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Mahindra: It’s just a matter of time that connected cars will become a mainstream in India

It would not be an overstatement to say that the Indian telematics industry has reached its watershed moment. The combination of changing Indian macro and micro economic, political and business scenarios has given the impetus for embracing this technology, with more and more OEMs and after market players trying to take advantage, to enable their customers have a better control over their businesses.
Sirish Batchu, Head-Infotronics and Advanced Electronics | Mahindra & Mahindra

Few months ago, we reported when Mahindra & Mahindra, India’s leading vehicle manufacturer announced plans to bring Android-enabled infotainment systems in its flagship Scorpio and XUV models by joining Google-spearheaded Open Automotive Alliance. Along the similar lines, Telematics Wire got a chance to interact with Sirish Batchu, Head-Infotronics, Mahindra to discuss the potential and future growth of telematics and infotainment in India.

Sirish Batchu

How would you compare the Indian connected cars market with relatively developed markets like EU or North America in light of:-

  • Consumer Acceptance
  • Industry Readiness
  • Regulatory Framework

The Indian market today is relatively in early stages of adoption as compared to EU or NAM markets. Though there are a number of aftermarket solutions in the commercial vehicle space and 3rd parties that are foraying with very innovative solutions, the market is lacking an integrated offering from the OEMs in India as compared to NA or EU and the consumer is very cost conscious.
However the consumer awareness is on the rise due to the technology exposure and experiences in the personal space (Consumer electronics, smartphones, Internet. etc.). The Government is also aggressively bringing in reforms/policies towards more and more digitization. The OEMs and the third parties are also gearing up by developing the relevant and compelling connected car features that can be offered to the customers. Today practically every other technology company is putting its fingers in for creation of connected car solutions unique to this market and eying a share of the revenue pie.

I think that the connected cars market in India will shoot up exponentially in the coming years with a host of solutions/services and revenues and catch up with the global markets within no time.

What connected car services in India are beyond the “hype” and will make sense to the end-consumers?

The “hype” around the connected car features mainly revolves around integrating the smartphone features and giving a seamless end-user experience by utilization of loads of information/content through appropriate applications. Today these are positioned mainly as a niche offering. However there are more fundamental connected services that can enable better serviceability, efficiency and maintenance that can make an immediate impact on the adoption by the end consumer. Emergency/breakdown services, eco-routing, dynamic traffic information, early warnings related to vehicle health, etc. can largely benefit the customer.

The benefits of Telematics services for efficient operations in the commercial vehicles is already proven beyond doubt and is being adopted by all Fleet owners today. Bringing the benefits of the telematics to individual vehicle owners (especially LCV/Taxi owners) for maximizing their business will be the key.
Going ahead integrating safety and ADAS features and enriching these with the connected services will be very useful for the end-consumers.

 How do you think the India consumers would like to pay for connected car services in future?

  • One-off payment at time of car purchase
  • Subscription-based
  • Basic services at no cost with the purchase of additional functionality (Freemium)

On the lighter side, as a consumer I would expect the connected services free of cost. Having said that, once the consumers see the value in the services/content, they will be more than willing to pay for what they are getting. Here I will draw a parallel to the Digital TV and content, the way it has evolved from the free Doordarshan days to the current Set-top box where various subscription & pay-per-use models are existing for various TV channels and content.

I will rule out the one-off payment option as today neither the consumer nor the OEMs are clear as to what all services will evolve in the future and it also involves certain operational costs. However I would see a combination of the subscription-based, Freemium and pay-per-use being more popular for the various connected car services.

Do you think that in future telematics & connectivity will influence the purchase decision of a new vehicle buyer?

We already see this shift in the global markets and India is not far behind. The customer exposure is very high and the lifestyle experiences are also driving the decision making while buying the cars. The smartphone exposure and the need for being connected is also on the rise. As people spend more time on the road in the vehicles, this need is becoming imperative. The Gen-Y & Gen-Zalso have a very strong influences on the buying preferences and priorities.

On the commercial vehicles front, the customers are looking for more efficient vehicles that not only give better fuel efficiency, but also bring down the total cost of ownership/operations. With the telematics solutions it is very much possible to address the operational efficiency and productivity and I believe this would be the most preferred solution from the customers.

How will Mahindra benefit by joining the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA)? Are we going to see Android-enabled vehicles hitting the road anytime soon?

Being the First Indian OEM to join the OAA gives us a head start to offer the advantages of the Android Auto to our customers, where today Android OS accounts for over 90% of the total smartphone market in India.

We should see the first Android-Auto powered cars sometime in 2016 in our flagship models the XUV 5OO and the Scorpio.

Android Auto will enable Android phone users to seamlessly connect to a compatible car and use customized apps and services that will be accessible on an in-dash screen. After the integration with Android Auto, the owners of the Mahindra vehicles will have in-car access to Google maps, customized services, and third party apps through an infotainment screen.

At present the market is dominated by aftermarket solutions (mostly track n trace). By what time, we can see a large scale roll-out of OEM-fitted telematics solutions in India?

This is true at present and the aftermarket is also very fragmented. Various OEMs in India have tried their hands in the past to roll out factory-fitted telematics solutions in a limited way, but could not see a success in the market either due to the lack of scale or the right costs/business model.All those introductions were marred with the concerns of how to recover the cost of the telematics solutions, with limited emphasis on the value addition that the solution can bring. However I believe that it will take strategic call from the OEMs to make telematics an integral offering in the vehicles (especially commercial vehicles) where it would not only benefit the customer for bringing in more efficiency but will also help the OEMs in a big way through the insights (Data Analytics) that can be available to better the service offerings and product designs. You will soon see such an introduction in the market from M&M across the breadth of our portfolio and I am sure the industry will also scale-up rapidly.

How sustainable are new telematics-based business models i.e. Usage Based Insurance (UBI), car-sharing etc. in India?

The new telematics based business models are yet to find traction in India. The UBI is very relevant in EU or North America where the insurance premiums are very high and the incentives offered through UBI are very attractive. However this will not make such a big difference to the Indian customer as the quantum of this one-time incentive will be very less. Customers will looking forward to something more substantial by sharing their driving data. However it could be of huge interest for the Insurance companies in order to tackle the fraudulent claims. This is where the conflict between the customers and the Insurance claims arises.

Car-sharing on the other side has its own set of challenges where there are many solution enablers that existing today like Ridingo, Lets Drive Along, BlaBlaCar, etc, but the pooling works more at an individual level between a known groups of people rather than a systemic level due to safety & security concerns.

On the contrary the business models of Uber & OlaCabs have found instant success (albeit with their share of issues).

I believe that we will see an evolution of new and unique business models in the Indian context in the coming days through the use of Data Analytics.

In your opinion, what challenges need to be addressed before connected cars can move from niche to mainstream in India?

It is just a matter of time that connected cars will become a mainstream in India. There are basic infrastructure challenges today like reliable connectivity and data rates on one side and the associated costs for the technology/solutions on the other side. However these are well on their way towards maturity.

It would not be an overstatement to say that the Indian telematics industry has reached its watershed moment. The combination of changing Indian macro and micro economic, political and business scenarios has given the impetus for embracing this technology, with more and more OEMs and after market players trying to take advantage, to enable their customers have a better control over their businesses.

It would also be appropriate to state that the ecosystem players are also reaching a maturity level sufficient enough to offer the “connected experience” seamlessly to the connected car customer. Considering the customer exposure and experience in the personal lifestyles, I think that the demand for connected cars in India will rise exponentially over the coming years.

Check out our latest edition (July-Aug) of Smart Automotive magazine for more such articles and interviews. Please write to should you wish to receive a complimentary PDF copy.

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