Brand Health Check: MG Motor

The classic British car marque's Chinese owners are keen to revive the brand.

It is remarkable that classic sports car marque MG continues even to exist. The brand, which can trace its roots back to the 20s, has been passed from pillar to post over the decades - its former owners include the British Motor Corporation, British Leyland, Rover Group and BMW.

Despite a widespread assumption that MG was destined to become the latest in a line of British automotive brands to pass into the history books, in 2006 Chinese manufacturer Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC) detected sufficient life to buy the rights to the MG brand.

A 2007 merger between Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation and NAC provided the financial clout to relaunch production of MG Motor UK at the marque's plant at Longbridge, in Birmingham.

With sales and marketing director Guy Jones overseeing the recent launch of a fresh visual identity, and its Chinese owners outlining a five-year product strategy at last month's Shanghai Motor Show, there is a desire to revive the MG brand once and for all.

A TV ad campaign in support of its MG6 model will run later this year, with communications targeting consumers looking for an 'affordable, premium' vehicle. Ads will emphasise the 'Built in Britain' message.

How should the manufacturer try to win over car buyers who assumed MG was on the scrapheap? We spoke to Matthew Heath, chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi Group/LIDA, which has handled the MG account, and Rob Lindley, vice-president and managing director at Harley-Davidson EMEA.

 

Matthew Heath, chief strategy officer, M&C Saatchi Group/LIDA

For a brand with such a cherished heritage, poor old MG has spent a long time in the workshop over the years.

With its reputation damaged from lowpoints such as the MG Metro, through to the ignominious end of MG Rover six years ago, the brand has been on a bumpy ride, leaving it tested more than the suspension on an MG Midget - and there have been numerous repair jobs.

Despite this, the MG marque still has a resonance for most of us aged 40-plus and is perhaps enough of a blank sheet of paper for the under-25s. Could we return to the heady days of 1975, when the millionth MG rolled off the Longbridge production line?

There is certainly room for something authentically sporty and more individual in Ford Focus land. The MG6 looks a lot of car for the money and could be the basis of a revival. It may be the last chance for an MG respray - but it may just come off.

Remedy

- Find and reconnect with MG advocates. MG enthusiasts still exist and some will want to fall in love with the new models.

- Look at the world of Mini and learn how you can recapture British heritage with a modern, exciting twist.

- Relaunch the MG Owners' Club and offer exclusive opportunities to get behind the wheel and spread the word.

- Set up a prospect pool. Buying an MG is a decision that may need justification, time and knowledge.

Run an education and inspiration CRM programme for 'hand-raisers'.

- To build some excitement, the brand could get involved with motorsport.

A successful campaign for the MG6 would do wonders for street cred. Why not get a Chinese driver behind the wheel to showcase the fusion of the ultra-modern with traditional Britain?

Rob Lindley, vice-president/managing director, Harley-Davidson EMEA

It is good to see car assembly return to the UK. I think the CKD (method of assembly) based on kits prepared in China is a particularly novel idea. However, MG is going to face a big challenge in this market.

People have long memories and the brand has some negative baggage with customers and, especially, with UK dealers, many of whom lost a lot of money when MG Rover closed down.

With what seems to be a narrow product range, I think it will struggle to establish dealer networks capable of giving it critical mass in this market.

Dealers that can offer good retail representation will be looking at 'what's in it for them', especially as the car is not exactly at a price point associated with Chinese-manufactured vehicles.

I wish all the team and employees at Longbridge the best of luck - they deserve a break.

Remedy

- Create a very attractive proposition for dealer partners and put all your focus on getting the right representation with the right partners. Without good dealers, the challenge is impossible.

- Be clear on your customer proposition, as it's a very crowded market. Who is the brand's audience and what differentiates this product for it? The fact that the cars are built in the UK isn't enough.

- Get the quality right. People are suspicious of Chinese automotive products today. If early ventures into the market are accompanied with quality issues or recalls, then it will be a very long road.

- Talk to customers. Maintain a personal dialogue with early adopters to find out why they bought and to encourage advocacy.

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