MG on track in Thailand

Chinese-owned British icon will kick-start its Thai foray with the MG6 in a few months

So they aren’t turning back, right?

Judging from what MG’s owner — SAIC Motor Corp of China — is doing at the moment, the British nameplate appears to be on track in Thailand.

Unlike previous attempts by some other Chinese car brands trying to establish a presence in the Japanese-dominated Thai vehicle market, MG has taken the next step forward.

In cooperation with Thai conglomerate giant Charoen Pokphand Group, SAIC has built a factory in the eastern province of Rayong capable of producing 5,000 units annually for domestic sales and export to Asean markets.

The first model to hit Thai showrooms in a few months time is the MG6 model, which is being displayed at the ongoing Bangkok International Motor Show in Muang Thong Thani.

What’s their USP?

MG competes in the mass-market sector, so their cars are very much like what other competitors are offering. Executives of MG are trying to highlight the Britishness of the brand, something you could hear frequently during their presentation to the media last week.

Late last year, MG used the Motor Expo to underline the brand’s origin with a stylish concept car. An executive admitted that building the brand in Thailand won’t be easy because most people who know MG for what it used to be now have grey hair.

The last time Rover and MG cars were sold in Thailand was in the late 1990s through then distributor Thai Ultimate Cars.

Despite being British, MG’s association with a Chinese auto firm may shed some quality issues that usually arise from the highly discriminatory, modern-day Thai car buyer.

Sure, China’s Geely owns Volvo, but the Swedish brand has been in Thailand for a long time uninterruptedly, ever since it was an independent carmaker.

Yeah. What’s the MG6 like?

The MG6 will compete in the Thai C-segment, even though its dimensions are a little more than generous. The wheelbase, for one, stretches 2,705mm, which is the longest around.

We haven’t driven it yet. But after a static test of the car at the Thai motor show, we — along with some peers from the automotive media and mainstay car companies — found the MG6 to be average rather than outstanding.

The styling, for one, is more conservative against the Mazda 3 — the only all-new C-segment car being launched at the motor show — or Ford Focus, while the interior is short on perceptive quality. In fact, the MG6 almost feels like the Proton Preve or Suprima S, as tested on pages 6 and 7.

Under the bonnet of the MG6 lurks a 161hp/215Nm 1.8-litre petrol-turbo engine and dual-clutch automatic (the car’s interior pictured here is a manual).

With a kerb weight of some 1,485kg, the MG6 is really not based on latest technology. The Mazda 3, in contrast, weighs nearly 200kg less at 1,297kg.

The MG6 is actually based on the Roewe 550, which in turn shares some bits with the Rover 75 — the last Rover to be launched in Thailand just before the year 2000.

Oooh... it’d better be priced to kill...

Pricing for the MG6 in Thailand hasn’t been revealed yet. But with Mazda tearing up the pricing rulebook in the C-segment, the MG6 obviously can’t have prices starting in the 800,000 baht range.

The new 3 can now be had for just 833,000 baht in 165hp 2.0-litre form, with entry-level specs to target traditional 1.8-litre C-segment contenders (we hear it took nine months of convincing Mazda’s parent firm in Japan to yield to such a strategy).

More crucial to the MG6’s success is after-sales service — a very integral part in owning a car for Thais. The 30 planned centres certainly sound sufficient for initial sales, however it’s the servicing costs and problem-rectification that should also matter.

Costs can only be competitive if they are benchmarked against rivals because Thais usually don’t like getting their hands dirty.

Customers don’t like owning a car and crying about its problems at the same time. Good evidence can be found in the problematic servicing offered by some non-Japanese car brands.

One MG executive has told Life: “We won’t move aggressively [in Thailand]. It’ll be a step-by-step process.”

MG6 will compete with the likes of the Mazda 3.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor