Reliance Jio, the Mukesh Ambani-controlled phone services company that has signed up 90 million customers in less than a year of service launch, plans to connect millions of cars on Indian roads to the internet and is in talks with carmakers Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motors India, and others.
The cars will be connected through what are called OBD, short for onboard diagnostic, devices. OBD devices, used in engine diagnostics, are already an integral part of the services networks of most carmakers.
What Jio wants to do is add real-time connectivity between the OBD device and a carmaker’s servers and also set up a Wifi zone inside cars that allow users to connect their gadgets such as phones or tablets to the internet, a company insider told FactorDaily, asking to stay anonymous.
Jio has stitched a partnership with Reno, US-based AirWire Technologies to manufacture a cheap OBD device, the source said. The tie-up was announced in February this year.
The phone service, part of Reliance Industries, India’s largest company by revenues, is also working on offering an external immobiliser to secure the car. “If someone is trying to break open the car, you can immobilise the car from your mobile,” the source said.
The OBD device paired with a Jio SIM card will also give you the exact location of the car, which can be a useful feature in case of a theft or an accident. The vehicle can be geo-fenced which means “you will get to know if your driver has gone beyond the radius he is supposed to drive the car,” the source said. Other features include being able to remotely turn on the engine and AC.
Through the real time connectivity, Jio is taking aim at a hitherto unaddressed market in India that could potentially run into millions. About three million new cars are sold in India every year. A slightly larger number of used cars (3.64 million in 2016-17) are bought by Indians annually — about 18% of which is sold through organised channels. The total number of cars on Indian roads is about 24 million.
London-based consultancy firm IHS Markit predicts that by the end of 2017, India will overtake Germany to become the world’s fourth-largest car market and the third-largest by 2020.
Kill dead time
Jio, whose market strategy hinges on data, already has entertainment and healthcare apps in its suite of offerings and is working on education as a next step.
The connected car is the next step in that direction. “Ambani is bringing different pieces of the puzzle together,” said the company insider. “Connected cars is a part of a larger strategy.”
A survey in 2015 by Ford Motor Company had 36% of respondents from India saying that they spend five to 12 hours commuting in a car a week, and 35% said they spend 12-20 hours.
The Jio executive said when its gameplan was on the drawing board, there were three parts to it: home, office and car. “For home Reliance is laying fibre-to-home and to offices as well… the car is different, it is important for a large part of the population.”
Reliance is already in talks with carmakers like Maruti and Hyundai. “Reliance is in discussion with most of the carmakers,” the source said.
What about cab companies? “Not yet… that will happen in the next phase,” he added.
Deepesh Rathore, a London-based analyst of Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors, said he saw a company with deep pockets moving into a growth business. “There is no technical novelty. The connected car business is not well defined. Reliance wants to be in growth areas. Like Google has no business to be in the car space, but they are building in the autonomous car,” Rathore said.
But, Jio will face tough competition from carmakers. Companies such as Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are working on their own developments in the connected car space. FactorDaily had written in June that Maruti is looking at a bunch of features in the connected car space, including a safety emergency call feature to connect with the police, fire station or trauma centre.
Both Maruti and Hyundai did not comment on ongoing discussions with Jio. Honda India ruled itself out from a potential tie-up. “We already own connected car solutions, Honda Connect. (We are) not talking to anyone else,” said a Honda spokesperson.
Technology companies such as chipmaker Intel, too, are working on connected car solutions.
There are others mobility companies also looking at various aspects of smart mobility. For example, self-drive startup Revv, which gives cars on rental is working with Israeli company MobilEye, acquired by Intel, in assisting drivers.
“A camera sits behind the rear view mirror, and it is used to detect the time to collision,” said Anupam Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of Revv. “It also detects physical objects coming in its way, like a man walking.”
Once the camera detects the object, two and half seconds before the collision, its sends out a sharp and loud beep. The results are quite stark. Cars without the device collided once in every 25,000 km; now collisions are down to one in 80,000 km.
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