MG Motor India's second product in the Indian market, and its first electric vehicle, the MG ZS EV, is all set to roll out in January 2020. Does it have the wherewithal to create new benchmarks in the Indian automotive industry? We find out
For Mr Rajeev Chaba, President and Managing Director, MG Motor India, the introduction of an electric vehicle (EV) in the country is all about taking a major leap of faith. The EV ecosystem in the country is still a work in progress – there is no support system to take note of or adequate infrastructure that would ensure proliferation of EVs in the country. Yet, Chaba believes the government’s intention and direction are very clear. Some of the enabling blocks are not in place, but they’ll evolve together.
It was over a year back – in October 2018, in fact – that MG Motor India had taken a large group of journalists from India to Shanghai, China to give a wide view of its parent – SAIC Motor Corporation’s – capabilities. It was there that Chaba had announced the company’s plans to launch an EV for India in early 2020.
“Either we wait for things to happen, or we work with all the stakeholders together to resolve some issues and roadblocks. So, we decided to try to take a leadership position in that space because there’s an opportunity there. You’ve seen some of our development facilities as well as the leadership position we have in EVs. We wish to leverage that advantage. We’re talking of a real EV, not an apology of an EV,” he had told me in an interview in Shanghai.
Acting on that commitment, MG Motor India is now all set to roll out its first EV in the Indian market – the ZS EV – bookings for which have already started on December 21, 2019.
The company has made good progress with its first SUV in India – the Hector – and believes it has the wherewithal to create a market for affordable electric vehicles in the country. We don’t yet know the company’s pricing strategy for the ZS, but being locally assembled at its Halol plant in Gujarat should give the company an advantage compared to its only competitor in the market currently, the Hyundai Kona, which is priced at Rs 23.71 lakh.
The EV scene in India is warming up, with two other manufacturers – Tata Motors and Mahindra – looking at introducing at least three new EVs in the market in 2020. In early 2019, Nissan Motor India had confirmed its plans to launch its highly popular Leaf EV, but that for now seems to have been put in the backburner.
In such a scenario, it is pertinent to look at the ZS EV vis-à-vis the Hyundai Kona, the only other EV of note in the market today. Albeit priced at a premium, Hyundai reportedly has been able to sell its entire quota of 300 units earmarked for the Indian market this year. MG shouldn’t have a problem with volumes as the ZS EV is being assembled at its plant in Halol, Gujarat.
A comparison of the key aspects of the MG ZS EV as against the Hyundai Kona reveals some interesting facts. The India-spec ZS EV features a 44.5 kWh ternary lithium-ion battery pack, while the Kona has a smaller 39.2 kWh battery. Despite being smaller, the Kona delivers a longer range of 452 km as compared to the ARAI-certified 340 km range of the ZS. Real world range on both the cars would of course be different, but even if you consider one quarter of those claimed figures less on both products, they offer impressive range for customers to consider. From a size perspective, the ZS stands 134 mm longer, 9 mm wider and 50 mm taller than the Kona. The ZS, however, is lighter by about 33 kg compared to the Hyundai Kona.
MG Motor made first impressions with the Hector SUV – a bold, feature-rich SUV that has been received well by the masses. The ZS too has distinctive SUV looks, and the only way one can distinguish it from a regular SUV is the ‘Electric’ badge on the side of the vehicle, and of course, the trademark hum of the electric motor. The highlight in the front is the grille, underneath which lies the charging point that supports the CCS-2 charging standard. In fat, the MG logo glows while charging, and stops when the vehicle is completely charged. The headlight design is inspired by the ‘London Eye’ and together with the daytime running lights, give the ZS a good frontal look. The rear tail lights are inspired by the seven brightest stars of the USRA Major.
Inside the cabin, the quality of materials used is decent, and the layout of the dashboard and controls is practical. The gear shifter is an electronic knob shift type, and interestingly, engaging the ZS in the ‘P’ (parking) mode also engages the electronic parking brake automatically. This is a sensible feature to add to the ZS. There is decent amount of storage available on the ZS, but some of the features are very oddly placed under the gear shifter, including the 12 V socket and the two USB slots. There is another USB slot to charge devices at the rear.
Overall, the interior of the ZS is uncluttered and subtle – something that is sure to please consumers of all age groups. The all black finish offers the SUV a premium feel. The seats are well-bolstered with good support for your back and shoulders, and there is generous amount of space both in the front and rear.
The ZS will be available in two trims – Excite and Exclusive – and it is the top-end Exclusive that we had for the drive. The company is calling it India’s first pure electric Internet SUV, and it is indeed loaded with a lot of features. Like the Hector, the ZS is a connected SUV with all possible connectivity links – more than 50, claims the company. Additionally, the ZS supports hotspot connectivity (through smartphones) for areas that the embedded eSIM don’t have connectivity access. There is a PM 2.5 filter available to ensure clean air inside the vehicle, and a full panoramic sunroof just like the Hector.
Interestingly, just days before the media drives, the ZS EV secured a 5-star Euro NCAP rating – the maximum possible rating from the car safety agency – for frontal, frontal off-set and side collision. The MG ZS EV body has been rated as stable. The ZS EV that will be available in India will be based on the same spec as the MG GS model sold in global markets. There are six airbags on offer in the ZS, along with electronic stability control & ABS, hill descent control & hill start assist, ISOFIX child seat anchors, tyre pressure monitoring system, seatbelt pre-tensioners and rear seat belt reminders, among others.
Here, it’s important to mention the various standards the ZS EV meets, including the European E-Mark – a safety certification mark; the European REACH – a EU regulation adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals; the UL2580 battery safety certification and the IP67 for dust and water resistance up to a depth of 1 m for 30 min, apart from the European E-NCAP regulation.
The MG ZS EV takes about six to eight hours to charge via a normal AC charger, which the company promises to install at a place of the owner’s convenience – at home or office. The SUV comes equipped with a portable charger that can be used to charge from a regular 15 A socket, which of course will take a long time to charge. Then there is the option of the 50 kW DC fast chargers that can charge 80 % of the vehicle in less than an hour. The company has installed these DC fast chargers in its dealerships in the metro cities, where the ZS EV will be sold. In addition, the company is looking at bolstering the charging network in key routes such as Delhi-Chandigarh and Delhi-Jaipur.
The MG ZS EV uses an ultra-high density 44.5 kWh ternary lithium battery and a three-phase permanent synchronous electric magnet motor that produces approximately 140.7 hp at 3,500 rpm and has a peak torque output of 353 Nm at 5,000 rpm. This is assisted by a single-speed reduction gear.
All together, the power and torque combine to offer instant acceleration on the ZS EV. Although there are three modes on offer – normal, eco and sport – we could feel adequate power of the vehicle even in the normal mode, while in the sport mode, it certainly delivered that additional punch. Additionally, the MG ZS electric SUV also has three levels of Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) – light (for highway applications), moderate (for city applications) and heavy (for downhill driving).
Before we ventured out, company officials warned up to go light on speed bumps and potholes – understandably so, since the battery pack is placed underneath the vehicle body. But the suspension is quite well balanced to take any undue disruptions on the road.
We drove the MG ZS EV in congested Delhi roads as well as on the Noida expressway, and must say it doesn’t fail you at any point. We didn’t have much option to try out its cornering capabilities, but from the general feel of the vehicle, it felt quite stable and solid. The brakes are good and have decent bite. It’s a great everyday car for city dwellers with adequate range, power, features and drive feel, and should you wish to drive out of the city, the company ensures you’ll not be left stranded on the highway.
We don’t yet know what the NG ZS EV will be priced at, but can safely assume it will be priced closer to its only competitor in the market, the Hyundai Kona. Come January 2020, and we’ll know what strategy MG Motor India adopts for its first electric vehicle in the Indian market.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay