Morgan takes to the mainland highways

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2012, 12:00am


Morgan Motor, the boutique British manufacturer of hand-made, vintage-styled luxury cars, is going onto business in China.

A family-owned company that has been making cars at the same location in Malvern Link, England since 1909, Morgan last month appointed its first mainland car dealers in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as a Hong Kong dealer for its new tri-wheel, motorcycle-engine-powered throwback to the early days of motor racing, the Morgan 3 Wheeler.

The company is betting 1930s styling and peppy performance will help set its cars apart from other top-end British makers in the already crowded and competitive mainland luxury market, where its cars will retail for up to 4.2 million yuan (HK$5.1 million).

'For the likes of Rolls-Royce, Bentley or Aston-Martin, all of the press is about how the downturn in the rest of the world has basically been swallowed up by an upturn in China,' Morgan Motor operations director Steve Morris says.

'Morgan is slightly different ... The market is in its infancy for us but we see it as a great opportunity to get some nice organic growth.'

Luxury car sales on the mainland rose 30 per cent last year to almost 600,000, and are projected to continue double-digit growth this year, according to industry consultants LMC Automotive. That compares with overall passenger car sales growth of 5.2 per cent, according to official data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The boom in luxury sales saw the mainland become the top global market for the first time last year at companies including Rolls-Royce, Audi and Lamborghini.

Morgan lacks the marketing dollars that other high-end makers have deployed to help build their brands in the mainland market.

Globally, Morgan sells about 1,000 cars a year, with the main markets being Britain, France, Germany and the United States. The firm planned to ship its first cars to the mainland by next month and was looking to sell 50 cars there this year and 100 next year, Morris said.

'What's a hundred cars in China?' Morris says. 'For Morgan, the unique pitch globally is exclusivity ... and an absolutely, quintessentially British-manufactured product.'

In addition to the eye-catching body styles of the cars, the driving performance is also a selling point. Several models accelerate to 100 km/h in about five seconds and, unlike nearly all mainstream cars, Morgan's classic line-up do not have power steering, power brakes, or other electronic handling controls.

Newly appointed Beijing dealer Jim James, who also runs a public relations firm in the capital, says this creates 'something very personal about the drive feel'.

He said he was relying on 'guerrilla tactics' to push the Morgan brand on the mainland, including posting videos of himself cruising Beijing's boulevards in his six-cylinder, convertible Morgan Roadster in British racing green on Youku - the mainland's answer to the blocked YouTube website.

James has also set up a bilingual Morgan website and posts Twitter-style messages that have around 200 followers.

'I'm really building awareness through low-cost means to start with ... it's quite a digital strategy,' James said. 'We only need to find maybe 20 customers out of a billion people.'