True Brit!…or as close as we can get to it – Part 1, Morgan
There is probably no finer example of Great British automotive stoicism than Malvern Hills-based Morgan, states Iain Robertson, a sportscar maker that has moved with the times (slowly) but has never lost sight of the desires of its vital customer base.
Celebrating 110 years, with the launch of a brand-new anniversary model at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Morgan continues as a family-owned firm that commenced trading in the capable hands of Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan. Its early models were mostly three-wheelers, a format to which the company would return several years later, after producing its first four-wheeled sportscar in 1936.
In a truly illustrious history, which includes proving its various models in all manner of competitive motorsports, the Morgan Motor Company has endured very few family disputes but several potentially enormous upsets. As the guiding father and son of the founder of the company, Peter Morgan passed away in 2003, having already handed over the reins to his nephew, Charles. Ten years later, Charles was ousted from the MD’s role in a bitter boardroom coup, his position being taken over by Steve Morris, who was Operations Director.
During the 1990s, the nation’s first-ever ‘reality TV star’, Sir John Harvey-Jones, fronted famously five series of BBC TV show, ‘Troubleshooter’. Long before ‘Dragons’ Den’ and ‘The Apprentice’ made their waves, British entrepreneurial spirit was placed under the microscope of the former ICI industrialist, who criticised Morgan for being out-of-touch with business reality. Sir John’s searing observations had been both very practical and hugely entertaining for the TV audience. However, Morgan elected to ignore his advice, a ‘first’ for the TV series, admitting ultimately and ironically that some aspects of it had been useful.
Morgan’s manufacturing traditions had always been the bedrock of the company. Using ash wood as a core ingredient of a manufacturing process that was almost as old as the Malvern Hills, on a steel reinforced chassis, clad in aluminium panels and trimmed in high-grade leather and wood, Morgan was completely out-of-step with modern, unitary construction techniques. However, the company had always done it that way and, with a full order book that meant potential buyers had to wait upwards of two years for their acquisitions to be collected, Morgan was in an invidious position. With world-wide recognition, over 5,000 club members, 50 clubs and no dip in sales on the horizon, Morgan had the luxury of arrogance on its side. Its 191 employees were fully occupied.
Of course, some advancement was required and the original, 3.5-litre Rover-engined Plus8 model was the first of a new breed of significantly faster and (even more) sporting Morgans in 1968, which transmogrified eventually into the advanced alloy spaceframe production technique signified by the ‘Clarence-the-cross-eyed-lion’ headlamp installation of the first BMW V8-engined Morgan Aero of 2000. Against expectations, Morgan was moving glacier-like into the future and an all-electric alternative (PlusE) appeared in 2012 as proof of the firm adopting a more forward-thinking future.
One of its most seminal designs came from the pen of an intuitive young graduate of Coventry University, Matthew Humphries. He created the stunning outline of the Aeromax model in 2005, which entered an initially limited production run of 100 cars. Each uniquely hand-built model sold immediately. More recently, displaying a superb blend of alloy substructure and ash-frame upper structure, known as ‘Cx’, an all-new Plus6 model also celebrates a next stage in Morgan’s subtle modernisation programme.
Powered by BMW’s bi-turbo, six-cylinder, 335bhp petrol engine, the Plus6 blitzes the 0-60mph benchmark in 3.9s, promising a top speed of 166mph and, thanks to a low kerbweight of just 1,075kgs, it emits a mere 170g/km CO2 from its exhaust pipes, while returning an astonishing posted 38.2mpg, which makes it Morgan’s most frugal production model, apart from its EV developments. As mentioned earlier, the company returned to producing a Three-Wheeler model in 2012, powered by an S&S vee-twin engine displacing 2.0-litres and developing an unstressed 115bhp. An EV alternative has also been produced on its chassis.
As with many of the more recent developments in the company’s 110 years of history, it has been clever enough to involve outside partners to share costs; a move that has enabled it to survive, without denting its cashflow severely. It is this open-handed view that has aided its most recent transition, to sell off a sizeable chunk of its shares to Luxembourg-based InvestIndustrial, a well-funded investment business that also owns a large stake in Aston Martin.
While Steve Morris remains as CEO of Morgan, it is only Jill Price, Peter Morgan’s daughter, who retains a visible but minority family stake in the carmaker. Morgan currently turns over £33.8m and posted a £3.2m net profit in 2018, also stating that the past two years had been its busiest and most successful ever. The takeover has no financial debt and Morgan continues to trade in the black, selling around 700 cars annually. More interestingly, every company employee now has a stake in the business. Even more importantly, the InvestIndustrial funds will lead to even greater advances for Morgan in new products.
True Brit conclusions: It does seem that British traditionalism retains a valued place in the automotive scene. Morgan’s mix includes stoicism and arrogance, aspects that have maintained its world-wide renown, although, at ISQA, we also recognise a determinedly resilient stance on quality management at all levels of its undoubted expertise. Part 2 will look at another British stalwart, Ginetta.
‘Make Quality Count!’