It’s been an interesting month after a summer where the heat was too much and a few left the kitchen, even before the cakes had risen for a new series of Bake Off.

Yes there have been splits with the popular tv baking show now finding a new oven for its outlet, although the ingredients will not be the same we are told and they will cost more, which is fairly similar to the events surrounding the Brexit vote.

If you are wondering “is it done yet?” I can reveal exclusively to thewesterngroup-ies that it is not. Brexit has opened a new road of opportunity for Britain, individual politicians and political parties as well as UK Automotive.

Behind all the manoeuvering of the exit vote, the drama of Downing Street doors opening and closing on political careers and the breakdown of the Labour party, we have seen another barely mentioned event, the end of MG production in the UK. Cynical correspondents might write the MG plug was pulled on a day when the major news outlets were looking at Liverpool, not Longbridge. 

After a century of nearly continuous production at Longbridge, save some damaging strikes and tumble-weed times in the early part of this millennium, it was announced on a Friday afternoon that the marque’s Chinese owner’s sweet & sour relationship with the West Midlands manufacturing centre has come to an end.  While about 400 jobs are safe for now in the technology, research and development department, the few score of re-assembly workers have been made redundant. The local MP in the West Midlands says the end of MG production is the first casualty of the EU exit. 

Having installed lines for the MG3 and GS suv, and with UK sales steadily gaining, it seems the decision over the wall from China was that MG could no longer be justified as a British-built car. Many may think it a very inscrutable decision in the circumstances.

MG has only come back because it is a ‘British brand’ and that does mean a lot in the UK among its loyal followers, and also among Europeans who see it as such even if most of the cars were made in China.  MGs have latterly been sold by entrusted family-owned smaller businesses who along with their customers had to endure the inconvenience of a long, very long, supply line from China via Longbridge before they saw their cars.

The logistics line may be shortened by the new arrangement not to include Longbridge in the supply route but MG now has to work harder than ever to convince British buyers and Anglophiles abroad that it is still worth the wait. It is going to be an uphill struggle and tough for those family dealers as well.

Wonder who will write the book about the saga.

A meeting of the Association of Motoring Writers Groups and the SMMT Test Day South also showed up some divisions, but now where you might think.

Several years have passed since I last represented thewesterngroup at an AMWG meeting and some things have changed, others have not.

Heather Yaxley still does a great job coordinating the meetings along with Ian Donaldson and somehow they manage to pull together enough to justify the tea and biscuits laid on. But there seemed a distinct shortage of chocolate biscuits this time in what may be a sign of healthier times where there is a slimmer slice of regional groups’ journalists out there earning money.

The venue was Chernobyl with lights, otherwise found on maps as the Olympic Park, where people seem a very rare sight on the sweeping broad streets beneath mirrored-windowed modern buildings housing who knows who. Our host was the Advanced Propulsion Centre, housed in the former media centre for the 2012 games, and that set me thinking. With so much ploughed into the Park, its buildings and communications, wouldn’t it be a great venue for our politicians to utilise while the Houses of Parliament are vacated for a very long redevelopment?

Unlike Parliament, AMWG’s debates were shorter and more to the point under the able chairmanship of Tom Callow and yet they also showed a divide between us and them; no not journalists and PRs but Brit and European PRs working for the same common goal.

If the UK car market is so important to the mostly foreign car makers they should be listening more closely and pay greater respect to the British PR teams who advise them on models and launches. The UK PRs are unhappy about who and how many journalists turn up on events and this is because there are now almost too many events to cover so every writer will prioritise and if that means cancelling a previously accepted invitation when a more newsworthy event comes along it is only to be expected and this needs to be understood by PRs on both sides of the English Channel. 

In the journalists’ camp there is a growing divide between pure social media bloggers or vloggers and traditional writers who use print and internet as well as social media to get over their views. Some of the “new age” are too young to drive, or too young to meet insurance restrictions, or have suspicious numbers of followers which inflate their egos and entice PRs to pander to them. One PR told of a 13-year-old schoolboy whose father drives the test cars and he comments from the passenger seat.

Some PRs are content to go along for the ride with these ‘writers’ but others are now spending a lot of time, resources and money on digging deep into the web-statistics of all writers and publications down so far as individual articles used, and the bravest are challenging the claims.

As writers we can help by logging and locating article or road test use and sending off to the companies concerned after they appear. It helps maintain or build on a reputation.
PRs can help by frequently updating their journalists’ contact list – one major manufacturer still emails to six dead journalists and probably wonders why they never accept launch invitations. 

The over-use of voicemail messages kept discussion ringing for a while at the meeting and there is a clear belief this should be outlawed in office hours and a considered rota of company contacts be available for all after-hours enquiries which would be picked up without intervention of voicemails.

While the discussion about events came to the conclusion that one-day events were not ideal but understandable when budgets are bashed, a few weeks after the AMWG meeting I attended SMMT Test Day South, for its single day near the Bombay Sapphire distillery at Whitchurch, Hampshire.

The industry laid on a fairly good range of cars, but for me there was only one truly newsworthy one as the rest have been tested or are about to be tested. I see the SMMT TDS as an opportunity for press fleet managers to bring along the rarer models that are unlikely to be sent on general road test release, and there was in most cases a distinct shortage of senior PR managers or directors to field questions and develop stories.

It was good, however, to see a number of thewesterngroup members in attendance, particularly Kim Henson who has briefly run, over 10 miles, a dual-fuel old car. But that was an accident caused by Miss Fuelling and a mix up between petrol and diesel in one car’s tank. 

You should never mix the two as they work in different ways, bit like PRs and journalists, Britain and Europe.

Robin Roberts | Chairman WGMW

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts

Robin is the longest serving chairman of The Western Group. He’s been vice chairman or chairman for over ten years and oversees the annual Western Group PR Driving Day each summer assisted by the group committee and supported by group members.

He contributes to a number of outlets in Wales and the UK, including the Driving Force editorial syndication agency feeding the biggest regional news and feature publishers in Britain.

Robin specialises in the Welsh automotive sector and motor related businesses with interests in Wales and publishes which covers news, features, trade and motor sport in Wales.

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