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Roewe 550 - the next MG?

Published: 22 April 2008

The new Roewe 550 unveiled at Beijing this week is Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation’s promising new mid-range hatch, but could yet turn into the next MG saloon - and be built in Europe.

Although it doesn’t look like a groundbreaking effort, the Roewe 550 is one of the Beijing motor show’s hottest debutants. Designed as SAIC's successor to the Rover 45, the car has been designed and engineered in Britain by ex-MG Rover engineers. Which explains why it's related to the stillborn mid-sized Rover that died along with the volume car making business at Longbridge.

Compare it to CAR's exclusive rendering of the RDX60 that we smuggled out of the MG Rover HQ the day the administrators were appointed - and you'll see a few reminders. They hardly look identical, but you could imagine the 550 being the saloon version of the Rover hatch pictured (above top right).

Roewe 550: the second Roewe

The 550 is perhaps the most convincing Chinese production car yet. It’s the second car – behind the 750 – to wear the Roewe badge; a nameplate invented by SAIC when it failed to secure the rights to the Rover brand from BMW in 2006.

Developed in the UK, you say? Will it be built here?

Based on a re-jigged version of the Rover 75 platform, which has been put to such good use in the 750-Series model, the conventionally styled 550 is looking good to increase SAIC's market penetration at home and abroad.

UK consultancy Ricardo2010 (a division of Ricardo created to focus on MGR products and which SAIC bought last year) has been closely involved with the development of the 550, and has been helping the Chinese to tune it to European tastes. Now that SAIC owns MG, it’s a certainty that the car will be launched in Europe in MG form, possibly as early as 2009-2010.

We understand that the MG version will be more aggressively styled, and that SAIC is looking for a European production site for the car. Longbridge is one option, alongside Karmann in Germany and Magna-Steyr in Austria. SAIC’s senior management will be in Europe next week to assess the alternatives.

Click 'Next' to read more about the Roewe 550Forget the politics, what about the car?

Powered by a range of ex-MG Rover K-Series engines in 1.6- and 1.8-litre versions, the hefty Roewe 550 saloon could struggle compared with the opposition. Of particular interest for European buyers will be the 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Currently, SAIC hasn’t confirmed details of that power unit, however.

Although the exterior styling is no great surprise, the digital dash looks odd, and reminds us of the 1983 Austin Maestro Vanden Plas. But the rest of the interior is tasteful and well appointed, and should go down with status-conscious Chinese buyers.

In the context of China's indigenous motor industry, the 550 is a leap forward and should perform much better on the market than the 750, which has been a slow seller so far, enduring a number of price cuts to entice customers.

Should the Roewe 550 be rebadged and come to Europe as an MG? Click 'Add your comment' and join the debate
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