The Roewe (荣威) 350

The Roewe 350 won’t be formally launched until the Beijing motor show later this month, but already it has been confirmed a hatchback version will be on sale in the UK this time next year, badged as an MG and part assembled at the MG Birmingham plant in Longbridge.

As with the MG6, a development model of which we recently drove and found to be borderline best-in-class to drive, the Roewe 350 is based on an all-new platform. Its set-up has been tuned by the SAIC technical offshoot in the UK.

There are some similarities in appearance to the 550/MG6, although it’s hard to call the 350 stylish. Inside it is a cut above the 550/MG6, although there’s still a fairly basic use of leather and silver trim detailing. The switchgear shows some flair and the interior materials are of a high standard.

Visibility is good, particularly up front thanks to small A-pillars that give the cabin an airy appearance. It’s spacious too, particularly in the rear.

The 1.5-litre engine, however, is a disappointment. Part of the new NSE family of engines being produced by SAIC, it only meets Euro 4 emissions standards and will need modifications to reach Euro 5, meaning UK buyers won’t be buying it in this spec. Instead, a 1.5-litre turbocharged unit will be added to the Roewe 350 line-up, with a new 1.3-litre unit expected to feature in the MG range.

With just 107bhp and 100lb ft of torque, the unit in our test car lacked grunt and needed to be worked hard, with power only coming in strongly above a raucous 3000rpm. It’s not that frugal either, averaging 37.6mpg, although both wind and road noise are well suppressed. Part of that is down to the four-speed auto gearbox which does, at least, make smooth changes.

More positive is the ride and handling. The 350 rides smoothly in town and out on the motorway, but is firm enough to be reasonably fun on twisty roads.

The handling isn’t sporty, with a deliberate emphasis on comfort, but the steering offers a reasonable amount of feel. However, it is let down by a very soft brake set up that does nothing to inspire confidence.

In the Chinese market this is a good car, if not class-leading one. In Europe that’s unlikely to be enough, but it’s worth remembering, though, that there will be significant changes before it goes on sale as an MG – and that’s why we’re reserving final judgment.


The 2010 MG 6 by SAIC

The 2010 MG 6 made its debut at the 2009 Auto Shanghai motor show as the SAIC-owned Morris Garages brand after it aquired the Nanjing Automobile Group. The MG 6 is a fastback based on the Roewe 550 (MG 5). ike the Roewe 550, most of the development and styling of the MG 6 was done at the SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre.

The most popular engine option is expected to be the N-Series 1.8 engine, available in two states of tune, 133 bhp and 158 bhp (with turbo). The N-series is derived from the Rover K-Series engine. It is expected that this model will be assembled both in China, starting in 2010, and at the MG Motor UK Longbridge plant, in 2011.

China Watch : SAIC Motors’ lessons in own-brand building

Yang Jian, Automotive News China, 6th May, 2009

At this year’s Shanghai auto show a multitude of young carmakers – from the largest own-brand automaker Chery Automobile Co to the small player Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co. – displayed their own-brand vehicles.

Many were copycats of international brands. This is a shame because, for the most part, the Chinese carmakers efforts to build brands will be in vain. For valuable lessons on how to build a respected brand, they would do well to look to their older brother in the domestic industry, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

Lesson 1: For brand building, copying international brands is no good.

The first model SAIC built under the Roewe brand, the Roewe 750 mid-sized sedan, was developed on the platform of the Rover 75 it acquired from MG Rover in 2005.  Chinese consumers quickly realized SAIC’s car was, to a great extent, a copy of the original.

Recognized as such, the Roewe 750 has never truly won the heart of Chinese motorists. In the first quarter of this year, only 2,732 Roewe 750s were sold in China, according to Automotive Resources Asia, a unit of J.D. Power & Associates.

By contrast, SAIC’s second own-brand offering, the Roewe 550 compact car, was a completely new model. It was developed by the company’s R&D teams in Shanghai and England. With fine materials and a graceful styling, the car was launched at last year’s Beijing auto show to wide acclaim. Sales of the new model, which starts at 127,000 yuan ($18,621), are picking up. In the first quarter it shifted 11,774 units.

Lesson 2: Brand building is costly and therefore requires a focused approach.

Running two joint ventures with Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co., SAIC Motor is by far the most cash-rich automaker in China. Even so, it has long taken a cautious approach towards building the Roewe brand and to date the brand has only had two models: the Roewe 750 and the Roewe 550.

While domestic carmakers Chery and Geely used this year’s Shanghai auto show to display a total of more than 50 models under four sub-brands each, SAIC’s President, Hu Maoyuan, was talking about “integrating existing marketing and sales resources to boost brand recognition and sales volume.”

“From both a technology and financing point of view, SAIC stands the best chance of developing a premium brand,” says Duan Chengwu, Global Insight’s Asia Technical Research Analyst.

What chance do the other domestic Chinese automakers have of developing respected brands for themselves? Unless they adjust their existing product and branding strategy, I am truly pessimistic.