Innovating the wheels: Over the past 2 years, a number of automakers have introduced smart car features in their vehicles

By: | Published: July 28, 2018 1:14 AM

This week Maruti Suzuki launched a telematics solution called Suzuki Connect.

cars, automobile sector, automobile industryWhile Suzuki Connect and SYNC are factory-fitted, Honda gives you the option to make your car smarter by installing a connected device (dongle) called Honda Connect.

I recently drove Tata Motors’ compact SUV, the Nexon. A peculiar thing was I wasn’t carrying a key in my hand or a keyfob in my pocket. I was wearing it on my wrist! The top-end model of the Nexon, XZA+, comes with a wearable key—it looks just like a Fitbit device. Wearing it, as you press a button on the door, the car get unlocked. To start the engine, just press a button on the dashboard. The technology has many names, one of these is PEPS (passive entry, passive start). The point is, almost stealthily, cars are getting smarter. Over the last two years, companies including Maruti, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Tata have introduced smart car features in their vehicles. Agreed, cars aren’t yet ‘smart’ enough to drive themselves, but they are equipped with technologies that take away a lot of ‘unnecessary tasks’ that a driver earlier used to perform while driving. We take a look at some of these.

Maruti’s Suzuki Connect

This week Maruti Suzuki launched a telematics solution called Suzuki Connect. Available on Android and iOS platforms for its Nexa cars—S-Cross, Baleno, Ciaz and Ignis—Suzuki Connect has to be installed and connected with smartphone through the Nexa app. Once installed, customers can access features such as emergency alerts, vehicle tracking, driving behaviour analysis, car assistance, driving analytics report, and so on. Unlike some other on-board diagnostics (OBD) based telematics solutions, Suzuki Connect is TCU based, which is difficult to tamper with (TCU, or a telematic control unit, is an embedded system on board of a vehicle that controls tracking). It’s priced Rs 9,999 for a three-year subscription, and it’s optional—a customer can choose to buy a Nexa car without this feature also.

Ford SYNC

Ford had introduced the SYNC with the EcoSport in 2013. SYNC is a factory-installed, integrated in-vehicle system that allows users to make hands-free phone calls, control music and perform other functions using voice commands. While the Figo and Aspire are equipped with SYNC, other Ford vehicles—the EcoSport, Freestyle, Endeavour and Mustang—get the upgraded SYNC 3. If you are driving any of these, the SYNC can ‘read out’ text messages your phone receives, you can use your voice to adjust the AC temperature or play music, or you can ‘ask’ your vehicle to locate that hard-to-find restaurant, the nearest ATM, or even a highly-rated coffee shop. While SYNC runs on Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive OS, SYNC 3 runs on QNX by BlackBerry. All Ford cars are by default equipped with this system.

Honda Connect

While Suzuki Connect and SYNC are factory-fitted, Honda gives you the option to make your car smarter by installing a connected device (dongle) called Honda Connect. Developed by Minda i-Connect, it is compatible with any Honda car that has the OBD-II port—on-board diagnostics, version 2—and is available for Rs 7,999. It does many things. For example, it has an impact alert feature—a sensor inside the dongle measures the car’s 3D orientation and its inbuilt algorithm can detect an impact. If it does so, a call goes to Honda 121 call centre to generate assistance. Also, users can share their location in real-time with family and friends, can locate the car if someone else is driving it, can monitor engine health, and are reminded of car service. All this appears on a smartphone app one has to install.

Toyota Connect

Unlike Honda Connect, Toyota Connect is not a device, but an app on your smartphone. Toyota calls it a fully-integrated cloud-based connected service platform that is supported by a dedicated call centre. Using this app, you get assisted navigation service with personalised search support, can download detailed 3D maps with live traffic updates, can get enlarged views of intersections on the road, and get lane guidance, voice guidance, speed-limit display and upcoming toll booth voice announcements. The user is provided vehicle maintenance data including ownership support with service reminders, online service appointment and e-payments. There is a 24×7 GPS-based roadside assistance support. Before using this app, it has to be linked to the vehicle registration number. It is available free of cost, as of now.

Nissan Connect

Nissan Connect also resides in an app and, as of now, is available free of cost—three years of free subscription and one year of company warranty calculated from the start of activation. Unlike Toyota Connect, you cannot simply start using Nissan Connect by downloading and getting it linked to the vehicle registration number. While all new Nissan cars get this feature—there is a factory-fitted TCU paired with an inbuilt SIM for every car and a dedicated server—existing customers of older cars can get the same fitted at company dealerships. Features include finding fuel stations, dealerships, service stations, service booking, fuel log, locating your car if you’ve forgotten at which level of a particular mall did you park it, driving history and more. It is platform-agnostic, i.e. available on Android, iOS and Windows. A couple of interesting features are Geo Fencing (the app alerts you when your vehicle moves out of a set boundary area) and Time Fencing (alerts you when your car moves outside a set time). This technology has been developed by the Renault Nissan Technology Business Centre India, Chennai.

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