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As the craze for car connectivity grows, sustainability is the challenge

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla | Updated on November 21, 2019

A price-sensitive market like India also represents a potential that is unmatched

It is a nondescript little device that plugs into a car’s 12-volt outlet and connects to a mobile phone. The Amazon Echo Auto encourages consumers to take the company’s Alexa voice assistant along for the ride, hauling the technology related to connected cars to a completely new level. Though the Amazon Echo Auto is the new kid on the block as far as connected cars go, a SIM card with a connected device (dongle) was the cynosure of all eyes way back in 2017. This was the time when used-car company Mahindra First Choice decided to include the inexpensive little accessory in vehicles, instantly bringing several smart features to their cars.

Beyond tracking

“That little device can do several things,” says Peyush Agarwal, Global Strategic Design Director at DesignIt, a design firm acquired by Wipro. Apart from location sharing and real-time vehicle tracking, one can get roadside assistance, tow alerts, as well as battery voltage, engine coolant and vehicle health monitoring alerts.

It also lists insights on the vehicle and the driving summary, while driving profile analytics registers fatigue driving alerts. The device ensures the vehicle is able to optimise its own operation and maintenance as well as the convenience and comfort of passengers using onboard sensors and internet connectivity.

Conceptualised by Mahindra First Choice Wheels, the device was developed by Wipro. Agarwal says the service and app experience were completely designed in-house with help from Wipro AutoInsights, an end-to-end connected car platform using telematics, data analytics and the Internet of Things.

“While the device helps consumers realise the hidden potential of their vehicle by indulging in a connected ecosystem, the sensors on the device capture data and can record even the bumps on the road,” he adds. The data can even be used in future for better civic services when fed to municipal authorities. “One can build a lot of services on top of the hardware already provided. It is a platform that any auto company can buy and deploy. Mahindra First Choice wanted to sell it as a value-add with their vehicles,” says Agarwal. The device also enables car owners to interact with the vehicle and stay connected via a mobile app.

Customer experience in the automotive industry is on the move, with more ‘moments that matter’. Companies have realised that though optimising customer moments is not a simple task, once done, the payoff is significant.

MG (Morris Garages) Motor India’s Hector, touted as India’s first internet car with 50+ connected features, is a case in point. It received the first over-the-air software update earlier this month, adding several new features such as Apple Car Play and enhancing overall user experience. The company recently launched a digital showroom in Bengaluru.

The MG ZS EV, slated to be unveiled in India next month, is expected to have many more features. Owned by China’s SAIC Motor Corp, MG has partnered with Microsoft, Adobe, SAP, Cisco, and other tech giants to power the iSMART technology. Likewise, a host of new offerings have connectivity on their plate to woo the new stream of tech-obsessed buyers.

Market estimates suggest by next year there will be more than 381 million connected cars on the road from the stables of Tesla, General Motors, Toyota, Audi and BMW. The recently held Tokyo Motor Show saw the all-new Jazz equipped with the Honda Connect on-board communication module.

Likewise, Toyota has joined hands with NTT on connected vehicle technology. It is also working with Weathernews Inc in Japan to improve the accuracy of rain forecasts, using real-time data from cars with windshield wipers connected to the system. Toyota is looking at improving the accuracy of such warnings by monitoring the data that vehicles’ windshield wipers can collect.

Connecting app

In India, Toyota has a Toyota Connect app on the smartphone that provides navigation services, personalised search support, 3D maps with live traffic updates, vehicle maintenance data and roadside assistance. As does Nissan with its Nissan Connect, which can be accessed via a smartphone app. Car manufacturers are of the opinion that such apps play a vital role in enabling the transition to advanced connected car technology. With cars having the computing power of 20 personal computers and 100 million lines of programming code, they are spot-on in their assessment.

In India, the challenge is to balance the connectivity menu with a competitive price tag. This is only understandable since the fourth largest car market in the world is the most price-sensitive. How carmakers manage to sustain their margins in the connectivity race is the biggest challenge.

Published on November 21, 2019

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