M.G. Motor MG6 automobiles sit on the assembly line at the SAIC Motor Corp.'s production plant in Birmingham, U.K., on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. The U.K.-based MG sports-car unit of China's SAIC Motor Corp. is targeting sales of as many 3,000 vehicles this year as it revives production today, sales chief Guy Jones said in an interview. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Roy Cokayne

MG, the iconic British sports car brand now owned by Chinese automotive giant Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC), is taking steps to improve the profile of the brand in South Africa ahead of the imminent expansion of its model range.

The brand’s activities in South Africa are conducted under the banner of Mandarin Motors, the motor vehicle and importation distribution division of listed vehicle retailing group Combined Motor Holdings (CMH), and encompass both MG in the passenger car market and Maxus in the commercial vehicle market.

The MG brand was known in the past for its popular spoked wheel convertible sports cars, but its current models are a far cry from its previous image.

Craig Lanham-Love, the chief operating officer for MG and Maxus South Africa, said yesterday that SAIC was repositioning the MG brand as a young dynamic marque that would compete in the volume segment of the passenger car market.

Lanham-Love said MG was planning a sports car, but was holding back on it for a few years while it repositioned the brand.

If MG launched a sports car now, it would give the wrong impression that it was maintaining and sticking to its old roots, he said.

Lanham-Love said Mandarin Motors had kept the MG brand at a low profile since it took over the brand two years ago, because it then only had one model available in the MG6 that was available in two variations, a hatch and sedan.

This had made it difficult for it to “come out with guns blazing” about the brand’s return to the domestic market, he said.

But Lanham-Love said it was hoping to launch the MG3 into the domestic market in October and add at least two new products next year, which allowed it to start “beating the drums”.

Lanham-Love said the commercial vehicle leg of its operations, Maxus, had also launched new models that would stimulate sales.

He said a 16-seater taxi vehicle was launched about eight months ago and it had had a nine-seater in the stable for some time, but had just launched a panel van and drop-side pick-up.

A comprehensive MG dealer network has been established during the past two years and the brand currently has 15 dealers spread across South Africa with plans in place to further expand the network.

Lanham-Love said there was a huge variation between the dealerships because some were part of a multifranchise dealership with Mahindra or Geely, while others might be a small stand-alone MG dealership within a bigger dealership.

He said CMH currently did not report MG sales figures because it had come to market with only a single model and they could give the wrong impression.

But Lanham-Love said the group would report MG’s sales figures once it had a range of vehicles.