1. Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your experience?
I was appointed Managing Director for SAIC Motor Middle East in July of 2017. It was a challenging role to undertake especially in the current market conditions, but a challenged I have enjoyed.
In the past 18 months it has been encouraging to see the brand making great strides forwards – not only in terms of sales but also in brand awareness and perception – right across the region.
I have a solid knowledge of the Middle East region from four years in the role of Head of the Middle East and Africa for Hyundai. During this time, I was responsible for consolidating the Middle East and Africa regions under one umbrella, and throughout my tenure Hyundai saw four consecutive record sales years.
The automotive industry has been the focus for my entire professional life. I joined Hyundai after gaining a master’s degree from George Washington University, and worked for the company for 30 years in a variety of roles and territories, including the role of Executive Director of the Export Planning Group for Hyundai and Executive Senior Sales Coordinator in the United States.
2. MG is perceived as a newcomer in the UAE market. Has that been an advantage or a disadvantage as you compete with more established players here?
While recent years have proved challenging for many industries – and not just the automotive industry – MG Motor has seen substantial growth across the Middle East, despite being a relatively young brand in the region competing with many more established brands.
There are a number of reasons why the MG Motor brand has seen an impressive growth over the last year; our customers recognize that we offer a premium package with a reasonable price tag – our combination of high-quality materials, cutting-edge technology and generous equipment levels as standard – are what you’d expect of a high-end car brand. And, our approach to styling and design is another reason we have seen our model range appeal to motorists in the region.
In terms of our aftermarket operations, we select only the very best retail partners who can deliver the very best customer service. We support the distributors’ efforts in improving their customer satisfaction with an unparalleled manufacturer’s warranty of six years or 200,000 km, whichever comes first.
3. What are the main benefits that your models offer to customers in comparison to other brands that are available in the market?
MG models compete directly with a wide range of models from other mainstream manufacturers, not just from Asia but around the world. The use of innovative technology in our products, paired with stylish design, high quality finish and MG’s unrivaled aftersales service, puts us in a very strong position, not forgetting the fact that even our entry level models are extremely well equipped. All of which ensures we deliver fantastic value for money.
With MG ownership comes peace of mind, we take huge pride in ensuring our customer experience is at heart of everything we do. Our MG Care Programme offers a variety of servicing packages and a convenient door-to-door service which takes the hassle out of the car’s maintenance schedule. And, with our very competitive warranty programme – of six years or 200,000 km – our customers don’t need to worry about the reliability of our cars. Put these together with our loyalty programme which rewards our MG owners and we have a community of very happy and satisfied customers who are helping build a positive reputation by word of mouth.
A case in point when it comes to MG leading the way: this year, MG Motor released an innovative feature available on selected models: the iLink. This is the very first smartphone application in the Middle East to combine both dynamic and service features in one, and the only application in the market to offer punch sensor technology.
4. MG is a brand that has a glorious history. Now that SAIC has revived this well-known brand, how is it doing under SAIC’s stewardship?
Since its acquisition of MG Motor, SAIC MOTOR has opened a new chapter for this British-born car company. We have a rich heritage behind the brand and some fascinating stories to tell; MG Motor was established in 1924 and has been known throughout its 94-year history for its historic models, awards and achievements. MG was founded by William Morris and Cecil Kimbers and has the oldest car club in the automotive industry, whilst its best known for its two-seat open sports cars, MG has also produced some historic saloons and coupes.
Today, the brand is still going strong and is producing contemporary and stylish cars to cater for modern motorists. This year alone saw the introduction of the all-new MG6 and the launch of two SUV models – the MG RX5 compact SUV and the MG ZS SUV – as well as the second-generation MG GS.
We are really making our presence felt in the automotive industry on a global level. Our parent company, SAIC Motor has manufacturing bases in Thailand, India and Indonesia, as well as R&D and innovation centers in Birmingham (UK), California and Tel Aviv. In 2018, SAIC Motor’s overseas sales reached more than 270,000 units – up 62.5% year-on-year – and continues to take the first position in China for the third consecutive year.
A further point that recently reinforced our position was the announcement that SAIC Motor has climbed to its highest ever position in the prestigious Fortune Global 500 list, ahead of brands such as BMW and Hyundai. This achievement is a testament to the success of the company globally.
5. You recently launched the MG6 in the Middle East. What differentiates this model from others in the same category. Which models do you think are the closest competitors in this category?
The introduction of the all-new MG6 has added a new dimension to the MG line-up, reinforcing MG Motor’s reputation for delivering reliability and value for money. Our new C segment contender boasts a stylish look that takes inspiration from the brand’s expressiv design language, while offering the most interior space in the class and building on MG’s reputation for providing extremely generous levels of equipment specification.
The all-new MG6 differs greatly from the other key models we have recently introduced to the region, as it offers features that are distinctively superior to its competitors’ C segment rivals. This new model is set to perform well and make its mark in a segment that currently boasts a significant market share in the GCC.
6. How is doing business in the Middle East different from that in other markets? What advantages and disadvantages do you come across in this market?
Customers in the Middle East are well known for being extremely discerning and expecting the highest standards of quality and specifications when it comes to selecting a vehicle. In the context of an automotive industry that has been experiencing a decline in auto sales over recent years, value for money has increasingly become a key factor when purchasing a car. MG Motor is very well placed to meet these demands, and we expect to see strong growth in the future as a result.
7. In this market, you have many kinds of customers including price conscious customers who are looking for a basic no-frills sedan and the upwardly mobile status conscious consumers who want a flashy SUV. What models do you offer to these customers?
The MG customer in the GCC is after a product that offers unrivalled value for money, without compromising on the highest standards when it comes to quality, safety and design. MG Motor has drawn a considerable following from tech savvy individuals in the 18-to-35 age group, as the brand offers the latest innovative technology catered to MG customers’ adventurous lifestyles.
The introduction of the all-new MG6, for instance, has certainly added a new dimension to the MG line-up, as I have mentioned. However, in the past year, we have also launched two new SUVs – the MG RX5 and the MG ZS – and unveiled the improved, facelifted MG GS.
The MG RX5 compact SUV showcases two extremely well-equipped trim levels and a choice of 1.5T or 2.0T engines. Offering excellent value for money, the MG ZS crossover epitomises the MG brand’s premium experience and commitment to quality. It embodies a more expressive design language which is set to feature across all upcoming models. Finally, the GS has taken a major step forward with its refreshed and practical interior, high levels of equipment and dynamic design.
Of course, we will continue to expand our line-up to ensure we are even better placed to meet the demands of the many different types of customer.
8. Customers are increasingly conscious about the impact on the environment and fuel economy. What progress has SAIC made in this direction. How important is innovation and sustainability in the organization?
SAIC Motor is at the forefront of global technological innovation, delivering significant achievements in a number of areas related to the development of the cars of the future. New-energy cars, connected vehicles and automated driving are all key areas of focus for us. Earlier this year, SAIC Motor secured China’s first autonomous vehicle road-test licence ahead of starting mass production later this year.
The advent of electrified models is also no longer a novelty. Electric/hybrid vehicles have certainly been a core focus for SAIC Motor and MG Motor over recent years and will continue to be so over the coming years.
Over recent years, the rejuvenated brand has made important breakthroughs in relation to the development of Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV), Pure Electric Power and Fuel Cells and continues to invest heavily in these important fields.
The development of eye-catching concept cars such as the MG E-Motion all-electric supercar – pushing the boundaries of innovation and technology – and the MG X-Motion SUV, which was unveiled earlier this year featuring an electric powertrain, are a testament to the brand’s commitment to being a global leader in providing alternative fuel models.
We have two production models – ERX5 and eRX5 hybrid – are under consideration for GCC markets, and we have tested the eRX5 hybrid in extreme weather conditions here in the Middle East last summer. I am pleased to confirm that the eRX5 performed exceptionally well in all aspects of its testing, especially air conditioning, performance and fuel efficiency.
9. It has recently become legal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. How has this affected your marketing strategy in the Kingdom?
Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift its ban on women driving cars is a sales opportunity for all car manufacturers, and in particular for an emerging brand like MG Motor. As a brand, we already consider the varied requirements of all of our customers, both men and women. As a result, our models combine impressive equipment levels with competitive prices, all wrapped up in stylish packages designed to appeal to different tastes.
Naturally, in the future we will continue to analyse our key markets and look for ways we can better serve our customers. This applies equally to our customers and potential customers in Saudi Arabia.
Marketing strategy is to focus on woman driving needs and position an attractive offer so they can enjoy their first car experience.
10. The UAE has one of the highest rates for road accidents in the world. Can you tell us about the safety aspects and any innovative technologies that you have introduced to increase vehicle safety?
The great performance of our cars is not compromised when it comes to safety. All of our MG models are fitted with an efficient braking system that reduces stopping distances. In addition, we have a suite of safety features which come as standard including ESP with traction control, a curving braking control system and MSR (Motor control Slide Retainer).
And our passive safety features include a strengthened body structure that uses thermal formed steel, multiple airbags, automatic unlocking in the event of a collision and a collapsible steering column. Our continuous efforts to provide the optimum safety has earned most of our models a prestigious 5-star rating in the C-NCAP crash tests.
11. Where do you see potential for additional growth when it comes to the Middle East market? How important is the Middle East market in terms of your strategy for global growth?
The market in the Middle East is without doubt one of the most competitive for manufacturers and is an absolute key market for both MG and SAIC’s international expansion. Over the past couple of years, we have taken a number of very important steps that have allowed us to enhance our regional offering and compete against mainstream brands, and we are now present across all six GCC countries. We have established our regional head office to cater to all our partner’s needs, with customer satisfaction being at the forefront of our strategy we also have our warehouse in Dubai that services the entire region, allowing us to reduce lead times on parts orders and keep our customers on the road. As well as a regional training centre in Dubai – the first of its kind in all of MG’s overseas region.
Our cars are available at competitive prices, whilst also having been acclaimed for their good looks and high equipment specification levels, which means that they can compete head-on with any others in the market.
12. This is an era in which the automotive and technological sectors are overlapping more and more. What progress has SAIC made when it comes to connected and autonomous vehicles?
SAIC Motor is already at the forefront of global technological innovation, delivering significant achievements in a number of areas related to the development of the cars of the future. New-energy cars, connected vehicles and automated driving are all key areas of focus for us. For example, SAIC Motor secured China’s first autonomous vehicle road-test licence ahead of starting mass production later this year.
New energy vehicles are a key focus for SAIC Motor. In 2018, SAIC Motor sold more than 140,000 new energy vehicles – up 120% year-on-year- and, achieved double growth for the fifth consecutive year. SAIC Motor has successfully ranked among the top three new energy vehicle manufacturers in the market and is on the path to be the champion of the sector. It’s worth noting that the vehicle sales volume of SAIC-owned brands, Roewe and MG new energy, reached 96,000, which doubled year-on-year.
We have made great progress when it comes to technology innovation. Whether it’s alternative transport solutions, autonomous vehicles or shared mobility; we’re exploring all modern industry trends.
Our second-generation intelligent vehicle, the MG-iGS, has completed 14,000 km of simulated and high-speed road tests of its self-driving capabilities. SAIC Motor also teamed up with e-commerce giant and the world’s largest retailer, the Alibaba Group, to launch the world’s first ever mass-produced internet car.
And in the region, the iLink has been a key addition to the tech enhancement of MG. The smart application allows users to monitor their driving history, receive service reminders, be alerted if their car is damaged, and track their vehicle. You are also able to step into a pre-cooled vehicle during the summer by using the application to turn on the engine and the air conditioning. Our collaboration with Ekar is also a step forward; where you no longer have to own a car to drive one.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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