MG now offers an SUV: How did we get here?
This is not the MG you remember, but one of the alternatives was no MG at all
The factual answer to the question of how MG became an SUV-building automaker goes like this: MG and Rover were sold to a Chinese company called Nanjing in 2005 after becoming very insolvent, struggling with a lineup of outdated cars that few people wanted. The early 2000s saw a rehash of some old tech wrapped in new wrappers from both brands, but their market share had dwindled due to an onslaught of French, Korean, Japanese, Czech, Spanish and German rivals. The number of brands all vying for a piece of the U.K. car market seemed to be double that offered in the U.S. at the time, counting both brands and models, all in an island country the size of Michigan and the shape of Westeros.
The early days of the new Chinese-owned MG and Rover, or Roewe as it was renamed after its new Chinese owners found out that they didn’t buy the rights to Rover name (it’s a long story) were a little weird. At first, the two companies focused on restarting production of the models that MG and Rover had been making in the U.K. in the early 2000s, with the Rover 75 sedan becoming the Roewe 750 after a facelift and some new badging, and the Rover 25 becoming the Roewe 250.
It goes without saying that Nanjing bought the two marques for their technology and platforms, and at first Nanjing focused on wringing out as much profit as it could. The MG and Rover lineup was already stale by European standards, but by Chinese standards it was still pretty fresh, so the relaunched models did pretty well in the Chinese marketplace in the late 2000s. Most importantly, they belonged to a Chinese company — Nanjing itself was bought by SAIC in 2007 — rather than a joint venture with a foreign automaker, and their new owners were happy with the platforms and tech that they got out of the U.K. at fire sale prices.
This was the first major Chinese acquisition of an entire automaker and all of its tech, years before Volvo was bought by Geely, and the early years were largely a success.
But the MG and Rover tech of the early 2000s could only stay fresh for so long. So early on, their new owners focused on planning the lineup for the next decade, and not just for the Chinese market but for export markets that included — that’s right — the U.K. once again, as well as Australia nearby. But only MG would make it back to the U.K., because Roewe, well, only makes sense in China now.
So, to summarize: A decade and a half a half after purchasing MG and Rover, MG is back in the U.K. with a lineup of mostly budget offerings that include the MG3 hatch, the MG ZS compact crossover and its battery-electric version, and the larger MG HS sport utility, which is what you see above.
“All New MG HS is a large and fully-fledged SUV, providing customers not only with an impressive amount of space and comfort, but also a raised driving position to sit head and shoulders above the rest,” the automaker says.
“All New MG HS offers buyers an exciting and high-quality alternative to the conventional choices with a sporty exterior and a family friendly interior with soft-touch materials used throughout,” MG adds. “By combining high quality with keen pricing, All New MG HS creates a new definition of affordable luxury for new car buyers in the U.K.”
Yes, the MG you remember for the MGB roadster now builds a roomy and affordable SUV…one that starts at around $23,200 in the U.K.
But is this the best outcome for MG?
One way to look at the current MG range is that one of the alternatives for MG was being sent to the same farm upstate where it could run around with other brands like Mercury, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Saab, Pontiac and others. So, looked through that lens, MG is doing pretty well because it could be dead. Another alternative was staying in China and churning out boring hatchbacks with platforms borrowed from other Chinese automakers, never to be seen again in the west.
But is it the same “Safety Fast” company that once focused on roadsters that U.S. buyers liked so much?
A couple of years ago MG teased an sleek, performance coupe dubbed the E-Motion concept, and as the name suggests it was to be battery-electric. Perhaps it’s still somewhere on the drawing board at SAIC, and if anything sporty materializes it will probably be electric, given China’s New Energy mandate.
But for now, MG is all about affordable and utilitarian vehicles that compete with the likes of Skoda, Dacia, Datsun and other budget brands.