The Roewe W2 (450) at the Auto Show Shanghai

About 3 years ago, the last volume manufacturer, MG ROVER, went into administration due to declining revenue, depleted cash reserves and rampant mismanagement from the “Phoenix Five”. From the ashes of MG Rover, rose two Chinese companies who have acquired their assets and intellectual property: SAIC and Nanjing Auto. The former company was one of the initial manufacturers that were interested in partnering with MG Rover before learning of their financial troubles, but failed to acquire the company when it was in administration while the latter was an obscure auto manufacturer that somehow won the bidding to acquire all of MG Rover’s assets.

Both companies were able to acquire the intellectual property for the Rover 75, which was the key property that SAIC wanted, while MG also got the IP for the MG TF in the process as well.

Using the Rover 75 platform, SAIC was able to update the car and introduce it to the Chinese market as the Roewe 750, which included a longer wheelbase and a facelifted front and rear end. Unfortunately, SAIC was not able to get the rights to the Rover brand since Ford used its option to buy it from BMW to prevent any confusion from their Land Rover brand. As a result, SAIC management made a snap decision to call their brand Roewe (pronounced Row-Wii) and a hastily drawn logo in response to Ford’s purchase. Personally, I would have preferred SAIC simply reused their old “Shanghai” brand for the new car or started pronouncing their new brand, Roewe, as “rowe” like Lowe instead of “Row-Wii”.

In any case, SAIC was able to work around this setback by first rehiring all the MG Rover engineers that had been working new Rover models, outsourcing some of their engineering work to Ricardo, and building brand recognition for their updated Roewe 750.

Here is the Hollywood-style ROVER 75 (Chinese call it ROEWE 750) commercial in Chinese TV. The sales has started nation-wide on January 31 year of 2007 and commercial is playing on national CCTV and other important media.

The national sales order for the first two week rocket to 3211 even when the nation-wide sales network is not built up completely. Now the order volume is stable at the number of 300 for one day.

So far the Roewe 750 has gotten good feedback from the local market and this has encouraged SAIC to produce more models for their new Roewe brand. One of these models is speculated to the the Roewe 450, a replacement for the Rover 45, and a continuation of the canceled MG Rover RDX60 model. The result of this project was a new car that would be based on the old Rover 75 platform with an updated design, that premiered as the Roewe W2 concept at the Shanghai Auto Show.

Although there’s little linking this car stylistically with the outgoing Rovers and MGs, the similarity to the ill-fated RDX60 is quite startling, indicating that the project was continued by Ricardo2010, almost seamlessly from the closure of MG Rover – indicating the earnestness of the company’s statement back in 2005, that the RDX60 was most definitely theirs…

As with the RDX60, the Roewe 450 is based upon the architecture of the Rover 75 – and because of that, it’s heading for production at an unprecedented rate. Unlike the original MG Rover, car, Roewe’s 450 will only be offered in saloon form, and will feature a pretty new interior that echoes the changing face of the original project, and how the MG and Rover marques were going to be modernised.

The 450 or W2 was spotted in various auto magazines undergoing extreme weather and performance testing in parts of the world with some speculating what it would actually look like. Fortunately, SAIC made a wise decision in rehiring most of the MG Rover design team and engineering in making this Chinese market car with British flavour.

SAIC’s new design was actually one of the more impressive concepts at the Shanghai Auto Show next to the Chery Shooting Sport concept. The Roewe 450 appears to be aimed squarely at buyers that would be interested in a Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta, or even a Toyota Corolla. Although it is very likely that the front and rear ends will be simplified when the 450 is pushed to production, the W2 concept does give us a good idea of what to expect from SAIC’s Roewe brand in the coming years.

On the other hand, the best that Nanjing Auto could produce so far are Chinese assembled MG Rover models with new names. The MG ZT is now the MG7, MG ZS is the MG5, while the MG TF remains the same. Very little has been done to update the models other than new names and money spent building a new assembly plant with tooling brought over from the old Longbridge plant. In addition, Nanjing Auto decided that it was somehow a great idea to throw away all the MG history by rebranding MG as “Modern Gentleman” and doing little to show it is a new player other than emphasising the brand’s British roots. It also does not help that years of hype over newly designed models and restored jobs did not materialise as of 2007, despite what the MG-NAC fanboys say on forums.

The Chinese market looks to be an interesting venture with competitors such as China Brilliance, Chery, and SAIC. So far China Brilliance has used their joint-venture with BMW to produce the “Zhonghua” brand cars that are currently losing money in the home market and damaging the reputation of Chinese cars in Europe. Chery is becoming a rising star with their bestselling QQ model, which is a copy of the Daewoo Matiz, and with potential for growth thanks to partnerships with Fiat and Chrysler. Last, SAIC has been a major player from joint-ventures with GM and Volkswagen and it has the resources to grow their own brands such as “Shanghai” and “Roewe”. Only time will tell which Chinese company will come out on top in their home market.


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