MG SAIC, UK, 2013

MG logo

Martin Uhlarik, Vice Director Design, MG SAIC, in launching the MG3 supermini, outlined the creative process employed in designing their new model at the new EU Design Centre for MG, based in Birmingham.

Our Design Studio in Birmingham has had £1.5m spent on a comprehensive refurbishment which has doubled our studio size,” said Uhlarik. “It contains advanced technology, including five axis milling machines capable of cutting clay models of cars at full size. It also includes a Virtual Reality Suite, which can showcase a full size car in 3D at 4xHD. This, together with our designers, able to sketch up the original concepts, lies at the heart of the design process.”

The MG brand, owned and run as part of the Shanghai Auto Industrial Corporation (SAIC), is perhaps the true Phoenix rising from the destruction wreaked by the earlier imposter of this name. SAIC is China’s largest auto manufacturer, producing 5.1m million vehicles in 2013, up almost 14% on 2012 volumes. How many people in the UK could name this business, today listed at 85th on the Global Fortune 500, with sales of $54.7bn, placing it ahead of such global heavyweights as Microsoft (104th), Amazon (112th), Google (162nd) and Walt Disney (232nd).

Innovation remains central to SAIC, with stated key goals including powertrain development, the industrialisation of new energies, as well as the launch of the first manufacturer-owned O2O commerce platform.  O2O uses online social platforms to provide real services to consumers online including access to online stores, such as Taobao, similar to eBay, enabling people to browse and make orders with goods delivered directly to them, with everything completed online. Any business not on the platform is unable to make the sales.

For the MG Design Centre and team based at Longbridge, operating as part of the SAIC Global Design Organisation, expansion remains a top priority with the business strengthening its overseas operations and expanding distribution within the Chinese market as the largest car market in the world, together with as focus on ASEAN, Middle East and South America markets.

MG Rover, renowned as the last British-owned, mass-production car manufacturer, was created following BMW’s sale in 2000 of Rover Group’s car-making and engine manufacturing to the Phoenix Consortium. In 2005, when MG Rover went into a high profile and contentious administration, its remaining assets were acquired by Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC). After negotiations SAIC and NAC announced a ‘merger’ in 2007 with NAC becoming part of SAIC.

MG currently sells into 41 countries, targeting 80k-90k vehicle sales in 2013. To-date 230,000 vehicles sales have been attributed to MG and the newly formed Roewe marques. According to Business Desk 5th August 2014, MG has been, ‘enjoying something of a renaissance, with 2014 – the firm’s 90th anniversary – proving to be its most successful year under Chinese ownership.’

In July 2014, MG announced it had exceeded its 2013 sales in the first five months 2014. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures for June show a 791% month on month sales increase, with the year-to-date figure up 833%.

These successes are being put down to the appetite for the MG3 supermini, alongside the expansion of the MG6 diesel powertrain family, with a new 129g/km diesel recently added.

Since the launch of the MG3 last September, MG has become the fastest growing automotive brand in the UK with 50 dealers in total – with 22 opening in 2014 including; Havant, Torquay, South Sheffield, Dudley, Gloucester, North Sheffield, Woking, Spalding, Barnes in West London, Newcastle, Leicester, Harrogate, Doncaster, Northampton, Swindon, Norwich, Falmouth, Brecon, Maidstone, Wareham, Oxfordshire and Exeter.

Design Studio

SAIC Motor’s Global Design Director, Anthony Williams-Kenny, set up the MG international design studio in Birmingham before returning to the company’s Shanghai Headquarters, leaving Martin Uhlarik in charge. With 130 designers based in Shanghai and around 40 people working as part of the UK design team, the Chinese and Birmingham teams have developed a flexible and collaborative approach.

Our designers work in open competition between the two international teams to see which ideas will finally be taken forward to production.

Our digital modelling team take the sketches transforming them into a 3-D form. Clay models are produced by milling, initially as 40% scales which are refined by clay modellers working on physical representations. This is then fed back through 3D scanning to the digital modellers for further refinement. This process continues as a cycle improving the designs and making sure they are feasible. Eventually this is repeated in full size models as the design selection process is narrowed through Board Level Design Reviews,” said Martin Uhlarik.

Designing the MG3

Our designers came up with our chosen theme for our supermini, the MG3, by sketching ideas and producing 3-D forms for both the exterior and interior as well defining colours, trim and graphics for the car.

MG3

MG3 (2)

On the MG3 exterior a ‘Wrap around Visor’ has been incorporated, graphically linking the side windows to the front with a black A-pillar. The car has a simple barrel-shaped body side with a tall shoulder. In our view, these features distinguish the car by drawing on one of the hallmarks of British automotive design.

“As a forward looking company, we have created something that is very modern in design, not a heritage product.  We always ask ourselves whether a car looks balanced, because even the untrained eye can spot this pretty quickly. Our designs have to be able to ‘age with grace.’  We see design as about being greater than the sum of the parts, incorporating many layers of detailing that ultimately inspires and enables our customers to express themselves as individuals by saying something about who they are.”

MG3 past vs future

Heritage

SAIC celebrate MG for its history as a British brand, embracing its vibrant 90 year heritage, recognising its Birmingham roots and sharing in the pride represented by the company’s rich portfolio of earlier product successes.

The brand has to look backwards in order to look forward.  There are a lot of car companies that would kill for this heritage.  Being rooted in Britain and influenced by British Design puts us at the forefront of creativity globally,” he stated.

Fashion and Technology

Design education and technological breakthroughs are influencing global design trends and having a critical role to play in the automotive sector. Architecture has enjoyed a revolution over the past 10 years with digital technologies transforming the form and language through leaders such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid.  Fashion and graphics –are also influencing design.  MG is an accessible brand. This melting pot fuels our creativity.”

Whilst the newly launched MG3 targets an accessible and value-based market, they are also conscious of the growing desire, especially amongst younger markets, for higher degrees of personalisation. To cater for this demand they have created graphic packages which customers can opt into to meet their own tastes.

With our newly launched MG3 we have included a collection of ten graphic designs incorporating a kaleidoscope of options, with our intention being to launch a different collection every year.

“As an emotional brand, MG should enable people to bond with it.  There must be a connection that lifts this product above others. The MG logo is a unique octagon in automotive brand logo design. We have used this in one of our exterior graphic packs, fusing it with the RAF roundel to create our own fresh take on another British graphic icon.

Auto Express seems to agree with this assessment, stating in their online review, “The MG3’s styling trump card is personalisation. With an array of decals, colourful door mirror finishes and wheel designs to choose from, you can really put your own stamp on your MG. Up to half a million different trim combinations are possible – although obviously some are more co-ordinated and appropriate than others.”

Market Research

Of course design sits hand in hand with marketing and our research,” said Uhlarik. “The MG3 Design Process assesses target demographics in terms of identifying customer needs, using mood boards and image boards to visualise their lifestyle and habits and create new scenarios.

Sales Positioning

There are four models of MG3, the 3TIME, 3FORM, 3STYLE and 3FORM SPORT, with a full range of options and accessories, priced competitively and targeting a younger audience, powered by a 106PS petrol engine with a five speed manual gearbox..

The entry model MG3 3TIME is priced to retail at £8,399 and features a CD player with MP3 compatibility and Aux-in facility in addition to standard features.

The mid-range MG3 3FORM, priced at £9,299, includes air conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and audio streaming, leather MG design steering wheel with red stitching and steering wheel audio controls as standard, above the entry model specification.

Top of the range is the MG3 3STYLE, priced at £9,999, with premium 16” “Diamond” alloy wheels and a sports body styling pack that includes rear boot spoiler and side sill extensions. Standard high-tech convenience features include cruise control, automatic lights and windscreen wipers and reverse parking sensors.

The MG3 3FORM SPORT, priced at £9,549, includes the features of the mid-range 3FORM with the sports body styling pack and 16” “Carousel” alloy wheels.

Sales & Marketing Director Guy Jones said; “The MG3 gives the market something really new, a small car with many options for personalisation that is fun to drive, fun to buy and fun to own. With all models in the range priced below £10,000 and insurance expected to be just 4E, we can offer this type of product at a price position that no competitor can match.

MG became world famous for building distinctive, British, small, fun cars at a remarkably affordable price that owners then personalised to their own individual style.  The MG3 is the new small, modern MG that allows a new generation of people to have fun with their MG

Summary

MG SAIC illustrates the Chinese appetite for British brands across all price points. This is an example of a value-based car, the MG3 supermini, drawing on the heritage and design credentials residing within the British MG brand, to create a product largely aimed at Chinese and ASEAN markets but currently sold into 41 countries worldwide. Whilst still in the early stages of its renaissance, this brand’s results look encouraging for the SAIC ownership, itself ranked 84th on the Global Fortune 500 with sales of $54.7bn. SAIC, having taken control of the MG in 2008, has placed sales growth at the top of its agenda and is reported to have sold 230k cars to end 2013, with 2014 sales to end June up 833% on the previous year. Innovation is focussed around powertrain development, the industrialisation of new energies, as well as the launch of the first manufacturer-owned O2O commerce platform.

The Birmingham Longbridge based design studio has had £1.5m invested into it, doubling it in size and employing 40 designers working alongside the 130 strong design team at the SAIC headquarters in Shanghai, China. The design process combines hand-sketching with clay and digital modelling to create body and interior design propositions in a continuous feedback loop involving 3D scanning and re-modelling until a final proposal is chosen.

Heritage is valued as an input in the design process – the brand has to look backwards to look forwards, but the designers are focussed on creating ‘a modern design, not a heritage product.’

Design education, and British Design specifically, were recognised as being a key influence on design and fashion trends, with digital technologies, which have transformed architecture and cityscapes, resulting in global iconic designs from leading architectural designers such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid.

Aware of the growing desire for people to have their own connection with their cars or other products, MG have created exterior graphic packages enabling customers to personalise their own cars and ‘bond’ with it. Whilst dealership expansion is to be expected as a key aim in driving sales growth, the business has fostered a focus on the sales features most likely to appeal to the targeted youthful customer base in terms of price, options and accessories, whilst promoting the MG brand heritage, authenticity and pedigree to enhance its appeal even to a younger target market.

Conclusions

British brands and design, when properly positioned for the Chinese and international markets, can be compelling at all price points. MG illustrates that cars, even at entry level price points, and especially when targeting younger audiences, are increasingly influenced by fashion trends and aspirational design propositions.  Personalisation and tools facilitating customer- brand ‘bonding’ are used to differentiate and enhance appeal.  Heritage is drawn on in referencing a back catalogue allowing the brand authenticity and uniqueness to be illustrated, as well as providing distinctive pedigree. Online sales platforms, such as O2O are being embraced as part of the ongoing dialogue and as a means of heightening visibility in the context of younger consumers lifestyles.