Morgan flies the

flag

Morgan 3 Wheeler, designer Matthew Humphries at wheel
Morgan 3 Wheeler, action
Morgan 3 Wheeler, factory
Charles Morgan, 2012
Morgan 3 Wheeler, production
Charles Morgan

Bespoke British sports car makers have had a torrid time in recent years. But while some like TVR and Bristol have gone to the wall Malvern-based Morgan continues to fly the flag and prosper. Managing director Charles Morgan reflects on its success and tells Enda Mullen how its future is as important as its 100-year heritage

Charles Morgan exudes the air of a man who really doesn't find it hard to get up and go to work each day.

Mind you, who wouldn't if they were running a thriving family-owned car company founded by their grandfather.

Mr Morgan said he believes its success is down to offering 'the fun factor' as much as anything else.

The company has certainly grown, at a steady rather than revolutionary rate.

This year its 180-strong workforce will produce almost 1,500 cars from its workshops at Malvern in Worcestershire and Mr Morgan pointed ten years ago the figure would have been more like 600.

In 2010 the company's turnover was almost £29 million and it posted profits after tax of almost £1.3 million.

Interest in the company and its output has been boosted by the arrival of the 3 Wheeler which costs £30,000. This year the company will turn out between 600 and 700 of them, around 200 of its high performance Aeros and Aero Coupes, which have a starting price of £99,000, and 500 models of its 'classic' range which costs from £30-70,000 and includes models like the Plus 8, Roadster and 4 Seater.

Mr Morgan divides them up as "the three pillars of Morgan" and revealed the company is at something of a crossroads as it looks forward.

"Morgan is going through a big re-think of its strategy and very much looking to the future than back into our history," he said. "The 3 Wheeler has made people realise that cars can be fun again. It has bypassed all that 'motor cars are the worst thing in the world business' - the worst thing man ever invented and killing us with its fumes or killing us on the roads because it's dangerous.

"What the 3 Wheeler says is you don't have to do 200mph and can still feel like a real pro. You can do 0-60mph in the time a Lamborghini does but also do 50 miles to the gallon and really enjoy yourself on a country road without feeling you are creating the worst carbon footprint known to man. Young people caught on to it like kite surfing and it's probably more akin to kite surfing than driving a Renault Clio.

"I always knew it would have a huge response from the Morgan community because of the legendary design. What I didn't expect was that young people would want it so much. That is really pleasing and a huge boost. I do want to keep driving fun so you don't have to go to a track day to have fun behind the wheel."

The 3 Wheeler's appeal to a more youthful audience was part of a drive to reach out to young people, something backed up by a more proactive approach to social networking and a return to motor racing.

Though the overt retro styling of the classic models has changed little, the Aero is very much a fusion of the old and the new. Interestingly though the 3 Wheeler is loosely based on a classic Morgan three-wheeler of old it would seem to have caught the spirit of contemporary open top wind in your hair motoring to a tee.

"To back all this up what the company needs to do is have a modern image," said Mr Morgan. "Though that is not to get rid of the fact Morgan is 100 years. We are incredibly proud of our tradition which gives us respect and knowledge.

"But the average age of the team that developed the 3 Wheeler is around 26, its designer Matthew Humphries is 27 and we are a very young company.

"Also I am probably too obsessed but I am really interested in getting more hits on Facebook than Aston Martin."

Mr Morgan is clearly enthused by a return to motorsport in partnership with Oak Racing.

Their recent outing at Sebring in the US saw an impressive result during the opening FIA World Endurance Championship, where the Morgan 2012 LMP2 qualified on pole position, set the fastest race lap and finished second in class.

And the team began its European Le Mans Series campaign with a top-six finish at the Six Hours of Le Castellet in France where the car finished sixth overall.

"That is a way of getting to a young audience and showing that a Morgan is seriously competitive," said Mr Morgan. "The 3 Wheeler has given us a completely different demographic. We analysed it recently and found the followers of Morgan Motor Company have completely changed. Sixty per cent are under 34 which is good for the future but that wouldn't have been the case when we launched the 3 Wheeler."

The intensely competitive world of endurance racing tends to be dominated by automotive giants like Audi but Mr Morgan is not afraid at taking on the 'big boys'.

"Obviously we are the underdog but we get great support," he said. "There's great enthusiasm which overcomes the lack of personnel or processes - we only have one car to their three - but the fact is we can still be successful, albeit with a bit of luck on our side. And yes I like being the underdog.

"That is the whole ethos of Morgan, that feeling of the unexpected without all the arrogance and dominance. That is so much more fun than going to a place and expecting to win."

The motorsport spirit of collaboration is also significant in Morgan's manufacturing business. For more than 15 years BMW has supplied it with engines and the firm also has partnerships with US company S&S for engines as well as with Siemens and Continental.

Looking to the future it is one such partnership that has seen Morgan work on an electric vehicle with Zytek, which is part-owned by Continental.

"They, like us, think you can make an electric car that is fun to drive," said Mr Morgan. " It has a five-speed gearbox which does that and gives us a slightly better range.

"Governments are massively keen on electric cars because of the promise in reducing carbon footprints but customers are less convinced, partly because the infrastructure isn't there. You worry about having to tow it home because you don't know where the next charging point is but having said that things might change.

"When cities become zero emission of course there will be a reason to have an electric car and if and when they do what more stylish way to drive into central London than in a classic Morgan."

Mr Morgan said they were assessing whether there was customer demand but he still felt there was some way to go before it might become a reality, adding that old technologies still had life in them.

"The internal combustion engine is making a fight back," he said. "They are so efficient and light years away from what they were even ten years ago.. Or you can do what we did with the 3 Wheeler and shave half the weight off."

Other possibilities in the pipeline for Morgan include assembling overseas to cash in on emerging markets - Mr Morgan said looking at assembly in China or Brazil would make sense "if the market is there".

He has welcomed improved R&D tax credits as something which has made a huge difference to them, particularly when it comes to cashflow.

"Every car has a customer's name on it," he said. "It doesn't mean we have a huge cashflow problem when we introduce a new model but you have massive upfront costs. The Government has recognised this and is improving the R&D tax credits scheme, which for manufacturers is absolutely vital and gives owners and shareholders justification for their upfront costs. R&D tax credits allow you to claw some of that back in less tax and focus on sales and the product. That has been the greatest single thing to revive manufacturing in the UK."

Interestingly Mr Morgan said he aspires to the success of another successful British company, though in a very different sphere.

"I would like Morgan to be on the same path as Burberry, though perhaps we have got something more glamorous than a raincoat," he added.

"We are starting on a journey. I don't want to be over-confident and don't think I'm saying we are going to be the next Burberry but they recognised China was going to happen in 1990 and now there are 150 stores there like the one in Piccadilly. They were clever and of course now they are probably the pass masters in social media - their Albert Hall fashion show had 500 million hits. Cars will never be like that though and I can't pretend there will be quite the same profit as creating a famous fashion success.

"Someone said to me 'Charles, you can never repeat the past but you can always be inspired by it' and that is the whole point and exactly what we have done with the 3 Wheeler."

Going forward Mr Morgan concluded: "I think it is a case of being quite cautious and sticking to what you do and bringing people around to seeing there is a value in it."

"Don't get me wrong, our history counts for a lot. Any company starting out has a huge problem, how do they create that fanbase? With a company like Morgan you have already got it but as well as that you have to reinvent it every so often.

"Perhaps you have to have both - the history and the ability to innovate. A lot of companies don't have that - they either have one or the other."

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