SAIC has had help with developing some of MG’s current platforms and technologies from an unlikely partner: General Motors.
GM and SAIC co-own PATAC — the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in Shanghai. Some MG and GM vehicles share a co-developed 1.5-liter engine, internally referred to as SGE, that is tuned specifically for each brand.
And some vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Captiva and Indian-market MG Hector, as well as the Chevrolet Cruze and MG5, are based on the same underpinnings, according to Car News China.
The SAIC-GM connection also includes production of Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, and Wuling and Baojun brand vehicles made in southwestern China in a different joint venture.
The only type of vehicle missing from MG’s lineup is the one the brand remains most famous for, a two-seat convertible sports car.
Next week at the Shanghai Auto Show, SAIC is expected to show the production version of a battery electric two-seat roadster that, in concept form, it has been calling the Cyberster. The first new MG sports car since 1995 could launch in Europe, China and elsewhere in 2024, possibly named the MGC EV.
That begs the question: Is MG, the import brand America loved first, ready to return to the U.S.?
The answer: No. “We currently have no plans to sell vehicles in the U.S.,” Joyce Ying, SAIC spokeswoman in China told Automotive News in an email.
A recent interview with Zhao Aimin, executive vice president of SAIC International, in the China Daily gives an insight into SAIC’s global strategy.
“At SAIC, we don’t bite more than we can chew. We respect every market and every customer,” he told the newspaper. “We try to better our products and services in existing markets and avoid overreaching ourselves by entering too many destinations.”
One of the most important ingredients of SAIC’s success in overseas markets, he added, “is to offer competitive products based on an understanding of local customers’ demands.”
At least one industry analyst says MG’s successful global expansion doesn’t mean a return to the U.S. someday is imminent — even with a sports car as a halo vehicle.
“The U.S. market is getting more complicated,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at S&P Global Mobility. Because MG has been gone from the U.S. for decades, its previous success in the U.S. won’t mean much to today’s buyers, she says.
If MG were to return to the U.S. with the same strategy that has made the brand successful globally, the vehicles would likely be priced slightly lower than Hyundai and Kia models and could stake a claim as a value brand.
But even that would be a difficult strategy to execute successfully, Brinley said. What MG can’t do is just offer a lower-priced vehicle that doesn’t have the safety equipment and features consumers want, she added.
“If MG can figure out a way to offer technology and a cheaper price than the competition, there may be an opportunity here for the brand. But I am not sensing that is a priority right now,” she said.
Qvale also isn’t sure how the recast MG brand would fare today in the U.S. “The competition is so immense. Though I am not familiar with the quality of the car, anything is possible. The power of a company [SAIC] that big can make a lot of things happen,” Qvale said from his office in Boca Raton, Fla.
“The brand name, to me, is the problem. What does it mean to those under 60? I’m not so sure. MG could come back, no question about it, but it has to be focused as far as the sector it goes in and the pricing. If the cars are good, MG has a chance, but it is an uphill battle,” Qvale added.
It’s unclear how political tensions between the U.S. and China could affect consumer attitudes toward the brand. In MG showrooms around the world, SAIC plays up the brand’s British heritage with posters of classic MGs, and it frequently refers to MGs as being from Morris Garages, where the initials MG originated.
Qvale notes that most Americans know their cell phones are made in China and that doesn’t affect sales.