MG Design Centre opens in UKThu, 17 Jun 2010
The opening of MG's new design center this week at the historic production site of Longbridge, Birmingham, England was both an incredible and credible occasion.
Incredible, because the brand looked dead in the water after the debacle of MG Rover's collapse in 2005 and even after various Chinese takeovers, its UK operation seemed destined to play no more than a tokenistic bit part. And thankfully credible too, because now all of MG's global design will genuinely be led from this new facility in the epicentre of England's traditional motoring heartland.
Almost £5m has been invested by MG's Chinese parent company SAIC in its UK Technical Centre which houses the Design Centre and its 20 designers alongside some 300 engineers in an adjacent part of the building. The Centre is now part of the renamed MG Birmingham site that includes an assembly plant and paint shop currently being readied for the production of the new MG6 model at the end of 2010.
The design building – formerly MG's Quality Centre where model stacking and checking cars off the line took place – was redeveloped into its current state between February and June 2010 and officially unveiled on Tuesday June 15 2010. In terms of facilities there is a good-sized and fairly secluded fenced front courtyard - scattered with MGs old and new on the opening day – leading to a small reception area featuring a scale model of a radical vision of the brand for 2020.
This reception area then leads through to the main ground floor space dominated by two plates, four arms and a scale model clay area with banks of desks, computers and designers down the left side of the space. On the opposite wall is a large embedded presentation screen, mood boards – including one for the 2010 MG Zero concept shown in Beijing – and a beautiful large-scale poster showing all the famous MG sedans, sports cars and experimental vehicles through its history with a timeline from 1924 to modern times. There is an upstairs area too, with office space and bits of a forthcoming program; unsurprisingly the press were not allowed access to this on the official opening day.
MG's British design director, Tony Williams-Kenny, is clearly delighted at the move: "We had a separate area for design for three or four years renting a facility at HPL in Coventry," he told Car Design News, "But the idea of moving to this new site not only gave us space but great proximity to the engineers. They're literally through the door on the right."
Although born from an existing building the space looks smart and suitable for its new role and is not short of modern kit to assist the design process including Alias and Showcase software.
"It's a huge step forward for us," Williams-Kenny continued, "The advanced technology and dedicated team make us one of the most professional design studios in the world – we may not be the biggest, but we aim to be the best."
More investment to expand the design facility is planned for next year too. What's on Williams-Kenny's wish list for then? "An improved new visualization suite and a showroom area would be good plus we want to expand our design staff by a similar number of people again – up to 40 perhaps – depending on the number of programs we've got going on. We vary the amount of time we spend between Alias and clay and to get that consistency you need people with the right skills."
So is this a sign that SAIC really is taking design seriously now? On the day MG's new studio opened, Williams-Kenny is unsurprisingly convinced: "For me it's obvious SAIC gets the need for design and the need for a strong brand design relationship and that's part of the reason we're here and we're leading the MG programs. Cost influences are a constant battle, but something that always comes top of the pile is having an exterior style or interior design that is strong. We have a really good review group at senior management level too, who actually want to be involved in design reviews and the decision making process."
MG Zero concept - Beijing 2010
By Guy Bird