SAIC Motor’S tally of 7.05 million vehicle deliveries in 2018 tells only a part of the auto conglomerate’s success story; while this annual sales volume is substantial, it is spread across several brands and segments, making it difficult to appreciate from sheer numbers alone the improvements the company has made to some of its car models. These gains, of course, may also be indicative of the level of quality the company’s commercial vehicles presently have.
Included in SAIC Motor’s (and its SAIC Passenger Vehicle division) portfolio are SAIC Maxus, SAIC Volkswagen, SAIC-General Motors, Shanghai General Motors Wuling, NAVECO, SAIC-IVECO and Shanghai Sunwin Bus. Plus, also counted in are the formerly British brands Rover (now called Roewe) and MG, or Morris Garages.
It’s the select models from these latter two brands which SAIC Motor on Jan. 8-10 presented through a showroom visit, plant and design center tour, and racetrack sessions in Shanghai, China — where SAIC Motor is headquartered. The objective was to demonstrate their competencies, an especially important exercise because MG has boosted its presence in the Philippines, starting with a “brand re-launch” in October 2018.
As stable-mates, MG and Roewe share numerous technologies. One of the three MG models presently sold in the Philippines, the RX5 crossover, is also available in China (and other markets) as the Roewe RX5. The two other MG models available in the Philippines are the MG6 sedan and the ZS crossover SUV.
Three models each from MG and Roewe were lined up for testing at Shanghai Tianma Circuit, a tight, technical course that in 2011 hosted the China round of the World Touring Car Championship. Available for demonstration drives were the eMG 6 (the electric hybrid version of the MG 6 sedan sold in the Philippines), MG ZS (also sold locally) and the MG HS, the brand’s flagship SUV model. The Roewe trio was composed of the I5 sedan, EI5 full-electric wagon and the Marvel X, a full-electric SUV capable of reaching 100kph from a standstill in less than five seconds. Well, this performance figure was quoted by SAIC officials present during the testing. A stint behind the wheel of the car left the impression there isn’t any reason to doubt this claim.
Besides the sports car-level acceleration of the Marvel X, what trait that immediately stood out with any of the vehicles was their degree of refinement. Even when taking into consideration the price segments in which each belong, the cars displayed levels of noise, vibration and harshness — or NVH, the accepted benchmarks for refinement — comparable to Korean, or even some Japanese, models. Their cabins were effective at shutting out most noise coming from outside. Their engines revved smoothly, emitting sound no louder or quieter, and pulsating no more or less pronouncedly, than is usual for new cars sold on a global scale. Though the racetrack is evenly surfaced, as can be expected, a few runs over some of its curbs suggested the cars’ suspensions were capable of quelling shocks, their structures stiff enough to absorb these. In these MGs and Roewes, very little NVH makes it to their seats, steering wheels and other touch points.
Certainly, the quality of their furniture is a major factor, too. In all six cars, it was only the level of equipment that differed (a pricier model is correspondingly better appointed) between them. But in all, too, the cabins were lined with well-crafted panels and trim (soft-touch surfaces, metal-like decor, leather), audio and climate systems that were legible and easy to figure out how to operate, and gauges and switchgear that were legible and which engaged with reassuring heft. The quality is definitely on a par with global standards. Even the graphics on the instruments and audio were rendered in a style that would not be out of place in any car built by a major manufacturer.
Well, as can be gleaned from the above mentioned affiliations, SAIC Motor is a partner to some of the world’s largest auto manufacturers.
Electric-powered and connected mobility are also areas where SAIC Motor has advanced. In 2017 it launched the Roewe ERX5, essentially the EV version of the Roewe and MG RX5. The full-electric ERX5 can travel up to 425 kilometers when fully charged (the battery can be charged up to 80% capacity in 40 minutes, which is enough for a range of almost 300 kilometers, a SAIC Motor official said on Jan. 10 at the company’s Lingang manufacturing facility in Shanghai). It has an 85kW electric engine and an electronic differential. Its battery carries a factory warranty of eight years or 200,000 kilometers.
Besides long-range electric propulsion, the other significant feature of the ERX5 — which SAIC Motor presented at the SAIC Intelligent Plaza in downtown Shanghai and at Lingang — is its Internet connectivity. The model is fitted with apps like Alipay (an online payment system in China), voice control, smart navigation and remote parking control, a feature that allows driverless parallel parking through a mobile phone app.
At SAIC Intelligent Plaza, presented by the car maker along with smart charging system, humanoid robotic technology and concept cars was the electric-propulsion platform of the ERX5. Mounted on a wall, the platform displays the two electric motors powering the front wheels, the lone one for the rear axle, the control module and the battery pack located beneath the vehicle’s floor. The display is useful in getting a better understanding of the EV infrastructure; pop open the ERX5’s hood and a black plastic panel covers the entire “engine” bay.
A tour of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Co.’s crash-test center, wind tunnel and climate lab, and anechoic chamber for NVH tuning, bared the company is doing its own research and development, rather than relying on partner companies or even third-party suppliers. A spin around assembly lines showing both manpower and robotic involvement declared SAIC Motor is in lock-step with global manufacturing processes. A visit to the design center, where scale models of MG and Roewe concept vehicles were displayed, and at which point the company wheeled out officials like design senior manager Ying Lu and chief digital designer Luis Sanchez Hernandez, drove home the point SAIC Motor takes every aspect of car-making seriously.
But a more perceptible proof of just how far SAIC Motor has advanced in its development is in the styling and finish of the vehicles they build (specifically with MG and Roewe, as these were the models showcased). While the styling is not as evolved as that seen on vehicles from other global car makers, MG’s and Roewe’s aesthetics have progressed from the derivative, if not downright copied, designs which used to define the majority of China-brand cars from as recent as a decade back. Plus, the above mentioned high level of finishing on the cars’ interiors is apparent as well on their exteriors — panel gaps are tight and uniform, sheet metal (or plastic) surfaces are even, paintjobs are as flawless as on any new car built for a world audience has.
All this puts MG (and to an extent, Roewe), under SAIC Motor, in a better position than at any time during its nearly 100-year history. — Brian M. Afuang