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SAIC boosts MG design in Europe

Carving ’em up: Canadian-born Martin Uhlarik is credited with sculpting key Nissan models in Europe and leading the interior design of a string of Skoda vehicles.

Chinese car giant SAIC doubles size of British design centre, names new design chief

SAIC logo27 Sep 2012

By TERRY MARTIN

CHINESE auto giant Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) has revealed plans to double the size of its British-based European design centre, investing more than $2.3 million and appointing former Nissan designer Martin Uhlarik to the newly created position of UK design director.

Current design chief Tony Williams-Kenny will relocate from SAIC Motor UK in Longbridge to SAIC headquarters in Shanghai, continuing his work as global design director as the company focuses on the global expansion of its MG brand, including to mainland Europe from the second half of 2013 – and to other western markets, including Australia.

The Shanghai studio is also receiving a significant upgrade as part of a “global design development strategy for the company’s expanding model range”, with the Roewe (Rover) brand the other main plank of SAIC’s export program.

China’s biggest motor manufacturer is also poised to launch a range of vans in Australia under the LDV brand, distributed through the WMC Group.

As GoAuto has reported, SAIC is committed to bringing the new wave of MG cars to Australia, and has been in negotiations with prospective independent distributors who could handle the re-born British brand, which currently offers the light MG3, small MG5 and mid-size MG6 model lines.

 center imageFrom top: SAIC design chief Tony Williams-Kenny MG6 MG5 MG3.

The company intends to broaden the range to include a new sportscar and SUVs, and previewed one of its plans with the Icon crossover concept at the Beijing motor show in April – a vehicle that was a collaborative effort between the Shanghai and Longbridge studios.

Key to MG’s expansion will be the £1.5m ($A2.33 million) investment in its UK design operations, which will see the centre double in size to more than 2000 square metres, and new software and equipment installed including a hi-tech visualisation suite, extra modelling facilities and a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) five-axis milling machine.

SAIC says once the expansion is complete, the design department will be able to work on up to five full-size models simultaneously.

SAIC Motor UK managing director David Lindley said the design studio expansion “will enable us to work on greater numbers of projects at the same time and improve our design capabilities across SAIC Group models destined for European and Chinese markets”.

“With many years of automotive design experience behind him, and a wealth of fresh design ideas, Martin Uhlarik is the right man to lead the expansion of our studio and renewed focus on great design with international appeal,” he said.

Mr Uhlarik was born and educated in Canada, graduating from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and later the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

During the mid-1990s he worked as senior interior designer for Skoda in Prague, overseeing the interior design of all new models to emerge from the Volkswagen-owned Czech brand.

He joined the UK-based Nissan Design Europe in 2001 as project design leader, with credits over the subsequent decade including the 2003 Nissan Evalia concept, 2007 Nissan NV200 concept and the 2010 upgrade of the Nissan Qashqai (Dualis).

“MG is enjoying a rebirth in the UK and globally, and it’s not every day that a designer gets a chance to be a part of that,” Mr Uhlarik said.

“SAIC and MG have ambitious plans with the European design centre, and future model launches mean the design team has an exciting time ahead of it.

“The expanded studio will give us the space and equipment we need to finetune a modern, sporty and progressive design language for MG models and attract a truly world-class design team.”

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