DETROIT -- It's audacious: A small Chinese maker of commercial trucks wants to produce and sell British cars on three continents.
Nanjing Automobile Group announced plans last week to revive the historic MG brand. The challenges are daunting:
- Nanjing assembles only a handful of its own cars in China, although it's a credible commercial-truck manufacturer. It wants to start assembling high-quality cars for Europe in 2007 and for the United States in 2008 at a plant in Oklahoma.
- Its U.S. entry, the MG TF coupe, would enter a crowded field in a niche market. It would compete directly with the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and Mazda Miata.
- Nanjing must rework the car to meet U.S. safety and emissions standards. The company purchased the car's tooling from a British receiver last year.
Nanjing joins a handful of Chinese car companies that hope to sell cars in the United States, including Geely Automobile Holdings Group and Chery Automobile Co. Nanjing is trying to separate itself from its competitors by stressing MG's European heritage and engineering.
Duke Hale, MG North America's newly minted CEO, says a big part of Nanjing's billion-dollar gamble rides on how much mileage is left in the MG brand.
"It still has a lot of power," Hale said in a conference call Wednesday, July 12. "It still has a lot of equity. When I say MG, what do you think? When I say Geely, Chery, Shanghai, what do you think?"
Mike Cook, public relations manager for former MG parent British Leyland and its successor companies from 1968 to 1991, called Nanjing's MG plans a long shot.
He says the car Nanjing plans to sell in the United States, a coupe, does not fit the image most people associate with the brand. MG is best known for sporty two-seat convertible roadsters. MG had little success selling coupes and hardtops in the United States.
Hale, 56, also will lead MG's European operations. Initially he will be based in England, but he expects to move to the United States after about two years. Most recently he was CEO of Lotus Holdings Inc. He also has been COO of American Isuzu Motors Inc. and held high-ranking positions at Mazda and Volvo.
MG says it plans to add to its lineup and become a volume player in Western markets. But the company did not spell out what new models are planned.
The company will have plants in the United States, England and China. It told Automotive News that it expects its Ardmore, Okla., plant to make 12,000 to 16,000 cars a year. About 60 percent would be for North America and 40 percent would be exported to Europe. The vehicle would be assembled primarily by hand, with some robotics. MG says it will build a redesigned TF coupe in Oklahoma.