MG Car Revival Planned by Chinese Company

A Chinese automaker says it is bringing back the iconic MG brand. The Nanjing Automobile group plans to assemble MG cars in China, at MG's former assembly plant in England and at a factory to be built in Oklahoma.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you love old sports cars you probably know the MG. Starting in the 1960s, the MGB and the Midget were tiny, two-seater convertibles that brought open-air motoring to the masses. They also suffered from questionable reliability, often leaving their owners stranded, waiting for a tow truck - of normal size.

Now, more than 20 years after the last MG was shipped to the United States, there are plans to bring back the name. NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER reporting:

Americans first fell in love with the MG when returning servicemen brought the cars back from Britain after World War II. Over the next 35 years, MGs would attract a whole new generation of American drivers.

David E. Davis, Jr., is co-founder of Automobile Magazine, and now has an automotive Web site. Davis has owned three MGs. He says drivers used to joke about the cars.

Mr. DAVID E. DAVIS, Jr. (Co-founder of Automobile Magazine): They said that the company motto was, home before dark, and things like that, because the electrical system just failed in every way imaginable. A fuel pump stopped, the lights didn't work, or the engine wouldn't start.

SPEER: In the end, though, it was stricter U.S. emissions and safety standards that largely prompted MG to pull out of the U.S. market in 1980. The automaker would limp along awhile longer, before finally winding up in bankruptcy.

Then, last year, Nanjing Automobile, China's oldest car company, bought the MG name and what was left of the company's manufacturing facilities, for $97 million.

Nanjing plans to resume building MGs at a new state of the art plant in China, at the old plant in Britain, and eventually, at a new U.S. facility - to be built in Ardmore, Okalahoma. The new plant is expected to create around 500 jobs.

Duke Hale, an auto exec who's worked for Volvo and Mazda, will be president and CEO of MG Motors North America, and is responsible for reviving the MG brand. He spoke at a ceremony in Okalahoma, to announce the company's plans.

Mr. DUKE HALE (President and CEO, MG Motors North America): We've got cars with European styling, European flair, and oh, by the way, the big bonanza - we've got a brand name called - what is it?

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. HALE: MG!

SPEER: But whether a Chinese-made MG will catch on with the motoring public is an open question. There is some precedent; BMW's revival of the British Mini Cooper has been a huge success.

Richard Miller heads the MG Drivers Club of North America. He says while driving a Chinese-made MG might seem odd to some, he won't miss the old car's many quirks either.

Mr. RICHARD MILLER (President, MG Drivers Club of North America): Let's face it, the MG enthusiast is graying, and creature comforts are not something you want to miss when you're in your 50s and 60s.

SPEER: So you think some of your members may like their fond memories of their older MGs, but may like the - what you get with a brand new one?

Mr. MILLER: I'm sure that would be the case. Yes.

SPEER: Miller and other MG enthusiasts, say the real proof of whether the re-launched MG succeeds, will be the car itself. They say if the Chinese automaker can capture some of the flavor of the original, without the headaches, it will have a winner, no matter where the car is manufactured.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: If you get tired of GM, you can try your MG.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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