Chinese Company Intends to Build MG’s in Oklahoma
By NICK BUNKLEY
Published: July 12, 2006
DETROIT, July 11 — Can the mystique of a British sports car be recreated by
a Chinese company in America’s heartland?
That’s the bet by Nanjing Automobile Group, which plans to resurrect the
fabled MG marque in a tricontinental demonstration of how truly global the
automotive industry has become.
Nanjing, which purchased the assets of the bankrupt MG Rover Group last
year, aims to be the first Chinese carmaker to open a factory in the United
States. The company has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday in
Oklahoma to announce plans to build a newly designed MG TF Coupe there,
starting in 2008. It said the coupe would compete with cars like the Mazda
Miata, which sells for $20,000 to $25,000.
It also will assemble a convertible TF Roadster version at MG’s
now-shuttered factory in Longbridge, England, and three sedan models in
China. American and European operations for MG Motors will be based in
Oklahoma City, 90 miles north of the new factory in Ardmore, Okla.
MG’s rebirth under Nanjing, which said it had $2 billion in financing for
the endeavor, comes as several Chinese companies are setting their sights on
the United States, the world’s largest car market.
Several Chinese carmakers have said they are two to three years away from
exporting vehicles to the United States. One, Geely Automobile, displayed a
$10,000 sedan at this year’s Detroit auto show, although the car fell short
of American safety and emissions standards.
Geely and Chery Automobile, a state-owned company that has sparred with
General Motors over the similarity of its name to the Chevy nickname for the
Chevrolet brand, plan to sell cars in the United States in 2008. Only
Nanjing, however, has said it intends to build vehicles outside China, where
it will face higher labor costs than in its home country.
“We want to be a global company,’’ said Duke T. Hale, a former executive at
Mazda, Isuzu and Lotus who will be chief executive of MG Motors. “We don’t
want to be a company that simply exports out of China. We don’t want to be
seen as just another Chinese car company.’’
Nanjing also is unique among the Chinese car companies in its plan to revive
an established brand with a Western following. Mr. Hale called that a
critical advantage the company held over its Chinese rivals. “I’ve got a
brand name that still resonates,’’ he said.
The company says its lineup will be true to MG’s heritage, to the delight of
enthusiasts such as Roger Parker, a technical consultant with the MG Owners’
The club, run out of a large MG parts shop near Cambridge, England, has
about 40,000 members worldwide. Many live in the United States, despite the
brand’s 26-year absence here.
“If they don’t get the product right, they will certainly do damage that
will be difficult to recover from,” said Mr. Parker, whom Nanjing officials
consulted about their plans. “It’s clear that they are very committed and
very conscious of the rich history that they have bought.”
MG’s limited appeal will ensure that Nanjing remains merely a niche player
But construction of the first Chinese auto plant in the United States, which
will create more than 500 jobs, carries a great deal of symbolism about the
“It wasn’t very long ago that nobody believed the Japanese would build
plants in the United States,” said David E. Davis Jr., who co-founded
Automobile magazine and now runs an online publication for car lovers called
Winding Road. After Lee A. Iacocca, the brash chairman of Chrysler,
challenged them to do so, Mr. Davis added, “they did, and they blew
everyone’s pants off.”
MG, originally called Morris Garages, began selling cars in the 1920’s. Its
iconic TC convertible was a big hit in the United States after servicemen
grew attached to earlier MG models in Europe during World War II.
“MG was really an integral part of the foreign car revolution that started
in the late 40’s and early 50’s,” Mr. Davis said. “They weren’t terribly
good cars, but they were so different and they were so much fun to drive
that we all forgave them for their lack of reliability and fragility.”
The brand withdrew from the American market in 1980, leaving a generation of
enthusiasts longing for its return. Sales continued in other countries as
ownership passed through several hands, including Honda and BMW, until
production ceased in April 2005 and all 6,000 workers at the factory in
England were let go.
“It’s the first sports car that I remember as a child,” said Paul Fucito,
who grew up around the corner from an MG dealership in New Jersey and
remembers its closing.
Mr. Fucito, 34, a spokesman for George Washington University, has never lost
hope that he will one day own an MG, although the company’s bankruptcy last
year raised doubts for him about the chances of that happening. He
participates in several online forums devoted to the brand and fantasizes
about a new MG, painted British racing green, with wire wheels and chrome
“It’s been that dream car that I’ve always wanted,” he said.
Several automakers have capitalized on demand for nostalgic nameplates in
recent years, including BMW with its modernized Mini Cooper. Chevrolet has
been deluged with requests to bring back the Camaro after it unveiled a
concept version in January.
Jeremy Anwyl, president of Edmunds.com, a Web site that gives consumers
advice about buying cars, said MG had the potential to join the list of
successfully resurrected marques, as long as Nanjing kept quality high and
prices low. “It’s not just a question of slapping an MG brand on something
and expecting it to be an automatic success,” he said.
Mr. Anwyl expects to see the new MG models sporting the brand’s distinct
vertical grille and octagonal logo but without the flaws of earlier models.
“Hopefully some of the electrical problems you wouldn’t bring back,” he
said. “If you really want to go for nostalgia, you put on a leaky roof.”