MG and Rover cars are back in New Zealand with a revamped line-up, a new distributor, and the first MG saloons since the Magnette and 1300 of the 1960s.
It's the first time in decades that MG has offered a multi-model range. It's Rover's umpteenth return.
The MG and Rover sedan ranges mirror each other with three basic models - large, medium and small. MG adds in the TF mid-engined sports car.
The Rover line-up starts with the 200-based 25 which is available with a choice of Stepspeed automatic five-speed manual gearboxes. The 25 runs a 1600cc K-Series motor.
The middleweight Rover is the Honda-based 45 which has a 1.8-litre K-Series engine and an automatic gearbox. The car is a revamp of the old 400.
The Rover range peaks with the elegant and retro-styled 75. The 75 sedan is joined by a station wagon version, the Tourer. The 2.5-litre V6-powered 75s are both in high-level Connoisseur trim and run automatic gearboxes.
The MGs are re-engineered Z-badged versions of the basic Rover chassis and place the emphasis on sporty dynamics, bright colours and aerodynamic body kits.
Newly-appointed distributor, MG Rover New Zealand, is at pains to stress the MGs are re-engineered, not badge-engineered versions of the Rovers.
It's keen to push away older buyers' memories of the last Magnette as a two-toned, regrilled, rebadged version of the Austin A60/Morris Oxford; or the MG 1300 as a similar exercise on the Austin/Morris 1300.
The MG ZR is based on the Rover 25, the ZS on the 45 and the ZT on the 75. The ZT-T is the station wagon, the first-ever MG estate car.
The ZR comes in Stepspeed 120bhp and 160bhp manual versions.
The ZS is a 180bhp manual.ZT sedans are available in 190bhp manual or 180bhp automatic versions. The ZT-T is a 180bhp auto.
Three versions of the soft-top MG TF are being marketed, with 1.8-litre K-Series engines in three states of tune, from 120bhp to 160bhp. The 120bhp car has a Stepspeed gearbox. The 135 and 160bhp versions are manuals.
Rover prices start at $29,990 for the 25 manual and peak at $69,990 for the 75 Tourer.
The cheapest MG is a ZR manual at $39,990; top, dollar car from the Octagon brand is the ZT-T automatic at $71,990.TF sports car prices range from $49,990 to $56,990.
MG Rover NZ has appointed three dealers: Newmarket European in Auckland, Harbour City Motors in Wellington and Cockrams in Christchurch. Parts and service in other parts of the country will be available through the old Rover network attached to BMW dealers.
The service agents can sell cars, sourcing them from the main dealers on a commission basis.
Though MG and Rover have been absent from the NZ market for about two years, BMW dealers were still selling them new until about a year ago, says MG Rover NZ's Andrew Bayliss. A large number of new cars originally exported to Japan were re-diverted here.
The distribution agreement came after 18 months' negotiation (Bayliss has been working on the project fulltime for a year) and Fairhall's group (four permanent staff) beat another strong bid.
"They chose our application because they thought it was conservative and achievable," he says. "They thought another proposal was optimistic.
"(The agreement) went to the guys who said 'we'll supply the lowest volume, but we'll achieve it." Fairhall says that when BMW was marketing Rovers and the MGF sports car the emphasis was on volume sales. "BMW lost money on virtually every (Rover and MG) it sold."
He says that's not an option with the new company. The factory is insisting on making a profit from cars sold here.
Fairhall says the newly-appointed dealers - all of them new to the marque and "not carrying any baggage from the past" - think the smaller cars will sell best. That's in sharp contrast to MG Rover NZ's own initial view. Company staff had expected low small car sales but strong sales of the 75 and MG ZT.
MG Rover NZ anticipates stronger interest in MGs in Auckland and Rovers in Christchurch.
MG Rover expects to sell between 160 and 200 cars here each year.
Bayliss says the British manufacturer sees that level of sales as a typical global market for the new range.
Though the number of sales looks small, NZ "features heavily in their plans for the future," he says. If sales take off, MG Rover can get extra cars quickly.
"The 160 to 200 is not the maximum number we can get," says MG Rover NZ director John Fairhall. Cars not held in stock locally (both MG Rover NZ and the three dealers hold stocks of cars) can be delivered within 90 days of ordering.
Though the model range being offered here is wide, it consists of one high-spec version from each model line."Although there are a number of variants, the (NZ) range is not as big as it looks," says Bayliss. "Basically there's a little Rover and MG a middle one and a big one."
Sales will determine whether all models remain in the local range. Poorly-selling models will be dropped. Fairhall says that's the rationale behind introducing a relatively wide selection of models. The idea was "let's get a reasonable range and let the customers decide what to buy."
"That's why we have a bigger range than we were going to have.
"Originally we thought we might only sell MGs," says Fairhall. "But the factory said 'if you want one, you have got to take both'.
"And Rover is important to us. We've had a lot of inquiry from the public (existing Rover owners among them). And the dealers are enthusiastic about Rover."
Fairhall says MG Rover is "one of the few manufacturers interested in what you can really sell rather than what they want you to sell. They want the market to decide what it's interested in buying. MGs and Rovers are now built in the former BMW factory at Longbridge, England. They were previously built at the historic Cowley factory.
Bayliss says the British company has a loyal and enthusiastic workforce dedicated to making the reborn Rover and MG successful.
"This is Rover like you've never seen it before," says Fairhall. "It's back in British ownership (after being sold by BMW at a peppercorn rate to the Phoenix Group). And they know they need to do it right or not at all."
Story by Mike Stock.