Sports car enthusiasts, rejoice! Thought to be gone forever, the legendary "MG" brand will soon be back to dazzle the automotive world. As with the MG of old, this newer embodiment of the adrenaline-producing car is expected to deliver an exhilarating driving experience unlike any other.
But there's a strange but welcome twist to this revival story. Unlike their predecessors, the latest MG models will not be made solely in the British Isles by a British manufacturer. Instead, not many years from now, thousands of them will be produced in the United States as well as in China and England - all courtesy of a savvy Asian company.
The Revival of a Beloved Brand
Our story begins in China, home of the state-owned Nanjing Automobile Group, which employs 16,000 workers. Established in 1947, it's the oldest car manufacturer in that country, and one of a few industry players there attempting to extend sales and/or operations outside those ancient borders.
Last year Nanjing bought the assets of the bankrupt MG Rover Group, the independent mass-production English car manufacturer, which left 6,000 workers without jobs when it ceased operations in August 2005. Then this summer Nanjing announced the formation of MG Motors North America, Inc., and its plans to build a new assembly plant at the Ardmore Air Park in Ardmore, Oklahoma (a former Air Force base). MG Motors will be solely responsible for the sales, service, parts, and distribution of MG vehicles in the U.K., Europe, and North America.
"Nanjing Motors is fully committed to the restoration of the MG brand to markets around the world," maintains Nanjing President Yu Jianwei. "This will be the key component of our effort to join leading automakers in the manufacture and sale of high-quality, high-character automobiles."
That July 12, 2006, announcement was historic not only because Ardmore is the company's first U.S. plant, but it's also the first Chinese automotive facility to be built on American soil. Construction starts early in 2007, say company officials, and production is expected to begin by the third quarter of 2008.
Oklahoma also won two more economic development prizes from Nanjing: The company's new global headquarters for MG sales, marketing, and distribution will be located in Oklahoma City (29th-largest U.S. city and the state's capital), while engineering and design activities will be performed in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma in Norman's highly acclaimed engineering school. In total, about 550 jobs are expected to be created, generating an estimated annual payroll of more than $30 million.
Specifically, MG Motors plans on assembling a newly designed MG TF Coupe at the Ardmore plant, said to be a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive coupe designed by MG's former owners. The vehicle will compete with other reasonably priced sports cars such as Mazda's Miata (whose MSRP for its 2006 models ranged from $22K to $24K).
According to Reuters news service, nearly 60 percent of the 12,000 to 16,000 TF coupes to be built each year in Oklahoma are for North American consumers. The remainder will be marketed to Europe. This is exciting news for American sports car buyers, many of whom still mourn the day MG departed this market in 1980.
Additionally, the company plans on producing three MG sedans in its hometown of Nanjing, China, and a convertible TF Roadster at the old MG Longbridge assembly plant in England.
Why Oklahoma Got the Nod
In the next few years, communities in the southern states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee are expected to experience some of the largest growth in the U.S. automotive manufacturing arena. These states are known to give sweet incentives to manufacturers to attract and retain the big players. So, with all that proven success going on further south, how did Oklahoma find favor with MG Motors management?
Veteran U.S. auto executive Duke Hale, the firm's new president and CEO, says one key ingredient in the effort to "restore MG to the automotive landscape" was to find the right home to build a "completely new model for a global automotive enterprise. I'm confident that Oklahoma fits that description perfectly."
While management looked at many different U.S. locations, he believes "none could equal the overall appeal of Oklahoma. This is a very business-friendly environment populated by some of the warmest, friendliest people in the world. Oklahoma also provides an ideal geographic location to support our distribution efforts for the North American market and for exporting products abroad."
Oklahoma's competitive incentives package certainly played a critical role in bringing MG Motors to the state, and truly represents a breakthrough in global financial partnerships. According to Amy Polonchek, interim executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, a significant capital investment was offered by the Oklahoma Sovereign Development, Davis Capital, the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, and the city of Ardmore. While no specific dollar figure has been mentioned by the state of Oklahoma and participating communities and entities, reports surrounding the global venture have placed collective worldwide funding in the range of $2 billion.
MG Motors spokesman Kim Custer adds that the company likes how the state commands "a very central location" when looked at not only as part of the United States, but also of North America. In particular, the company appreciates how "Ardmore's long runways, rail spur, and proximity to interstate highways will support our major business activities," he says.
Moreover, costs "are very manageable here, and the region has a skilled work force." He also cites the number of successful large-scale distribution operations in the area as a major asset (e.g., Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Best Buy, Circuit City, Michelin).
Other local voices have opinions on why MG Motors is investing in Oklahoma. Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City's mayor, credits the state's pro-business environment as a key attraction factor for his town. "This announcement is another example of how Oklahoma and Oklahoma City are attracting the attention of global business leaders," he says.
John Moore, mayor of Ardmore, believes Ardmore's proposed International Trade Center was another prime factor in the decision to build a plant in his city. And Wes Stucky, president of the Ardmore Development Authority and Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, simply says that with all the attributes his region offers, "It just makes sense for all the reasons in the world for [MG Motors] to come here."