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Emerging connectivity

Karthikeyan Natarajan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Integrated Engineering Services, Tech Mahindra discusses the connected car in India

The connected car is a term so often bandied about in this industry, but the actual definition is fluid, adapting to the expectations of consumers in countries across the world. While western markets are moving on to the intelligent car and autonomous vehicles, developing markets like India have different wants, needs and plans for in-car connectivity.

When it comes to in-car connectivity, what are the differences between western markets and India?

Consumers in India expect connectivity at zero cost. Unlike western markets, consumers don’t want to pay for it, but at the same time they want the same features as consumers in western markets.

Why do you think western countries are more driven by data capability, whereas in India, for now at least, the market is pushed by the simpler desire for voice functions?

If you look at the kind of connectivity that is available in India, it is still 85% dependent on voice. It will probably eventually change, but at this point in time that’s where it is.

OEMs in India are moving towards data-driven connectivity. Where is Tech Mahindra in this regard?

Our key concern is can you really produce connectivity at low cost or no cost? We want it to be monetised by three key stakeholders. One is the OEMs, because OEMs will be able to collect the data that is going to come from the vehicle, to better understand the performance characteristics in terms of how they can develop. Second, can we also enable it for the ecosystem? How can they really leverage the connectivity in the car? Can we ask them to pay for it? And the third element will be the end consumer. The burden on the end consumer will be like the western markets, where they get into a subscription or pay-per-use, but it will be more driven by volume and the ecosystem than just the end-user requirements.

Do you think that low data coverage has affected the development of the connected car in India?

I don’t think so, because India is a very price sensitive market. If you look at smartphone penetration, this is maybe less than 20% of the whole market, so this is likely to grow faster. Apple has grown about 400% this quarter so that’s something which will probably eventually drive people to leverage the connectivity that is available for multiple applications.

What are the specific connectivity features that Tech Mahindra is looking to incorporate into vehicles?

We’re trying to come up with a unique and interesting feature, a cognitive companion – which means you can track the performance of the driver, based on speed, steering and braking. There is also an electronic coach, e-coach, which will help consumers drive better in Indian conditions, warning them of speed limits and traffic signals.

Over the next ten years, how close do you think India will come to seeing the development of a fully integrated V2V, V2I, V2X network or integrated transport system?

In 2000, India was lagging in technology advances by ten years; by 2020, I think we will just lag by maybe a year or two. Most of the features that are seen in western markets, consumers expect to have in India already, but they also want it to be cost effective. That’s a challenge for OEMs in India because they really need to bring in something that’s more affordable. My guess is we will see V2V between 2018 and 2020. We are not far off in terms of how V2V communications would help fuel efficiency because, if you’re saying that you’ll adapt to this technology because it helps you to reduce the conditions, it helps you to save fuel, I’m sure the adoption will be much faster.

Where in India do you think it will happen first?

It is likely to happen in cities faster than the rest of India. You might be surprised to know that some cabs in Chennai already have Wi-Fi in their cars – that’s something you wouldn’t have expected to have happened already.

You have previously said that North American OEMs are still focused on the front end of the connected car experience, whereas European manufacturers are more interested in the back-end.What do you think Indian consumers are more focused on?

Anything that will help them to handle better features at low cost, in terms of fuel efficiency and better service and maintenance. Those elements, plus anything that can enable them to use their smartphones more effectively and start them requiring rescue services through the vehicle based entertainment system, that is more preferred by the Indian consumers.

A recent consumer survey found that 86% of Indian consumers trust the technology in driverless cars, compared to the US, where only 60% would be happy driving a driverless car. Why do you think this is?

I’m not sure that I would like to be driven by a self-driven car in India, because of the multiple variants that affect driving. If you look at the number of vehicles that are on the roads in India, it probably would outweigh any congested city in any western country. I think autonomous vehicles in India will take a very long time to appear because of two things: one is cost, and secondly, I think it will take a step by step approach.

I see the introduction of driver assist systems first, then maybe the next generation could be autonomous cars. Systems such as Tech Mahindra’s electric vehicle called e2o will be first, which can warn you if you are driving too fast, too slow and braking too fast, too soon and too frequently.

Do you think technology, such as in-car head-up displays will ever be suitable for the market in India?

That would be maybe available only in the high-end versions, which is at least another two, three years away for India. We have not really seen many of those products in India yet.

Rachel Boagey

Download your free copy of Megatrends magazine Q3 2013This article was first published in the Q3 issue of Megatrends magazine, to continue reading, simply download your free copy now.

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