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Studio Focus: SAIC European Design Centre

Tue, 18 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700

SAIC European Design Centre
Brands MG and Roewe
Established 2010 (in current guise)
Location Longbridge, UK
Staff 35
Studio leader Martin Uhlarik

SAIC's presence in Europe is limited at best through its MG brand, but if its sales are almost exclusively concentrated in its home Chinese market currently, MG's design roots are firmly planted in its spiritual British soil.

All current Morris Garages cars – the MG6, 3 and 5 (in chronological order) as well as the CS concept shown at the Shanghai motor show in April – are products of SAIC's European Design Centre in Longbridge, near Birmingham in the English midlands, albeit finalized in Shanghai.

The studio was opened in 2010 after a £5million investment in SAIC's UK Technical Centre but such are the ambitions of the company that it has already received a further £1.5million investment to almost double its size. Car Design News paid a visit to see the updated facility and speak to Martin Uhlarik, UK design director and global design director, Tony Williams-Kenny.

Outside, the facility looks much as it did three years ago, tacked on the left-hand side of the curvaceous, red brick, Deco-era Tech Centre and opposite the cylindrical building that once housed part of the drawing office in the British Leyland days that now serves as the Sales Centre. Step inside however and it's clear to see where the investment has been made.

Once a modestly-sized, two-plate studio, the space has been extended to add an additional, similarly-sized space with another two plates. An all-new VR room, with folding walls, bisects the two halves of the studio. "We've added the visualization suite and the power wall so it can be one large concept space with the new studio and all four plates or we can close it off – it's quite flexible," beams Martin Uhlarik, clearly delighted with his new studio.

"Last year was basically the foundation year – we were lucky enough in terms of the portfolio that we had a bit of a gap so we had some breathing space," continues Uhlarik who joined SAIC last year to head up its European studio.

"The idea of this studio was already on the cards but we spent a couple of months defining what it is, and lobbying for the money. I've never worked so hard in my life as the last year! It was all finished a few days ago, so we've just been tidying up and playing with our new toys." Amongst these is an all-new five-axis milling machine that, along with the new power wall, is a vital tool in the working relationship between the UK studio and "the mothership" in the Anting area of Shanghai.

Tony Williams-Kenny – who's also paying a visit to the new facility from his base in China – continues: "The VR facilities are very important because we can share data quickly. Also the [physical] models we're working on are both in this studio and in Shanghai in exactly the same condition so that we can quickly review them. It means both teams are involved in the same program rather than something simply arriving in China, which is really bad psychologically as there's no ownership. That's a really big part of the development process."

This is a clear shift in philosophy from when the studio was first opened, tasked with focusing purely on the MG brand, with the Shanghai studio producing Roewe-badged products. "We're much more competitive now so we're able to take both teams and compete on both brands," says Williams-Kenny. "On MG we get an understanding of the demands of the Chinese market but we keep those British values. In terms of Roewe it's much more of a homegrown product but [by using the UK studio] we get that design expertise and it's very much more on-trend. We get the best of everything."


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By Owen Ready