Blog: Dave LeggettBrand stretch and globalisation

Dave Leggett | 12 July 2006

The news that Nanjing Auto is planning an MG car assembly facility in Middle America is yet another indication of how quickly the sands of the global economy are shifting. We’re talking about a Chinese-owned company, where the production of the British-designed cars takes place, allied to a small assembly operation in Oklahoma as well as something in the UK.

I wonder what they make of it in Shanghai, where SAIC is planning on making a former MG Rover model also (a copyright row could still break out when Nanjing actually starts producing cars).

But there are signs that a serious plan is beginning to emerge from Nanjing, though more details are needed on how it will actually work.

It looks like the bedrock of the business plan is to build the cars cheaply in China, the main market – especially for the saloon cars. The photos of an empty Longbridge post-‘lift and shift’ say it all.

But there is an overseas element too. MGTF roadster will perhaps be assembled in the UK at Longbridge (where Nanjing has decided to sign the long-term lease, adding weight to the idea that it really is serious). In addition, there will be an assembly operation in the US (which reports say could focus on a TF-based coupe that never actually made it into production under the previous owners).

How would a reprised MG brand go down in the US? There is undoubtedly some brand heritage to work on. The old MGB actually didn’t do too badly in the US in the 1970s before British Leyland went and messed it up by raising ride height, failing to invest in powertrain and adding big plastic bumpers. Some enthusiasts with long memories may have a little residual respect for the MG badge. But a Chinese-owned MG brand, assembling cars in the US, with little by way of a British connection? Would that matter?

BMW can make BMWs in the US because the cars are successfully embodied with BMW values and the brand is strong enough to allow that. This MG revival plan is a very different kettle of fish.

There again, maybe if the product and price is right that won’t matter. Perhaps brand heritage won’t be played upon too heavily and the marketing emphasis will be on new and fresh, made in America too, with just a hint of where MG once came from. It could be stretching the brand a very long way, but plenty of assumptions are being challenged in this industry at the moment.

The US is one market where you can make it if the product and pricing is right; it is very receptive and open to new brands, more so than Europe is.

Anyway, there’s a Nanjing Auto press conference in London on Monday at which we should hear more detail on what is planned. But as I understand it, the announcement on what is happening in the US shouldn’t be seen as taking work away (in terms of Nanjing Auto’s plans, that is) from Longbridge.

BREAKING NEWS: US [updated 16:15pm BST] : New MG owners detail revival plan - in Oklahoma


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