Chinese-owned British firm MG Motor aims to emulate Kia’s quick rise in Europe by also focusing on design. Speaking to Automotive News Europe, MG vice director of design Martin Ulharik said: “In terms of product and competitiveness I’d say we’re not very far away (from Kia) already. In five years we’ll be well on our way,” adding that MG has the same design culture as Kia.

He attributes the Korean carmaker’s success on the Continent to its design and R&D centres in Germany, the opening of various eastern European plants and the appointment of styling chief Peter Schreyer in 2004.

However, IHS Automotive Senior Analyst Ian Fletcher told the publication that he believes it will be difficult for MG to match Kia’s success unless owner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC) is willing to invest in all parts of the business.

“Kia (and Hyundai) have invested a great deal in marketing, sales networks and creating this positive brand image, which I can’t see SAIC being prepared for,” said Fletcher. “I really don’t see them being able to get anywhere near where Kia is now by the end of the decade.”

The British brand’s first European ports of entry outside the UK have been chosen to be the Benelux countries and Scandinavia, according to MG sales and marketing head Guy Jones. This is due to their small size, ease of control and low costs of entry. Cars will be sold via importers who Jones says have had success in the past by adding upstart Asian brands.

Currently MG has sold less than 1,000 cars in the UK, but an in-house developed 1.85 litre diesel has been added to the MG 6‘s engine line-up, which should help sales. Known future models include the MG 3 subcompact due next year, MG 5 compact for 2014 and a Nissan Qashqai-rivalling compact crossover for 2015 or 2016.

According to SAIC global R&D headquarters MD David Lindley, success in Europe is considered a strong selling point for the brand in China, where MG sells around 90,000 cars a year.

“If you just sell MG as a domestic brand then it’s worth less in the Chinese market than if you also sell a car that’s competitive in Europe,” he said. “What it does mean there’s going to be quite a lot of patience in growing the European business.”