Exclusive: China's SAIC wants to be at the forefront of India's electric mobility

SAIC, which has earmarked $3 billion for investment in new energy vehicles over the next few years, seems to be plotting some moves for India too.

By Sumantra B Barooah calendar 29 Mar 2018 Views icon6633 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Representational image of a Roewe Vision E.

Representational image of a Roewe Vision E.

As India prepares for mass scale electric mobility, China's biggest automobile OEM, SAIC is harbouring plans to be at the "forefront". It is estimated that 40 percent of the Indian car market would go electric by 2030. That translates to a potential market of 3.6 million units. Big enough to make some serious plans by OEMs who believe electric mobility is the future.

SAIC, which has earmarked $3 billion for investment in new energy vehicles over the next few years, seems to be plotting some moves for India too. "I can say with confidence that we definitely will be in the forefront of the EV launch. We are studying as we speak and we are also testing vehicles on Indian road conditions," Rajeev Chaba, president and MD, MG Motor India told Autocar Professional in an exclusive interview.

MG Motor is owned by SAIC. Chaba says the company "may surprise the market" with its new-energy vehicle launches. SAIC plans to enter the Indian conventional passenger vehicle market with an SUV under its MG brand during the April-June quarter of 2019.  

First EV within 5 years
The first electric vehicle from SAIC in India is planned for launch within five years. Hybrids could also be offered here. "Yes for EVs, but for fuel-cell vehicles the commercialisation is slightly away. Hybrids I won't rule out, but again it depends on lot of questions that we need to answer as a country," says Chaba.  The answers or clarity he – and many in the industry are seeking – include regulations, charging infrastructure, policy on EV range, consumer education and incentives. Chaba is okay with the electric vehicle industry evolution taking some time, and hopeful as "the direction is clear".

Since the early part of this decade, China has started devising policies focused on strongly promoting 'new energy vehicles' or vehicles that are partly or fully electric. Many Chinese OEMs, including SAIC, are state-owned. As a result, scale followed by technology capabilities have grown at a fast pace. China emerged as the world's largest electric vehicle market too in 2016.

"China is way ahead of many countries in the EV space, in terms of technology, intent, futuristic outlook and especially SAIC is there in hybrid vehicles, EVs, fuel-cells," says Chaba. SAIC has opened technology centres in Silicon Valley and Israel for development of advanced technologies such as autonomous driving, electrification, shared mobility.

Technical Centre in India?
Would a technical centre by SAIC come up in India too? Little too early, but few years down the line the Chinese auto major may tap the humungous Indian talent pool for its requirements here and perhaps overseas as well, like some other OEMs who also have global technical centres here. "India has already proven its mettle and we are known for "frugal engineering". So I think India definitely would be a very good prospect for global engineering centre, but it is too early. It is not planned yet," says Chaba.

SAIC is not the only Chinese OEM that is eyeing the Indian electric mobility industry. Shenzhen-based BYD has already entered the space though the bus route, with a local partner. It may expand its presence beyond the bus segment. Chinese OEMs are now increasingly looking to grow out of being joint venture partners of foreign companies or players only in their domestics market and expand globally on their own. In that quest, electric mobility as a route and India as a key market could crucial. 

Also read: SAIC Motor Corp: 5 interesting facts

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