Admittedly, the stigma attached to the term, “Made in China” is still hard to shake off. But while that may be true for cars made there before, companies such as SAIC Motor Corporation has since made great strides in both design and engineering.
In just a decade, SAIC Motor Corporation and its brands like MG has begun producing high-quality automobiles. Investing heavily in R&D, they now have advanced powertrain and connectivity putting them on equal footing as their overseas rivals. In fact, the company says they’ve managed to conquer the “technical barriers” required to compete on the world stage.
A recent visit to the facilities of MG Motor and its parent company is an eye-opener and shows that Chinese cars can be just as good or even be better than their counterparts elsewhere. With that, now’s the time to put some misconceptions to rest.
“I wonder if there is still any genuine European quality/prestige left in this car.”
Morris Garages or MG is a British brand established in 1924. Best known for their two-seater sportscars (the British Royal Family actually owned one), it went through several owners. It was about to fade into history but was rescued in 2005 by the Nanjing Automobile Group. In 2008, SAIC Motor acquired the MG brand when it merged with Nanjing Automobile Group.
SAIC says MG now means “My Glamour”—a clear sign of them trying to appeal to the Chinese buyer. However, they haven’t forgotten about MG’s roots. Realizing that youthful design and advanced technology are core MG values, they’ve kept a design center in Birmingham, United Kingdom. This is supplemented by a technical center in Anting, China and an advanced design center in California, USA and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Under SAIC Motor’s watch, MG achieved over 200,000 unit-sales in China alone—a 40 percent year-on-year growth in 2018. Its sales overseas is still small at 73,000 units, but that’s a year-on-year growth of 183 percent. They’re strong in South America, Australia, and Thailand. For the Philippines, they’re targeting annual sales of around 4,000 units in 2019.
MG’s history is strongly tied to two-seater sportscars. Unfortunately, there are no plans to enter that market in the near future. According to SAIC’s Deputy Managing Director for International Sales, Mr. Matt Lei, MG makes a decision to enter a segment based on market demand. Given that there’s a dramatic shift away from sedans and sportscars to SUVs and crossovers, they want to focus on those first. They would rather appropriate the R&D budget to develop more plug-in hybrid, pure electric, and fuel cell vehicles.
“They still look like an imitation though”
Admittedly, MG is still finding its stride when it comes to design. However, they seem to have found the mark with their new design philosophy called “Emotional Dynamism.” It brings together three key elements: “Emotional,” “Humanized,” and “Agility” creating a look that’s inspired by brand’s heritage but executed in a more contemporary way.
The MG ZS is a prime example of this new “Emotional Dynamism” look with its enlarged, full-frame grille and “London Eye” headlights. MG designers have even paid attention to the wheels which use a machined finish to create an “always moving” look. MG has also devised their own signature color: Dynamic Red. It’s a hard-wearing shade but has enhanced brilliance and increased depth (sounds familiar?).
In the race to establish design relevance, SAIC and MG has acquired talent from other carmakers, among them are designers and engineers from Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Furthermore, they’ve established an impressive technical center where they use digital design to reduce the time and cost to produce a new model. This way, MG can respond immediately to shifts in design trends.
“Established car brands have their own R&D departments devoted to better the car industry as a whole. While these Chinese brands just copy everyone's hard work without lifting a finger.”
Aside from existing R&D centers for its joint-ventures with Volkswagen and General Motors, SAIC Motor has also setup a technical center for its self-owned brands such as MG.
The construction of the SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Company Technical Center was started in 2005 and is divided into three phases. At the end of 2015, the first two phases have been completed, representing an investment of 4 billion yuan (~P 30 billion). The two facilities cover more than 66 hectares and employs around 4,000 people. It houses the design building and various laboratories such as thermal energy and emissions, architecture, NVH, thermal wind tunnel, powertrain, new energy, chassis, safety, electronics, and even a prototype/pilot-build workshop.
Currently the largest and most fully-equipped passenger vehicle technical center in China, inclusive of even those run by joint-venture companies, SAIC Motor will be adding even more laboratories that incorporate an aerodynamic wind tunnel, intelligent driving testing facility, and vehicle EMC or Electromagnetic Compatibility.
Oh, and they have their very own proving ground—the first Chinese brand to do so.
The results speak for themselves. Currently, all MG products have a panel gap of less than 5 millimeters, equaling some Lexus models.
“Drive more than 50 km/h and the wheels might fall off”
This is quite impossible because the wheels are tightened using an automated machine. It tightens all the lug nuts to their prescribed torque values while keeping a record of them during the production process in case Quality Assurance needs to check.
And speaking about MG’s production facilities, the SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle’s manufacturing base in Lingang, Shanghai is huge. It measures 1.2 million square meters or roughly the same size as the entire Central Bonifacio Global City area covering all areas from body stamping, engine assembly, painting, and final assembly processes.
Getting around requires the use of electric buggies, setting up perfectly on what else to expect in this manufacturing plant. The assembly process is highly automated from the welding (they use laser welding technology, same as Volkswagen) to the mating of the drivetrain and body; even delivery of parts at work stations are done by Automatic Guided Vehicles or AGVs, something you see in Nissan’s assembly plant in Japan. As one of the most advanced automotive assembly plants in the world, the MG plant is fully equipped to do flexible production to the tune of 80 vehicle variants using 3 platforms.
“Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear and The Grand Tour made fun of the MG brand”
Jeremy Clarkson may have been at one time an automotive journalist, but now he’s more of a celebrity who enjoys a bit of controversy rather than substance. Anyhow, MG’s incident with Clarkson surrounds his rather unsavory experience with the first-generation MG6 (the one being sold now is the second-generation model). During his review, Clarkson claimed that he had to push the car through an intersection because of the failure of the start-stop system. He also claimed that MG didn’t do especially well in Euro NCAP safety tests.
However, MG rebutted Clarkson’s claims saying that they weren’t contacted by Clarkson or Top Gear’s then-producer Andy Wilman about any problems with the car, and that the car drove perfectly after it was collected after the loan period. Oh, and for the record, the first-generation MG6 received a four out of five possible stars in the Euro NCAP safety tests.
Locally, MG vehicles all come with dual SRS airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and vehile stability control as standard equipment.
“Never mind... I’ll go for ‘Made in India’”
In order to become a more internationally-focused car company, SAIC Motor has established manufacturing bases in Thailand, Indonesia, and you guessed it, India.
“Reliability? Durability? Resale value? Does Made in China car check those boxes?”
One of the biggest reasons as to why Chinese brands have such a negative perception is due to the mom-and-pop operations of its affiliated Philippine distributors. This is something MG’s new Philippine distributor, The Covenant Car Company, Inc. (TCCCI) wants to avoid.
Aside from offering MG’s newest cars (up to 6 will be launched by the end of 2019), MG will establish 16 independent dealerships to serve as their sales and aftersales channels. Before then a string of independent, MG Philippines-accredited service outlets will be made accessible for MG owners, while a “Mobile Garage” service caravan which will be made available starting this month that will offer regular preventive maintenance servicing in the convenience of the owner’s garage.
MG Philippines is also implementing a host of other innovative service platforms including “1-Hour Max and Go,” which is a speedy, one-hour basic maintenance service procedure; a customer care hotline that is available 24/7; “MG HERO Services,” which offers 24/7 roadside assistance; and “Mobile Gadget,” which allows users to pair their MG to a proprietary smartphone app so that they can closely monitor their car’s running stats, and allow them to schedule a service appointment online from the convenience of their phone. All of that, and every brand-new MG car will come with a 5-year or 100,000-kilometer warranty.