MG Motor is planning a big play in the Indian market and it's been a while since they announced their first SUV will hit the market in the first half of next year. They also have confirmed that their next launch in 2020 will be an electric SUV. Many already know that MG Motor is a British brand but is presently owned by Chinese Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC). The vehicles that India will get will also be Chinese and not British despite being branded as MG. Now the reputation of Chinese products in India isn't particularly great so what about the cars that MG will launch in India soon? SAIC knows the challenge it faces in India and hence took a group of journalists to Shanghai to showcase their technical capability. Having spent a few days in SAIC facilities and behind the wheel of their vehicles, I can safely say that the Chinese have a big onslaught planned for India and we should be happy about it.
First SUV in India will not be Hyundai Creta rival!
Let's start with the SUV first and MG Motor has stated that it will be larger than the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson. This means the company will follow a top-down product strategy by entering the premium, low-volume space first and focus on establishing the brand and down the vehicle segments. The vehicle that I believe could underpin the upcoming Indian SUV is the MG HS, which I got a chance to drive as well. The HS, to start with is a handsome looking SUV with design elements that make it stand out among others. Fit and finish quality on the vehicle was top notch and same was the story inside the cabin. If you have any perception of Chinese vehicles being inferior in terms of quality then the HS can give you a shocker. The cabin is nicely laid out with premium build quality and the materials too of top order by segment standards. The MG HS felt refined to drive and impressed with its overall drivability and performance. While the experience with the vehicle was short, it was an eye-opener into the long way that Chinese cars have come in terms of technology and quality.
The other big announcement from MG Motor India was regarding its second launch, a pure electric SUV in Q2 2020. Now while there seems to be a lot of noise around electric vehicles in India, there's hardly any actual development happening. At such a stage, it is a brave move for a new company in India to go electric with its second launch. So what makes them so confident? Well, the challenge in launching an electric vehicle is usually the vehicle technology or the charging infrastructure. With the electric SUV set to be slotted in the premium space, infrastructure won't be much of an issue as buyers can buy charging options for a small amount. Hence, it's the vehicle technology that is driving MG Motor's confidence in EVs.
The electric SUV that in most likelihood could be launched in India is the Marvel X, which is sold under the Roewe brand in China. Yes, the name Marvel X sounds similar to the Model X by Tesla and that is actually the competition. The Marvel X has 52.5 kWh battery pack, which can power the SUV for a claimed 500 km, bringing it at par with Tesla and other electric SUVs from the Volkswagen Group. The vehicle also has fast charging so you can charge it up to 80 % in just 40 minutes. If 80% in a worst-case scenario even means about 300 km we're looking at a very practical SUV for pretty much all sorts of purposes. The Marvel X continued to marvel us with its fantastic cabin. The car gets a big 19.4-inch touchscreen in the centre console and a few buttons, which is quite similar to the Tesla Model X.
Even in terms of driving the Marvel X left us impressed. In the brief drive, it was clear that the SUV despite a heavy battery pack was quite agile and was quick off its feet too with the instant electric torque. The Marvel X also comes with autonomous driving technology, which might not be immediately relevant for India but does prove the company's technical capabilities.
But are Chinese cars safe?
Yes, I know this is a big question concerning Chinese cars as cheap and quality do not go hand-in-hand within the minds of the average Indian buyer. To start with, you can put all your safety concerns to rest as the cars we drove at the Guangde proving grounds come with a five-star crash rating in the China New Car Assessment Program (CNCAP). Quite honestly the CNCAP isn't at par with the European programme but it isn't too far off as well. The company has also assured us that the vehicles coming to India will also feature a five-star CNCAP rating and it'll be interesting to see how they fare in the Global NCAP crash tests.
One of the reasons SAIC has been able to develop technology at par with global competition is its R&D facility and the proving grounds in Guangde. The latter is the largest of its kind in Asia and is spread across an area of 5.67 km with a total length of more than 60 km of test roads. The track has played a crucial role in helping the engineers bring SAIC vehicles closer to global carmakers and all the vehicles I drove in China didn't give me any reasons to complain.
So should you buy these Chinese cars?
Of course, and there are many good reasons for it. All the vehicles I drove or saw last week had impressive build quality, long list of features, appropriate powertrains and good design. Does that mean MG Motor will have an easy going in the Indian market? Not at all and the company is well aware of this challenge. The good thing is that the company is taking the premium route first, which will give them ample time to establish the brand and set things up for long innings. MG Motor India will focus on the domestic market and not make India an export hub so getting its product strategy becomes even more crucial.
Watch our video review of 2018 Honda CR-V Diesel
There will also be a perception challenge the company will face in terms of the cars being called Chinese. The good news here is that MG Motor won't be the first one trying to break this perception. Companies such as Xiaomi, Vivo, OnePlus and Haier have already proven to the Indian consumers that Chinese products can offer features and quality at the same time. They might not be a Samsung Note, an iPhone or a Sony but they sell well because they work well. The cars I experienced in China last week also offer the same traits. So while cracking the Indian market will still be tough for MG Motor India they are going to sell good vehicles to you and that is the first thing expected from any carmaker, especially when entering a new market.