stylistically, the new model is similar in size to a Ford Focus or VW Jetta saloon, and has reasonably modern, if unmemorable, styling. It looks rather Japanese or Korean in inspiration.
It does, however, seem a much more professional design than many of the homespun products of the Chinese auto industry, and the use of the MG octagon badge should at least give it some credibility.
If this South American experiment succeeds, the cars could gain an important foothold leading to exports to a much wider arena. The Chilean importer, Bergé, is well placed to play an important role in MG’s export sales drive since the company has established links to dealerships in countries including Peru, Mexico and Argentina, as well as Spain and Portugal.
In some of these markets, MGs could be sold alongside Korean cars made by the Ssangyong company, which is also owned by SAIC/Nanjing.
Meanwhile, the prospect still remains of the British Longbridge plant starting series production of the 550 – hopefully a significantly enhanced version which could more deservedly wear its MG badge.
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