Low-Key 85th Anniversary as MG Stumbles On
By Andy Bannister
Beleaguered MG Motor, which a year or so ago restarted extremely limited production of the MG TF sports car in the United Kingdom, has closed down its assembly line for the winter.
The once-iconic brand, now owned by SAIC/Nanjing of China, has recently been attempting to whip up some interest in its vehicles with a celebration of the company’s heritage, 85 years after it was founded as Morris Garages in the English Midlands.
Most people thought a British MG had died for good after the MG Rover company – the rump of ill-starred British Leyland – finally collapsed in 2005, and the jury is still out on whether the unlikely recent revival in Europe is more than a passing fancy. Production of a range of largely unrelated saloons for the Chinese market continues.
MG says it has now halted assembly in the historic Longbridge factory in Birmingham to coincide with the seasonal drop in demand for two-seater convertibles like the TF. It is currently only available on the British home market, and sales between January and September stand at just 265 units.
Around 100 people work for MG in the UK, in what is little more than a cottage industry, assembling the cars out of parts imported from China. They must be almost lost in a corner of the huge factory, which once churned out hundreds of thousands of Austin cars annually.
Around 20 of the MG workforce will be “let go” over the winter, with plans to restart the assembly line next March.
The 1800cc TF is a soft-top roughly the same size and slightly cheaper than Mazda’s market-leading MX-5. The little Brit’s main problem is its age – it dates back as a basic design to 1995 – as well as the knock its reputation took from MG Rover’s troubles, which severely hit used values of older models.
Over the summer MG launched a strictly limited edition 85th Anniversary TF priced at £15,600 (almost £25,000). Available in three colours, including an interesting purplish shade called Intense Cassis, it seems all 50 units of this special series have already been snapped up by a small group of MG loyalists, who cling to the hope of a wider revival of the brand.
The anniversary model looks quite nice with aubergine leather trim, a unique style of alloy wheel and trim enhancements said to make it the best TF ever. A lower-cost TF 135 model is also now on sale.
Even with such low production volumes it is hard to see how much longer buyers will be found for these ageing sports cars. In an ironic echo of the position faced by the much-loved MGB – MG’s last truly worldwide model – by the end of the 1970s, the TF has effectively lived beyond its time and desperately needs replacing.
In the meantime, one trick they might be wise to look at for next year is selling a smaller-engined, de-specced TF model at a price which might attract buyers who can’t aspire to an MX-5. Perhaps they could even revive the old MG Midget title for it.
SAIC inherited some decent Rover engines, including 1400cc and 1600cc versions of the K-series unit in the current TF, which would easily fit.
No word has been heard lately about the trumpeted plans for full-scale MG saloon car production (not just assembly) in the UK, for a relaunch across Europe.
This was going to be based on a Ford Focus-sized model called the Roewe 550, now sold in China. The 550 was the last design MG Rover came up with, intended to replace the old Honda Civic-based Rover 45/MG ZS.
It never reached production in the UK, but development of the model was completed by the Chinese when they snapped up intellectual property rights.
There’s no guarantee a new saloon would be a success, in any case. Truth to tell, the majority of British buyers now think of MG as a blast from the past, and the name is even more obscure in the rest of Europe.
Sadly, unless something miraculous happens pretty soon its hard to imagine that Longbridge will still be building MGs five years hence, at the marque’s 90th anniversary.
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