‘Computing power’ new selling point as connected cars get popular

The modern car is a computer on wheels—with an embedded SIM, and capable of over-the-air software updates. There are about 6 lakh such cars on Indian roads.

By:August 29, 2021 9:11 AM

If you own the new Honda City, you can speak into an Amazon Alexa device at home (wirelessly connected with the car) and ask it to switch on the car’s AC. In Hyundai Alcazar, you can ‘speak’ to the car and ask it to open the sunroof. The upcoming Mahindra XUV700 will allow the user sitting inside the vehicle to operate gadgets at home, and the upcoming MG Astor will allow the driver to reserve a parking slot inside a mall.

The modern car is a computer on wheels—with an embedded SIM, and capable of over-the-air software updates. There are about 6 lakh such cars on Indian roads. Hyundai’s tech is called the Blue Link, offered in seven models—i20, Venue, Verna, Creta, Alcazar, Elantra, and Tuc- son. The carmaker has sold over 1,66,000 Blue Link cars since the Venue (touted to be India’s first connected car) was launched on May 21, 2019. “Over 34% sales of these seven models are formed by connected variants,” SS Kim, M D & CEO, Hyundai Motor India, told FE.

“In the Alcazar, all variants are connected; in the Creta, over 45% sales are of connected variants .” Hyundai’s upcoming i20 N Line will also have Blue Link tech. MG Motor’s tech is called the iSMART; the carmaker has sold 68,947 ‘internet cars’ (the term it prefers) since the Hector was launched in 2019.

Rajeev Chaba, President & MD, MG Motor India, told FE that technology has made cars less about horsepower and more about computing power. “Our focus is to incorporate computers to take cooperative decisions in accordance with environmental data such as cruise control, monitor emissions, engine temperature, temperature control, and so forth,” he said. “To make things simpler, we introduced industry-first Hinglish commands in our internet cars.” Kia India has sold over 1,50,000 connected cars since the Seltos was launched on August 22, 2019. Its tech is called the UVO. Of these 1,50,000 cars, the Seltos has contributed 78% sales, and the Sonet 19%.

Honda has sold over 35,000 units of the City with Alexa remote capabilities (this connected feature comes standard in the City). Last year, Ford introduced its connectivity solution FordPass as a standard feature across models; it has sold over 1,18,343 cars with FordPass connectivity tech. Tata Motors has developed the iRA (Intelligent Real-time Assist), currently offered in the Nexon, Altroz, Safari, and Nexon EV. The upcoming Tigor EV will also get the iRA.

In addition to convenience, these cars also offer safety features. For example, if the car breaks down, a notification goes to 24-hour roadside assistance, or to emergency services in case of an accident. If the car gets stolen, it can be tracked and even immobilised. Sanjeev Garg, practice leader, Automotive, Praxis Global Alliance, attributed a lot of connected car sales to snob value and familiarity. “The modern generation has grown up on tech; it wants the latest iPhone, latest Android, latest Apple Watch, so why not the latest in in-car tech?” Sandeep Nelamangala, executive director & head of sales, Mobility Solutions, Bosch, told FE that connectivity is being viewed as a key differentiator in enhancing user experience and engagement by carmakers. Bosch works with most carmakers and has developed the AdrenoX connectivity platform for Mahindra.

While most luxury carmakers offer different levels of connectivity tech, Mercedes-Benz has the largest base of connected cars for a luxury carmaker with over 37,000 such cars.“More than 80% of our customers use the ‘Mercedes me connect’ technology on a daily basis, which is integrated with their phone and voice devices,” Martin Schwenk, MD, and CEO, Mercedes- Benz India, told FE. “Not only our new cars get ‘ Mercedes me-connect ’, but we also offer the ‘Mercedes me’ adapter solutions to our older cars.”

Schwenk added that from being an additional feature a while ago, connectivity has emerged as the core element in cars.“Our customers want to experience connectivity, just like they would experience luxury, performance, and safety,” he said.“With increasing time spend inside a car, connectivity is on top of current customer demand.”

Som Kapoor, partner, Automotive Sector, EY India, pointed out that connectivity is one of the four pillars of the future of mobility, defined as the ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, shared).“Aparadigmshiftistakingplace towards connectivity,” he said. “ It’s not limited to cars; it’s in kitchen devices, home appliances, everywhere.”

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