Pimp your ride

TV screens with satellite hook-ups, GPS systems that show the nearest petrol pump, restaurant or mall, and engine immobilisers that send SMSes in case of thefts—welcome to the world of new-age car accessories

By: | Updated: April 13, 2016 8:21 PM

GADGET-LADEN cars in movies have never failed to fascinate automobile enthusiasts. Be it James Bond driving a unique BMW with his cellphone or the time-travelling Lotus from Back to the Future, everyone has, at some point of the other, wondered how it would feel to have a car just like that.

Well, it’s time to replace your oblivion with consciousness, for the high-tech gadgets are here. Long gone are the days when xenon headlights and parking-assist sensors and cameras were a big deal. Welcome to the era of night-vision cameras, car tracers and carputers.

An Indian tech start-up has a new product aimed at the country’s pampered middle-class citizens—a wireless device to let them keep a virtual eye on their chauffeurs. New Delhi-based CarIQ Technologies’ device plugs into the data port of a car and serves as a sort of ‘nanny cam’ for the family driver—streaming information to the owner’s mobile phone.

Along with your car’s location, the device called CarIQ can share information about how the driver is driving and whether the car is being misused, says Sagar Apte, the company’s founder. CarIQ is plugged into a data port below the steering wheel of a car and uses a SIM card and GPS to collect data. All the information is uploaded on the Internet so that users can keep track of their cars through their cellphones.

So, if your driver is racing the car somewhere far away, the device will pinpoint where the car is, at what speed it is being driven and even whether it is being driven rashly, as CarIQ monitors sudden stops and acceleration. It is available for a two-year subscription fee of R6,000.

One of the biggest challenges of driving at night is seeing people walking on the road ahead. While headlights often provide enough brightness to drive safely during the night, objects at distances farther than 40 m are usually difficult to spot. At night, reduced visibility puts pedestrians at risk. In fact, studies have shown that the risk for fatal pedestrian accidents is almost four times greater at night than during day. A night-vision camera can help reduce that risk.

Several companies like Bosch Autoliv are selling such night-vision cameras, which can be connected to a car’s reverse camera screen or any other monitor. They are normally available between R5,000 and R15,000, depending upon the company and their make.

If this doesn’t sound interesting enough, there’s the ‘carputer’ (it’s much more than your tablet, rest assured). As the name suggests, it’s your own computer installed on the dashboard of your car. It is equipped with a screen, an Intel Core Duo processor, satellite radio receiver, a burner for your DVD, GPS radio and dual FM radio, among other things.

Ford Motor Company and Microsoft Auto have already developed a ‘carputer’ for Ford’s work truck division—with a built-in 6.5-inch, high-resolution touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, GPS navigation, voice recognition, as well as general Office applications, such as word processing, contacts and calendar functions.

Then there are the accessories that have been there for a while now like the xenon headlamps or high-intensity discharge lamps. The name is derived from the fact that they are metal halide lamps that contain xenon gas. For a given power consumption, these produce more light than the regular halogen headlamps. Simply put, you get a stronger beam that lights up the road farther, depending on headlamp-casing optics.

Companies like Philips offer these units for around R15,000 for a set, while cheaper Chinese ones come for R5,000-R7,000.

“Music keeps me going,” says Sanket Kumawat, a 25-year-old chartered accountant, who recently got a high-end system installed in his car. Although car stereos have been around for decades now, they are still the most sold and installed accessories in cars and bikes. A good stereo can set you back by R15,000, but wait, that’s normal—we are speaking of high-tech.

New-age stereos let you connect to your cloud network—be it Apple’s or Google’s—and stream music, thanks to Wi-Fi-enabled cars.

New to a city and don’t know your way around? Worry not, GPS is here. Installing a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) unit in your car can help you pinpoint your position, as well as take you to your destination using the shortest route or the route with the least traffic possible.

Companies such as Garmin, MapMyIndia, Futuretronics, etc, offer these units with pre-installed maps with a promise to help you locate nearby ATMs, hospitals, temples, petrol pumps, malls and restaurants, among many others.

Prices of these units hover between R10,000 and R25,000, depending on their size, features and the number of maps installed.

For those, who can’t live without their daily dose of TV soaps, Dish TV, the direct-to-home (DTH) venture of Essel Group, has introduced its latest offering, their direct-to-car (DTC) satellite television system. The unit comes in two models with price tags of R79,000 and R1,49,000, respectively, and can be fitted on a car, bus or any sports utility vehicle.

Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer, Dish TV, says the new service is for all those who need to stay connected with the world—they could be people with interest in stock markets, sports, politicians, celebrities or businessmen. “Demand and enquiries for our mobile DTH units have been overwhelming from states such as Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, among others. We are pushing our mobile DTH units very aggressively,” he adds.

So, you got yourself a fancy car with all the cool gizmos you could get your hands on, but don’t forget that this also means an invitation to thieves. Make sure that you

have a good anti-theft system in place. As criminals get smart, companies making such systems are getting smarter.

For now, there’s a motion-sensor technology that detects the slightest movement it considers unauthorised. Linked to the engine immobiliser, it disables the ignition system the moment it detects an unauthorised movement.

Further advancements such as GSM-based engine immobilisers can send text messages to your phone, letting you know that your car has been stolen and it can even pinpoint the vehicle’s precise location. You can then send an SMS to immobilise the engine, thus preventing it from being driven any further. Such units will cost you around R3,000, or more.

Say hello to James Bond!

What drives India: The changing topography of the car accessory market

IN INDIA, the market for car accessories has traditionally been confined to urban areas. Not surprising, as accessories were considered to have more of an ornamental value rather than a functional one. However, the scenario began to change when global manufacturers started introducing new vehicle models in 1997. This led to a growth in sale of passenger cars. The increasing levels of disposable income, changing end-user attitudes and declining age profiles of car buyers also helped drive demand for accessories. Today, a wide range of car accessories is available in India. These include audio systems, central locking devices, seat covers, steering wheel covers, power steering, power windows, fog lamps and alloy wheels/caps.

Car accessories can be bought from various channels. The organised segment includes authorised outlets that sell good-quality, branded products inclusive of product or service warranty. Authorised accessory outlets source products either from manufacturing facilities located in India or through imports. However, the market is dominated by a large, unorganised segment, where accessories are available at lower prices, but without any guarantee. The unorganised segment sources accessories from two avenues—through imports and small-scale domestic manufacturers.

Up to 80% of the accessories currently available in the unorganised market are imported. In the recent past, penetration of imported accessories has substantially increased because of liberalisation. Imported accessories mainly from Taiwan, Korea and south-east Asia are cheaper than comparable local products. They are also available in a wider range and have an acceptable level of quality. A major reason for lower prices of imported accessories is due to under-invoicing. Under-invoicing means importing goods at a rate that is close to, or lower than, the actual cost. This is done to evade high rates of import duties. Imported brands dominate the car audio systems, central locking systems, power windows, fog lamps, wheel caps and alloy wheels segments of the market.

A thriving market for spurious products also exists in certain segments of this market, especially audio systems. These items are made from locally-assembled parts and carry a reputed brand name. These products are not easily identifiable over genuine ones and mainly cater to price-conscious customers.

The distribution structure in the unorganised market has several levels. It includes importers that also double up as distributors. These distributors sell to wholesalers, dealers and retailers. The distinction between these channel participants is not always clear, especially in the case of wholesalers and dealers on one hand, and dealers and retailers on the other, as the roles are interchangeable. The intense nature of competition in the market has concentrated much of the bargaining power in the hands of dealers and retailers. This has led to distributors trying to establish long-term relationships with retailers. One way of doing this is to refrain from competing with each other on commercial terms.

The single-most important factor underlining the success of the unorganised segment is competitive pricing. End-users are either unaware or do not see much value in buying from the organised segment. Hence, it needs no emphasis that success will not come easy for organised companies. This depends on getting certain things right. Organised companies need to select the right product segment, keeping in mind the inherent advantages that unorganised market companies possess in certain product categories Moreover, a wide product range is also essential to cater to varying individual tastes. After-sales service is also a crucial success element. All this would contribute to building a strong brand, which is necessary to break the hold of the unorganised segment.

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