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Beijing show: MG rights still up in the air for Oz

Bound for Oz: MG are in discussions with two importers vying for distributor rights in Australia.

Shanghai Auto still weighing up import options for MG in Australia

24 Apr 2012

THE arm-wrestle for Australian import rights to one of the most desirable Chinese-owned brands, MG, has hotted up with the unveiling of the Icon mini SUV concept and production MG5 small hatchback at the Beijng motor show.

It remains a battle in two, with a pair of independent importers eying the born-again British marque that has became even more desirable with the new models.

GoAuto has been told that MG owner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) – China’s biggest motor company – is still considering its options for the Australian market, which appears ready-made for the new-look MG brand with its mix of hatchbacks, sedans and – at some point – compact SUVs that are not only designed for right-hand drive to suit the British market but also to meet high European safety, environmental and quality standards.

While one of the original contenders for the MG distribution rights now appears out of the running, another has stepped up to the plate.

State-owned SAIC has already appointed a New Zealand importer, British Motor Distributors – a branch of John Fairhall’s Archibald Motor Group that already imports a range of European luxury cars – which shipped in a flock of mid-size MG6 liftback and sedan demonstrators some months ago to get the ball rolling.

South Africa has also initiated an import scheme, and SAIC has indicated that Australia is next on the list.

SAIC is set to enter the Aussie market via its Maxus van range – another throwback to the British Leyland days – in October (see separate story).

At the Beijing motor show, SAIC representatives were reluctant to discuss the Australian MG rollout, but confirmed it was still under examination.

 center imageFrom Top: The MG3 Concept and MG5

Three Chinese left-hand-drive MG production cars were on show at Beijing, including the new MG5 five-door small hatchback that will take on the likes of the Vauxhall/Opel Astra and Volkswagen Golf when it lands in Europe.

For the Chinese market, the MG5 has been launched with a normally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but a turbocharged unit is said to be on its way.

Based on SAIC’s Roewe (Rover) 350 small-car platform, the MG5 has appeared only in five-door hatchback form, unlike the MG6 that is available in both sedan and five-door liftback bodystyles, with the latter known as the Magnette in the UK market.

Unlike many Chinese cars that struggle under the scrutiny of western markets, the British-designed and engineered MG range is expected to sail through the European New Car Assessment Program (ENCAP) crash safety tests and meet the Euro 5 emissions requirements.

As GoAuto reports elsewhere, SAIC global design director Anthony Williams-Kenny confirmed at the Beijing show that MG was working on a compact SUV – and possibly more than one.

While there is no sign yet of a new-generation MG sportscar in the traditional style, Mr Williams-Kenny said a convertible was possible.

The huge public and industry reaction to the MG Icon concept at Beijing makes a production version of the mini crossover hatch highly likely, if only for the Chinese market.

A parade of rival car company design chiefs came by the SAIC stand to check out the little three-door vehicle that is based on the Yaris-size MG3 hatch.

SAIC is the biggest of the ‘big four’ Chinese car-makers, turning out 3.8 million cars, mainly in partnership with Volkswagen and General Motors – the two biggest western brands in China.

Originally, MG was bought out by another Chinese car company, Nanjing Automobile, but came into the SAIC fold in 2009 when Nanjing and SAIC merged.

Although MG is leading the export charge for SAIC, its other home brand, Roewe, is likely to follow at some point.

Roewe – a substitute name for Rover because BMW originally owned the nameplate through its purchase of Land Rover – came with the MG brand in the Nanjing merger, after the latter bought up all the old tooling from the down-at-heel British company in 2005.

However, all of the new Roewe and MG models are built on newly designed platforms.

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