We sit down with Charles Morgan. He’s the man who heads up the Morgan Motor Company, which is preparing for a UAE dealer launch later this year.
Charles Morgan is not your archetypal car company chairman. He doesn’t rattle off quotes in corporate speak. He’s not one for sober business suits or a generic, grey office.
We meet in his book-stuffed, wood-panelled den at Morgan‘s HQ in Malvern, Worcestershire, in the heart of the English Midlands. He’s wearing an open-necked white short and a blue jacket with a bright pocket square. It’s dapper, professional and ever-so slightly eccentric. Much like the company he runs, in fact.
Charles has very kindly granted us half an hour of his time to talk about the Middle East, and Morgan’s plans there. The company is opening a showroom in Dubai with Al Futtaim Motors towards the end of the year, and there are plans to expand further into the region.
“We’ve been meaning to come there for some time,” Charles muses. “We’ve had our fans in the Middle East, in very small numbers, but we have sold cars to various countries. We’ve been looking for a partner and a dealer that would look after us well for some time. Al Futtaim said they will take it very seriously and open possibly two showrooms, one in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi which would be perfect. They would give back up for decent service and send their mechanics to be trained in our workshop.”
As we’ve already seen during our factory tour and test drives of the 3 Wheeler and Plus 8, Morgan makes unusual but extremely capable cars, with a very different outlook from the major manufacturers. The company focuses on handcrafted yet innovative cars, leaning heavily on its 103-year heritage.
“We’ll bring the whole range to Dubai,” Charles says. “There are no homologation problems. It’s a very sophisticated market so they’ll take the whole range, I’m sure. “Clearly the 3 Wheeler’s a great thing to have in the back of the garage and bring it out. I’m hoping someone will convert one to the fastest way to cross the desert, with a knobbly tyre on the back and jacked up suspension.
“I don’t think we’re expecting to beat Porsche in terms of volume. But I think the Middle East will take to Morgan very well.”
It’s not Morgan’s first venture into the Middle East, having visited previously to race the GT3 versions of their cars. The brand continues to race with French motorsport company Oak Racing (above). “One of my first thoughts was to establish a dealership inside Yas Marina Circuit,” Charles says. “Then I realised that track days are one thing but personally I like to use a car in a variety of different environments, so to concentrate purely on track days is not really our thing. The car is very good on track, but that’s not the only think you’d do in a Morgan.”
However, there are possibilities that the motorsport angle could expand the company’s presence further afield. “Bahrain’s got a nice track, the Royal family have got two [cars] and of course are big investors in McLaren and have a RUF workshop at the track. They’re quite interested in Morgan. I’d love to be in Iran as well, that’s an amazing country with a very big opportunity for anyone that is allowed to eventually get in. When they sort themselves out that will be a very successful country.”
The heat and dust of the Middle East is always a worry for newcomers to the region, but Charles says Morgan customers need not worry.
“We’ve been through Death Valley in the cars and all the BMW-engined cars are tested to BMW standards and they don’t blow up in the Middle East. We had the same sign off for cooling as they have.”
Are there concerns about entering a new market? Charles is bullish about the appeal. “If you’re a car enthusiast you know about Morgan. It’s the availability that needs to be disseminated because the 3 Wheeler’s a big story on the internet and Morgan’s come alive over the last couple of years. That’s down to Al Futtaim and their local advertising and the showroom being accessible.”
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave, check out the previous stories that we linked to above. Or let Charles explain the appeal in driving a hand-made, lightweight sports car. “Other cars have more bhp but that doesn’t mean anything if they’re twice as heavy,” explains. Also if they’re heavy they’re not going to go in the corner fast, because you’ve got to put the brakes on. On a circuit, something like a Plus 8 at 1100kg is so bloody quick into the corner that you’re out of it before the other guy.
“Lightweight is a mantra here. Everyone looks at lightweight as they do price and quality, and not everybody does that. Having said that we’re also relatively affordable. Anyone can build a carbon-fibre car that’s ultra light, but what’s it going to cost? That race between Koenigsegg and McLaren and Ferrari and Audi and Lamborghini and Bugatti is, to our way of thinking, a little bit about the character of the companies and the owners wanting to out do each other. Our style is to be competitive but in an innovative way, not go head-to-head.”
“We have been innovative; we were the first all aluminium bonded sports car. I know the [Lotus] Elise beat us with the chassis but that’s a plastic body. We beat Jag, we beat Aston, we beat Ferrari. We also have 103 years of history which is a very powerful brand thing, so with other people, such as TVR, the history wasn’t that long. We’ve also collaborated very well with other manufacturers. Our deal with BMW is very powerful and I think we produce really innovative products – just look at the 3 Wheeler.”
Ah yes, the 3 Wheeler. It’s singlehandedly brought in a whole new audience to Morgan, and Charles knows it. “The 3 Wheeler has expanded us a lot,” he says. “It’ll make up 800 cars this year which is a considerable increase in volume and the trick will be to get some of that into the classic range and invigorate it as a car that people genuinely see as an innovative product.
“The issue with Morgan to an extent is the fine balance between innovation and technology and history and craftsmanship. If you get it, it’s quite a compulsive thing because it combines the best of both, a bit like a really nice pair of shoes or a really nice suit that’s cool and not totally traditional. I think that’s the discerning customer we’re looking for. It’s also surprisingly fast so doesn’t embarrass itself with a Ferrari.
“What we represent is honesty and reality. I went to Shanghai the other day, as we’ve opened up in China, and was amazed at the response that we got. That’s to do with people wanting something genuine, something authentic. I went there thinking it would be a hard sell, but went outside the hotel to a street market selling… well, rubbish actually. But there was a tin toy stall with really badly made tin toys and this was the main toy…” He rummages in a cupboard and brings out a slightly shoddy but instantly recognisable model classic Morgan, chuckling to himself.
“In China the car appeals to a lot of women, but they want automatics. So we’re going to have to have a few more automatics in the range.” Good news for prospective customers in the largely manual-shunning Middle East.
In the longer term, Morgan plans to introduce at least one new car – the Eva GT (above), which has existed in concept form for a couple of years – as well as new powertrains, including more modern engines from BMW.
“We’ve got a five-year product plan and that includes new models as well as new powertrains. We’ve starting the Eva GT and have been working on that for two or three years. You’ll see something really tangible I expect at the Geneva Motor Show in 2016. In terms of future product, aluminium? Yes. Lightweight? Yes. Environmentally efficient, modern engines, turbos… possibly.” Charles also hints that the company’s work with Oak Racing could herald the introduction of carbon-fibre into Morgans. Oak operates several Morgan-badged LMP2 race cars in the World Endurance Championship, the European Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Series.
Despite the expansion into new markets, there are (thankfully) no plans to introduce a Morgan SUV. “For companies to do that they have to have a donor vehicle. We’re independent so anything we do will be much more individual than rebadging someone else’s SUV.”
Good to hear. Morgan has been doing its own thing for more than a century, and shows no sign of kowtowing to the norm. We look forward to welcoming them – and their eccentricities to the Middle East.