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India puts the connected car in a whole new context

Industry players gather at Connected Car Pune to discuss the technologies and trends shaping the evolution of the connected car. By Megan Lampinen

The arrival of the connected car in India will significantly impact the broader automotive industry, and the transformation is already underway. Consumers themselves are evolving quickly as mobile and connected technology infiltrate almost all aspects of daily life. Industry players gather at the Connected Car Pune conference to discuss exactly how this was playing out.

Starting with smartphones

“There are many new, younger consumers coming to the  market. Their first experience with technology has been a mobile phone, not a car. In other markets people grow up with cars, but here they see mobiles first, so they want to carry over that experience to cars as well,” commented Tarun Aggarwal, Vice President, ERDD Electrical, xEV and Electronics Systems, Maruti Suzuki. “It is only a matter of time, maybe a few years, until every car is connected in some form or another. It is starting with infotainment but will perhaps go beyond that to other functionalities as well. ”

Magesh Srinivasan, Global Head – Connected Car & Artificial Intelligence, HCL Technologies, also points to the significant impact on consumers from smartphone technology. “Smartphones have become almost an external organ system for people today. They are now so accustomed to having their life on the smartphone that they expect the same convenience and use cases while driving. In India, we are at the point where the smartphone will soon run our lives,” he said. From government services apps to social media, he forecasts that personal lives will be completely connected to the smartphone. “That is a huge factor for disruption in the automotive world,” Srinivasan added.

Ford EcoSport SYNC 3 India

Consumers want to carry over their experience from mobile phones into cars

Indian differences

How this plays out on the connected car front in India, however, could be noticeably different to other regions. That is due in part to the high percentage of personal drivers. Many new car buyers don’t drive their vehicles themselves, leaving the challenge of navigating the crowded roadways to a professional. If connected services are to be provided, at whom should they be aimed – the driver, the owner, the passenger?

“India puts this in a different context,” noted Krish Inbarajan, Global Head of Connected Car at Cisco Jasper. “For many vehicles, the owner is the passenger being driven. Companies need to figure out the connectivity for that person and cater to it.”

Indian companies also need to work with a wide range of price points. “There are many engineering opportunities here to make sure the industry can meet the very humble cost and price points in which we have to operate,” added Srinivasan. “That’s part of what makes things unique for India.”

Masses of unused data

Connected cars bring with them potential masses of data. The key is to extract it and use it effectively. “There is a lot of data being generated today,” observed Deepak Jain, a partner at Bain & Company. The problem is that most of it remains untapped. Jain estimates that not even 10% of the data collected by the OEMs in India today, through dealerships or during servicing, is being used. “All the data is sitting somewhere but not being processed,” he noted. “Gradually the industry will make use of that. The dynamic itself will begin to change in the coming five years.”

If used properly, data offers tremendous opportunities for brands to form closer relationships with their buyers. Today, that relationship post-sale is limited. Looking at a vehicle life of five years, Aggarwal estimates that Indian buyers will have their car serviced twice a year and buy insurance once a year. That’s three contact points a year over five years. “The OEM will get in touch with a customer 15 times in the life of a vehicle. That will change with connected cars,” he predicted. “There will be more opportunities for brands to use this connectivity to look for new sources of revenue that were not previously considered.”

It’s already happening in the US. Inbarajan, a US resident, says his brand contacts him twice a month already on top of the usual in-vehicle messaging. “From where OEMs are traditionally here in India today, with 15 interactions over five years, greater connectivity can enable 100 times that,” he suggested.