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Source: Autocar

How Morgan will tackle next era under new boss

March 16th, 2023

Morgan Plus Four Plus Six front tracking Morgan made a pre-tax profit of just 3 million in 2019 and a 700k loss in 2020 Massimo Fumarola details plans to safeguard the Malvern plant and how the marque will approach EVs

If Massimo Fumarola's parents had had a different next-door neighbour in Milan four decades ago, he probably would never have moved to Worcestershire in 2022 to become the fourth-ever CEO of the Morgan Motor Company.

That neighbour was none other than the chairman of Italy's Morgan Motor Club, who Fumarola recalls as "a typical Morgan fan, always talking about how much he loved his cars".

When Fumarola left home, it was to train as an engineer and then join various large automotive companies. He took jobs at Ferrari, Lamborghini and the Volkswagen Group, among others, in an eventful early career that centred in recent years on international marketing.

When Morgan's new owner, the Italian venture capital company Investindustrial, offered Fumarola the chance to run one of the world's oldest (albeit smallest) car makers, he grabbed it with both hands.

"It was a dream," he says when we meet and talk at Morgan's London dealership. "How many chances do you get to work in the motor industry for 30 years and then to go back to what you enjoyed as a boy?"

From the start, he discovered there was much to do at Malvern. It was clear from indifferent earnings (a pre-tax profit of just 3 million in pre-Covid 2019 and a 700,000 loss in 2020) that the new investors would seek better returns.

Within a week of his arrival, Morgan was forced to announce a recall of three years of production for suspected brake problems. "Nothing bad happened," says Fumarola, "but a component supplier let us down. It was the safest thing to do."

After that, the planning began in earnest. Fumarola decided that the priorities were to sell more cars outside of the UK; to reorganise the dealers for a more streamlined style of business; and to decide how to cope with electrification.

The underlying task was to protect what Morgan already had ("the power of our brand is amazing") while acknowledging that the world was changing.

In Fumarola's first 10 months, Morgan has launched the Super 3 and updated the Plus Four and Plus Six to improve quality and reduce emissions.

The next big move will be to reinstate exports to the US (an announcement is due within weeks), because Morgan sees big potential. In the 1950s and 1960s, it actually sold more cars to Americans than to Brits, and it has kept 17 dealers active there.

While insisting that Morgan won't "chase volume", Fumarola expects to sell 100 Super 3s in the US this year, plus 350 in the rest of the world.

Further out, there's a plan to launch the Plus roadsters in the US, probably taking advantage of a much-discussed new Replica Bill that allows companies to sell up to 325 'specialist' cars per year.

Although previous estimates of future Morgan annual volumes have reached 1500, Fumarola says he will be happy with a dependable 1000 - a mark the company was hitting a decade ago, in the early days of the 3 Wheeler.

"Our priority is to enhance customisation and improve the brand experience," he says,"but we don't want to get into luxury. That segment is already crowded."

On price positioning, Fumarola agrees that after the hikes that accompanied the debuts of the Plus Four and Plus Six, Morgan's pricing is now "about right".

How the range should develop is much discussed at Malvern, but Fumarola insists that with seven years left before the UK bans new ICE cars (and even more relaxed timelines in some parts of Europe), there's plenty of time to decide.

On the Super 3, Fumarola sees little need for imminent change, apart from additions to comforts, new options and some weight loss as opportunities appear.

The Plus roadsters have both been recently revised, although debate surrounds how they will develop over time. It's probable that the Four, which outsells the Six two to one, will remain the staple four-wheeler, with the Six moving away and more upmarket in stages.

Another engaging question is how Morgan should progress design boss Jonathan Wells' next-generation coup concept, shown in outline in 2018 and cryptically labelled The Shape by insiders. Fumarola says it could become a fourth Morgan model line ("it would take us into territory where I'm more than happy to take the brand") or eventually replace the Plus Six after that model has run through more iterations and "become more of a flagship".

No decision is imminent, because Fumarola believes it simply isn't necessary. "We have the longest product life cycles in the industry, and one of our big advantages is that our supporters see this as a good thing," he says.

Whenever electrification arrives, Fumarola is adamant that Morgan EVs (there won't be hybrids) will continue to be built in the famous factory on Pickersleigh Road.

"It isn't written anywhere that an electric Morgan can't continue to be a beautiful, hand-crafted machine built in its traditional home," he says. "Morgan is Malvern."

In any case, it may not be the powertrain that's the difficulty. It's other things: ADAS, all their associated cameras and sensors and airbags on windscreen pillars, for instance, and crash testing.

In fact, Fumarola believes the fact that Morgan never made its own engine makes it an ideal candidate for electrification.

"We've never depended on special engine characteristics to distinguish our cars the way others have," he says, "so we see electrification as an opportunity. I believe we can absolutely protect what Morgan stands for in the EV era and offer more. It will be the same experience plus."

How will Morgan go electric?

Morgan will choose one model to electrify before the rest but has yet to decide which, as there's currently no customer demand.

The obvious ones are the Super 3 (which has already been partially engineered to carry a battery) or the late-2020s flagship - either an enhanced Plus Six or a new coup.

"The Super 3 is a simple car," Fumarola says, "so the idea of an EV version of that is appealing. After all, we launched an [EV] 3 Wheeler in 2016, so we know how to do it. But with no roof, no doors and no windscreen, it wouldn't be very good in urban situations, where EVs are meant to be most relevant."

If Fumarola instead chooses to bring the 2018 coup concept to production as an EV flagship, it would be relatively pricey and thereby more economic for the company and an attractive car for early adopters.

"At present," he says, "there's no decision, because a decision isn't needed. It may be that what we decide is affected by how things go in the US. If we have a strong demand in California, that may affect what we decide."