To see how China operates in the world, take a look at the return of the once-English MG automobile to Europe.
The MG brand, now under Chinese ownership, dates from 1924. The initials are said to stand for Morris Garages. Entrepreneur William Morris was the Henry Ford of England; The marque was in continuous use, except for World War II, from its inception in 1924, until 2005. During the post war era in England, the brand suffered. Its succession of owners, including the disastrous socialist car maker British Leyland, were unable to invest.
While the quality was not good, the brand had one thing going for it. A good design sense, and a British road history. In the U.S. in the 1970s, the MGB and MG Midget were beloved. They were, like Triumph, fun sportscars that were not only affordable, but gave the driver a bit of cachet.
China Sees an Asset
Out of a financial mess, in 2005 Nanjing Auto bought the MG brand and its intellectual property assets for almost nothing, $97 million. At the same time, SAIC, or Shanghai Automotive, bought the rights to two MG Rover models.
The move was successful for many reasons, most of all that the MG and Rover brands had a story, and a history.
They relaunched the brand in 2008. In the last dozen years, the brand has continued its gains. China now not only owns the production, but the supply chain, distribution network and now the brand.
Other revivals in British auto marques include the Morris Commercial van, announced in 2019. Tata Motors of India is the parent of the British company Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC. BMW is the maker of the Mini, a formerly the Morris Mini-Minor.
This year, Volkswagen announced the revival of the International Scout, a brand won through its purchase of Navistar.
U.S. manufacturers have been slow to revive popular brands and models. It is a story of missed opportunity, except for Ford’s Bronco and the Jeep Wagoneer.
Left languishing are the struggling Chrysler and Dodge brands of Stellantis, and the Mercury line of Ford. GM has brought back Hummer, but has missed the brand revival idea entirely by its ignoring the value of Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Writer Landis Odoms wrote a blueprint for GM’s revival back in 2009.
New Model All Chinese
This June, MG went completely China-local, with the release of the MG Mulan. The car will be sold in Europe as the MG4. The Mulan name, while known to the Chinese through folk history, is apparently only a Disney association in the west. This July, the MG4 departed Shanghai Haitong terminal and is scheduled to launch in Europe on September 13.
According to the Silk Road news hub, the electric car has “SAIC Motor’s self-developed magic cube battery, all reaching the world top level in terms of design, safety, environmental protection and quality.”
The news for the car is distributed by the Silk Road news effort, part of the China Economic Information Service, Xinhua News Agency. The branded public relations effort shows an aggressive posture by China as they continue to dominate world markets, and create new markets for legacy brands.