LONDON -- Britain's MG sports-car brand began producing its first new model in the UK in 16 years today using bodyshells, engines and powertrains shipped from China by Shanghai-based parent SAIC Motor Corp.
The MG6, a hatchback priced from 15,500 pounds ($25,000) and with a top speed of 120 mph (190kph), is being produced for the UK market, with MG targeting as many as 3,000 sales this year, sales chief Guy Jones said.
SAIC inherited MG's Longbridge plant in Birmingham through its 2007 merger with Nanjing Automobile Group Corp., which had bought the site after MG Rover, Britain's biggest carmaker, went bust with the loss of 6,500 jobs.
SAIC had previously paid $116 million for Rover design rights and may be renewing UK output as a prelude to selling a Chinese-built version of the MG6 in Europe, according to automotive analyst Peter Schmidt.
"It's quite a cunning, window-dressing exercise to prepare the public for the inevitability of Chinese-made cars being imported into the UK market," said Schmidt, managing director of Warwick, England-based Automotive Industry Data. "I'd view it as a pilot scheme, just to test the water."
The MG6, designed by Tony Williams-Kenny, a former Rover employee, has a 1.8-liter turbocharged petrol engine and can accelerate from a standing start to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds. The five-door model, which MG is styling a "sports fastback," will be sold via a network of 38 UK dealerships, with a further 23 to be added "fairly soon," company spokesman Doug Wallace said.
2nd new MG planned at Longbridge
MG will this year introduce a second model at Longbridge, which employs more than 300 designers and engineers, and future projects and engine variants could lift production to "tens of thousands" of vehicles in coming years, Jones said.
SAIC, China's biggest domestic carmaker, is already producing the MG6 as the Roewe 550 in its home market.
"The plan is to create a strong foothold in China and then a presence in the key European markets," Jones said on Bloomberg Television's The Pulse with Maryam Nemazee. "The next five years will be a very exciting high growth period for our business."