India plans route map for the connected car

Anyone visiting this year’s Auto Show in Delhi, wouldn’t have given a moment’s thought to suggestions that India is lagging behind when it comes to merging the two worlds of automotive and consumer electronics.

Amid those numerous selfies, striking spotlights and glamorous models, automakers gave us tantalising glimpses of the future of personal and commercial mobility, with connectivity taking the centre stage.

But, do these traditional motor shows reflect the real market scenario of connected cars in India?

Already, much has been said and shared about the tremendous potential of the Indian connected car market in various industry forums. Both industry and government bodies understand the importance of connecting vehicles in a country where road accidents kill nearly 400 people every day and traffic congestion costs the economy a whopping $11Bn (£7.63Bn). Despite this, only 1.4% of the total cars sold in 2015 (approximately 3M) featured basic connectivity, let alone sophisticated ADAS.

Bumpy roads for embedded infotainment

There is definitely an interest from the local automakers and their global counterparts in pushing connected car offerings to Indian consumers. In the past, many OEMs have tried their hands in rolling their pre-market embedded solutions but that didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor for either the consumer or the automaker itself. It shouldn’t be hard to understand the ‘why’ part of this, after all, Indian consumers are led by value-for-money and most cars sold here are entry level or mid-level. In such a scenario, an airbag or fuel-sensor is far more important than having the functionality to check your emails on the infotainment screen on the go.

Damodar Sahu, director of aftermarket service and IoT solutions at Wipro, believes that cost puts an extra burden on emerging markets for mass adoption of connected cars which is again consistent with the popular belief. Even those ready to pay, are only willing to spend a mere $7.50 per month, according to a recent Wipro survey.

Sahu goes on to explain that OEMs prefer a CAN-based factory-fitted TCU/ECU in the car, for good reasons of security but this becomes a R&D initiative and takes years to come to fruition, making things difficult for a wide-spread rollout. Even on the aftermarket side, there is an apprehension for usage owing to warranty issues.

Infrastructural roadblocks today, tomorrow

The most significant challenge, however, is to make connected car-ready infrastructure, something which remains a distant dream for government authorities in India. Vivek Beriwal, senior analyst at IHS Automotive explains that Indian roads lack proper road markings and sound sensor networks, making it harder for sophisticated technologies like V2X to take off. If that isn‘t enough, imagine a situation where a single road has luxury vehicles, heavy duty trucks, hitchhikers, rickshaws, bullock carts, lorries, vendors and more vendors… not an ideal place for a connected car to ply its trade.

It’s an unsettling truth that the 2015-16 World Economic Forum report places India in 61st place in terms of global road quality.

Another important infrastructural issue is the low penetration of LTE/4G, which has been the key factor so far for the success of connected cars. In India, consumers have just started using 4G and there’s still at least a couple of years to go for telecom providers to expand their 4G business into automotive. Nevertheless, an amusing TV advertisement from Airtel showing a woman using her 4G-enabled phone to navigate through a forest does give some hope.

Narendra Modi’s cabinet comes to the rescue

Regardless of the core existential challenges, India is and will continue to be a sweet spot for investment by global players. The Prime Minister’s ambitious plan of making 100 smart cities will give an impetus to further connected car developments in India. The government has also laid out plans to invest $1.7Tn by 2020 in upgrading its infrastructure to accommodate smart city projects, the majority of which will be dedicated to road networks. Damodar & Vivek agree that connected car can be positioned as a smart city feeder because it can help in urban transit and boost safety.

Furthermore, under the aegis of Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme, the Automotive Mission Plan 2016-26 has been prepared by the Department of Heavy Industries in collaboration with industry to make India as an international hub for automotive manufacturing; something that could bring radical changes in the design concepts embracing connectivity and partial autonomy.

This, backed with easing import duties on auto components (especially infotainment & telematics units) which is the key deliverable of the imminent Goods & Services Tax plan, can bring a lot of “ache din”(good days) for the Indian automotive sector, and of course, the consumer. 

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