At this week’s Auto Expo, in-car connectivity is going to be a big thing, with all carmakers expected to showcase advancements in telematics.
Tata Motors, for instance, will have a lot of data for tech scribes to write about. It offers the iRA (Intelligent Real time Assist) connectivity in its cars, operated via the car’s touchscreen and a smartphone app, and is likely to showcase a bigger touchscreen with more connectivity features.
At the MG Motor pavilion, you will see India’s largest car touchscreen (14-inch, in the new Hector), which is double the usual touchscreen size in Indian cars (5-8 inches).
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What are connected cars?
If you own a Honda City, for example, 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 the Hyundai Alcazar, you can ‘speak’ to the car and ask it to open the sunroof. The Mahindra XUV700 allows the user sitting inside the vehicle to operate gadgets at home (reverse connectivity), and the MG Astor allows the driver to reserve a parking slot inside a mall (thanks to their partnership with Park+, a parking app).
A modern car is a smartphone on wheels—with an embedded SIM—and like smartphones it is capable of receiving over-the-air software updates. There are almost a million such cars on Indian roads today, according to rough estimates.
The first connected car
While connectivity features have been in cars for almost a decade—for example, Honda Connect was launched in 2015—the first fully connected car with an embedded SIM was Hyundai Venue, launched on May 21, 2019.
Hyundai’s connected-car technology is called the Blue Link, offered as an option in most of its models. The carmaker has sold as many as 349,884 connected cars (data till December 31, 2022).
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Tarun Garg, the chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor India, told FE that 26% cars Hyundai sold in 2022 were connected, and the sales ratio of connected cars has been increasing by the year—from 4.7% in 2019, 15.7% in 2020, 22% in 2021, to 26% in 2022.
MG Motor’s technology is called the iSMART; the carmaker has sold over 100,000 ‘internet cars’ (the term it prefers) since the Hector was launched in 2019. Rajeev Chaba, president & MD, MG Motor India, had earlier told FE that technology has made cars less about horsepower and more about computing power. To make things simpler, MG Motor has introduced industry-first Hinglish commands in its internet cars.
Kia India has sold 279,331 connected cars (data till January 4, 2023) since the Seltos was launched on August 22, 2019. Its technology, Kia Connect (formerly known as UVO), is available in select variants across models. In the EV6 electric car, it is offered as default in both the variants.
In addition to petrol and diesel connected cars equipped with iRA, all electric cars sold by Tata Motors are connected. Electric cars need connectivity features, in order to keep a track of charging stations and live traffic for the most energy-efficient route to a destination. Tata Motors has sold over 50,000 electric cars, and all of these are connected.
Benefits of connected cars
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.
But some automotive analysts believe that people buy connected cars not because these offer convenience or safety, but more due to snob value and familiarity. “The modern generation has grown up on technology; it wants the latest iPhone, the latest Android, the latest Apple Watch, so why not the latest in in-car tech?” said one analyst. “The modern generation also wants to show the world that its car is unique.”
Som Kapoor, EY India Automotive, Future of Mobility leader (Consulting), and partner, pointed out that connectivity is one of the four pillars of the future of mobility, defined as the ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, shared). “A paradigm shift is taking place towards connectivity,” he said. “It’s not limited to cars; it’s in kitchen devices, home appliances, everywhere.”
—The first fully connected car with an embedded SIM was Hyundai Venue, launched on May 21, 2019
—Hyundai has sold as many as 349,884 connected cars (data till December 31, 2022)
—MG Motor has sold over 100,000 ‘internet cars’ (the term it prefers) since the Hector was launched in 2019
—Kia India has sold 279,331 connected cars (data till January 4, 2023) since the Seltos was launched on August 22, 2019
—In addition to petrol/diesel connected cars equipped with iRA, all electric cars sold by Tata Motors are connected
—Automotive analysts attribute connected car sales to snob value and familiarity