M.G. was aware as early as 1944 that when the company returned to car production they would be expected to export a fair amount of their capacity. In 1944 and 1945, the British government’s Ministry of Supply set a minimum export quota of 25% of all production – a number that was attainable. However, by mid-1946 the Ministry recognized it would need to be much higher than that (especially exports to “hard currency” countries) if Britain were to stave off financial ruin, and increased this to 50% for motor cars and 33% for commercial vehicles. Here is some of the back story of MG’s export activities – gleaned from document archives of MG and The Nuffield Organization.
MG exports were handled by Nuffield Exports Limited – the company within the Nuffield organization that handled all exports of the various Nuffield Marques and products. Thus, MG didn’t set out to create an export market for themselves, but followed policy established by the Nuffield Directors.
The real problem facing MG – and Nuffield Exports – was the lack of relationships with distributors and dealers in many non-commonwealth markets. The entry into the Australian market was easy – Nuffield already had an established presence there; the quantity of cars Nuffield sent to Australia speaks to that. But the Ministry wanted manufacturers (MG included) to shift exports away from “soft currency” countries (i.e., Australia, India, South Africa – colonies of past and present) to “hard currency” countries – specifically the United States. That would help with the war debt repayment. Some Nuffield companies (Morris, MG, and Morris Commercial) recognized the sales opportunities in North America, so along with the Ministry’s demands, there was incentive to find a way to enter and exploit the non-commonwealth market.
Key staff members of Nuffield Exports made several trips to North America in 1946-47 that are well documented in archived letters. Reginald Hanks (a Managing Director of Nuffield Exports) and Donald Harrison played key roles in finding companies to function as distributors and dealers in the U.S.A. and Canada.
In an October 29, 1946 letter from Hanks to Miles Thomas (Vice-Chairman of Nuffield) during one of his trips to the U.S. Hanks writes:
“. . As you know, we have not attempted to adopt the Austin and Standard policy, because there have not been enough cars available to exploit the American Market properly, except at the expense of many of our pre-war and loyal Distributors. My intention is to send Donald Harrison over to the U.S.A. and Canada just as soon as we have anything to offer in these new models, and we have several very useful contacts which are worthy of close investigation.
Perhaps the best of them is under the auspices of Hambros Bank. This may sound rather queer, but Hambros have already taken the James Auto-Cycle in hand, and their sales figures are impressive. They set about organizing the job State by State, and build up good Sales-cum-Service depots before moving on to the next place.
Incidentally, Hambros, too, support the notion that a small car like the Mosquito (author’s note: the proposed replacement for the TC), and a unique production like the M.G. Midget, are the only lines worth pushing.
Please do not take our present M.G. sales policy for the U.S.A. seriously. Collier Brothers are just enthusiastic amateurs, and we shall carry on with them only so long as we have such a few cars to offer. I see they have had ten to date…..“
Of the 1,700 TCs made in 1946, 20 were exported to the U.S. – all to Collier’s Motor Sport dealership.
While this was all going on, MG was still doing “war contract” production – all through 1946. Work continued building and modifying tanks, Merlin engine overhauls, and other projects. Car production at MG was still a very low volume affair, the result of inability to obtain materials; hence, there were no cars to export. Another group of letters within MG and the Ministry of Supply speak about obtaining more material allocations so MG could make cars to sell to the U.S. market. The Ministry wanted MG to abandon their existing “commonwealth” country business and focus solely on U.S. Dollar markets; MG saw that as a death knell for existing, though small, markets. The tussle went back and forth on this for quite a while.
Car production continued to increase, though material shortages were a constant problem. The Nuffield companies even had specific employees whose sole job was to drive to suppliers and pick up enough parts to keep production running for the day. But the shortage problems were worked through, and the majority of production increases were directed to exports.
One year later, Donald Harrison of Nuffield Exports wrote to Thomas from a U.S. trip in October 1947. He indicated there was no real opportunity for Wolseley, Morris, Morris vans, or Riley. Right hand drive sedans were problematic in the market, and their price put them out of consideration. Though Nuffield people thought the TC (always called the Midget in their letters) as being old-fashioned and too expensive (it was!), the nature of it as a sporting car created a market – and a buzz! But there had to be sufficient quantity of cars available to make it worthwhile for distributors and 15 cars per week was not enough.
He writes: “. . . In Southern California we have come to an understanding with Gough Industries of Los Angeles. . . their initial order is for 100 Midgets through Hambro. . . .
. . . In San Francisco we have seen a firm by the name of Qvale; they hold the Willys Dealership. . .
…In Texas we have fixed with S.H. Lynch & Co, a firm of considerable wealth who handles James Motor Cycles; they also have a large business in musical instruments and a beer agency. Lynch will handle MG in Texas and other areas. . . . they have already started an intensive advertising campaign for M.G….
. . . So tomorrow we start things all over again in Vancouver. Before I get there I know they are going to press for Midget deliveries. Isn’t it curious how these people will talk of this model to the almost exclusion of all others! It makes me cross at times.
Kind regards, Donald H. (Jock sends his regards to all, too.) “
Hambros Bank turned out to be a key financing and import arm for MG in the North American market, and led them to successful distributors. It’s interesting to see read about the frustration Nuffield people had over the intense excitement the TC generated; it obviously overshadowed all other vehicles they were trying to export. Cecil Kimber really did know what he was doing!
MG Production and Export Numbers for the TC