The Astor is set to become the next product in MG’s India portfolio when it goes on sale next month. The mid-size SUV will see stiff competition from the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, Skoda Kushaq and the Volkswagen Taigun. Commenting on the automaker’s strategy to crack the difficult space, Rajeev Chaba, president and managing director, MG Motor India, told Autocar India in a recent interaction, “This segment is actually the real test of MG in India because it is competitive, so we need to differentiate ourselves. So we thought that on the safety side, autonomous Level 2 features can be a good differentiator.”
- ADAS to raise the bar on safety
- Voice commands to additionally get AI functionality
- Astor to debut with 50 percent localisation
An in-car assistant with AI (artificial intelligence) is another function the company thinks will help attract buyers. “The other part, which could be more important to millennials and Gen Z, is the voice-based AI personal assistant,” he said.
ADAS, AI to be novel offerings
The Astor will come with Level 2 ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) functions which include a suite of active safety features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Headlamp Control, Rear Drive Assist and Speed Assist System.
No direct rival of the Astor from the Korean and European automakers in India currently boasts of such safety kit, which seems to be borrowed from a segment or two above. The full-size, three-row MG Gloster, for instance, packs some of these systems. The recently announced XUV700 features ADAS as well, however, the Mahindra does sit half a segment above the Astor and is a more direct competitor to the Hector.
In-car technology is another aspect that has caught the fancy of the Indian buyer, with almost all companies launching their own versions of voice commands and connected car features. MG India is trying to take a step further by adding AI capabilities to the vehicle’s personal assistant which will make it more adept at answering the owners’ queries. However, it remains to be seen if customers find actual use in the AI functions, or simply see them as a neat party trick.
Though offering the latest tech has never been more important, it still remains crucial to deliver on driving dynamics and performance – something that MG will have to nail, especially with strong contenders in the category. On paper, then, the Astor seems to be up to the competition, with its 120hp, 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol mill and a 163hp, 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine – specifications which are par for the course for this segment.
Bringing in ADAS despite chaotic Indian traffic conditions
Mass market players generally cite less than ideal road and traffic conditions, along with cost constraints, as the rationale for not bringing in ADAS. Lack of discipline among road users and the absence of road markings, for instance, can undermine the effectiveness of these systems.
MG, however, has a different perspective. “Okay, they don’t work in all kinds of chaotic traffic conditions, so should we wait for traffic to be properly normalised and civilised before we launch? I don’t think so. There are some very good roads in India, there are good traffic conditions in various places, and at least in those areas, people can use ADAS. Wherever there is absolute chaos, people can disable these features so that they don’t annoy them,” justified Chaba.
He continued, “We don’t want to wait for the perfect solution at the perfect timing. I think there is nothing called perfect time and there is nothing called a perfect solution. You need to deal with these anomalies and find the best solution in those conditions.”
Until recently, advanced safety systems were the reserve of luxury automakers in India, but players like MG and Mahindra could set the ball rolling even in the mass segments. “I think we are going to democratise the technology at an affordable price, and people will want to avail these facilities,” added Chaba. This will certainly help raise the standards of safety expected out of mainstream cars in our market.
Advanced safety tech, then, seems to be the next battleground for automakers in India and MG India wants to have the upper hand in this fight.
MG aiming to sell 3,000 units of Astor per month
The Astor is expected to significantly add to MG’s volumes in India. “Right now, we are doing around 4,000 cars a month.” Chaba continued, “Our plan and challenge is that we go up to 7,000 cars a month at Halol”, with Astor accounting for the additional volume. He added, “So our mid-term target is to make sure our plant is fully sustainable and profitable.” The company is then aiming to max out the factory by increasing capacity to 1,00,000 annual units by next year.
Chaba further revealed that the Astor will be launched with a 50 percent localisation level. “We start at 50 percent, and then we move further up,” he said. He added, “We are putting a lot of emphasis on localisation and we will localise in many phases. We should go up to 70-75 percent localisation in two years’ time.”
It will be interesting to see how MG prices the Astor, especially with competition that boasts of over 90 percent localisation right from the get go.