It’s the smell that tells you that the Morgan car plant in Malvern is very different from any other. It’s a heady mix of leather and wood, two of the vital components of everyday operation. Then you’re hit by the quaintness of it all: craftsmen in well-worn overalls using traditional tools to piece the vehicles together carefully, bit-by-bit.
But appearances can be deceptive. Morgan might be famed for the classic styling of its cars and employ a coach-built approach to manufacture, but it’s all underpinned by the latest technology that enables the firm to remain competitive.
Most recently, Morgan has invested heavily in visualisation software to help it go from sketches to first production of new vehicle models in just a matter of a few months. And other innovations, such as the use of magnesium alloys and alternative powertrain technologies, are also in the pipeline.
Managing director Charles Morgan says the success of the company in recent years can be attributed both to its agility and its ability to embrace technology. “Although we are steeped in history, we pride ourselves on the fact that we are quite innovative,” he says. “That’s particularly the case with the materials we use: we started with super-forming, which was an aircraft technology that we brought into the industry to make an aluminium car, and we have moved forward with a bonded chassis. To back that up we need the latest software to keep designing cars relatively rapidly. We have set ourselves a task of bringing out new models even perhaps a bit quicker than most of the major manufacturers.
“We have a very small team here but that’s good in a way, it means we are very focused. Our designers and engineers are always thinking about the whole car, rather than just, say, the door hinge.
“Generally speaking I’d like to think we are respected throughout the industry as producing fantastic cars, especially considering our size.”
Morgan, which was founded more than 100 years ago, is going through a golden period at the moment, with near-record production levels of 1,200 cars a year. Its range of traditional roadsters, Plus 8 sports cars and four-seaters is now complemented by more modern interpretations of its design philosophy as characterised by the Aero Supersport and Coupe. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the popularity of the new 3 Wheeler, which is a reworked version of a Morgan classic, fitted with a V-twin fuel-injected engine and Mazda five-speed gearbox that delivers acceleration times of 0-60 in under 6 seconds.
The 3 Wheeler, which is priced at around £25,000, has sold extremely well since it was launched in 2011, and as a result the Malvern facility is bursting at the seams. “We didn’t expect the 3 Wheeler to be such a huge success,” admits Charles Morgan. “We were thinking that we would sell 200-250 a year, but in reality we are now looking at producing quadruple that number.”
The immediate challenge, then, is to meet this soaring demand while retaining control over quality and ensuring that lead times don’t become too stretched – they now stand at 3-6 months, but in the past have reached several years. The solution might be to make greater use of the local supply chain, which could produce larger subassemblies.
“One of the challenges going forward, particularly if we have a big success with a smaller, more practical type of Morgan, will be manufacturing,” admits Charles Morgan. “We have been looking at using the West Midlands as a source of manufacturing to ensure we can make the volumes required. People want to see a car come out of Morgan, and they want our assemblers here to have a hand in it, but in truth we might have to use a lot more subassembly.