Harman outlines vision ‘connectivity’

Targeting entry and midsize cars and fleet telematics, Harman aims to broaden its engagement with India’s auto OEMs. Brian de Souza reports on the road ahead for vehicle connectivity.

Brian de SouzaBy Brian de Souza calendar 03 Feb 2014 Views icon13886 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Targeting entry and midsize cars and fleet telematics, Harman aims to broaden its engagement with India’s auto OEMs. Brian de Souza reports on the road ahead for vehicle connectivity.

Over the past year or so, we have heard about driverless cars and the Google-connected car project. There continue to be developments in electronics and in Human-Machine Interface (HMI) and, as is well known, the vehicle of the future will have significantly more electronics as compared to the present.
While people are now connected over the mobile phone and through social networking websites, this connectivity will soon debut in a major way in the car. Add to that the fact that as users of any product, cars included, the need to process and leverage data has become all the more imperative for a better experience at the wheel if not a better and safer quality of life. That is one way of understanding the universe of Harman International, a US-based company that forayed into India about four years ago.
In a word, Harman’s future-ready universe may best be summed up in the word: connectivity. But this isn't as simple as it seems. The truth is that car connectivity is where the future of the car is headed. In a future envisaged by Harman, the motorist will talk seamlessly to his car. It will have the capabilities to help make life more rewarding and it could even help save lives.
At Harman International India’s Bangalore offices, this correspondent was given an umbrella view of what Harman aims to offer the Indian auto market. With two development centres and a manufacturing operation near Pune set to begin this year, Harman is firing on all cylinders.

So what are Harman’s plans for India? The US-based Harman operates audio technology business classified under three main heads: Professional, Lifestyle and Infotainment. Of these, infotainment that spans navigation, multimedia and connectivity forms the bedrock. Its position in the infotainment sector is ‘to envy’ suggests an article in a book on innovation by two business experts at Tuck School, Dartmouth, Vijay Govindrajan and Chris Trimble. It is the largest of Harman’s divisions worldwide, accounting for $2 billion (Rs 12,552 crore) of its revenues. It is a company that has, says the article, a long history in ground-breaking innovation.
Overseas, Harman’s in-dash systems have catered for a while to high-end cars. It impossible to think of the big three luxury car brands – Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW – without seeing a link with Harman. In India, the company has been largely identified with its JBL brand. Now, I was to know that the company has a lot more to offer.
Add to this the India impact and we could see Harman International change in a myriad ways. Though it forayed into India in 2009, its presence has been small in proportion to its potential. Harman is an umbrella of brands on the one hand and making a decisive push to the emerging markets, on the other.
In India, managing director M Lakshminarayan says it has provided its Professional series to terminal 2 in Bangalore airport, an indication of the Harman’s repute and scale. In the auto sector, Harman is now looking very keenly on the entry-level and midsize segments and it is not difficult to see why. These are the volume ones and Harman wants to leverage this.
“We are working with Tata Motors and Fiat and hope by June to add another OE client,” says Lakshminarayan in an exclusive interview to Autocar Professional. Adds Arvin Ballu, senior director, automotive, “We have received more RFQs from the mid-segment and our aims are to make the solutions we offer all navigation and smartphone ready”.
And even as Harman awaits its take-off, it has built assiduously the eco-system. It has an acoustics laboratory in Pune and five service centres for its Professional division. Its SARAS project for infotainment systems are designed for emerging markets like for India.
Between now and 2016, Harman is forecasting an eight percent CAGR growth that cover a variety of inter-locking business areas that include the Connected Car, advanced safety and wireless portable products.
Interestingly, the company has harnessed two key acquisitions to bring new products into India. One is the acquisition in 2010 of AHA Mobile, a US-based company. The California-based AHA is a pioneer in converting Web-based content to streaming mobile radio enabling users to access news, entertainment and social media via in-vehicle infotainment systems or a smartphone. One of these products is headed to India but Baalu is not saying anything for now.

Another of Harman’s acquisitions is also set for a wider play. After acquiring Interchain Solution, the Bangalore-based company which is a specialist in developing telematics, fleet management and android based in-vehicle infotainment, Harman has put together a R&D team to work on solutions aimed at truck fleets. The sector being targeted is transport logistics, explains Vishnu GS, director (Engineering), who explains how solutions for fleet operators will work. Already, Harman has to its credit business for first-responder solutions from the Delhi police and the state government of Maharashtra. And it is useful to mention that one area that the company wants to look at is solutions for usage-based insurance for CVs.
Last April, Harman acquired Tel Aviv-based iOnRoad Technologies that is into the development of vehicle safety systems also known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). iOnRoad technology can runs on a variety of software platforms including Android, iOS, Windows, and Linux that Harman wants to be able to bring this technology to car users in India at the appropriate time.
Harman India’s road ahead is not going to be easy. In a price-sensitive market, the challenge is how to price solutions as appropriately as possible to get the numbers that can justify future investment strategy.
The key aspect, therefore, is the ideas that connect to tomorrow’s more wired vehicles which will include hybrids and electrics too, and that is where Harman is confident that it will have an array of products for the Indian consumer.

What is Harman’s focus for India in 2014?
There are two aspects. On the OE side, we are working on versions for infotainment for Tata Motors and Fiat, and are looking at roping in another OE customer by June, the end of our fiscal year.
In the aftermarket space, we are developing vehicle-specific packages that comprise loudspeakers, microphones and amplifiers that we can tune on in our acoustic centre. We do not aim to make me-too products. We want to deliver top quality sound for the customer. Our normal JBL and Infinity products are available through our distributor.
On the development front, we are focusing at Pune and Bangalore to get more patents for our products and gathering new ideas that can be patented. In the telematics space, our focus is on CVs. While the sector is in a lean patch, we expect things to change as we go forward. And we have a team of 45 people working on innovating for new platforms for the logistics sector.
We have excellent products for the midsize segment vehicle with many functionalities and I do believe that we will be in technology areas that are cutting edge for the customer.

What are the challenges of localisation?
Localisation is important. At the level of PCBs and other electronics, we need to mature as a country. The manufacturing of PCB on service-mounted technology or SMT lines is taken for granted. One can get some parts at zero import duties but we have to take into account the foreign exchange part. We want to serve India from here, and hopefully cater out to the world. Our SMT lines are coming up and we will be ready.


On the challenges of localisation.
On localisation, we have invested in manufacturing and Harman has to develop the right supply base for localisation. This could include radio face plates, silver box and mountings that are not available here. We want to develop a system that works seamlessly with Harman overseas. From a business viewpoint, we wish to increase our value proposition. We will have the same global standards and will not dilute our standards. This year, we will launch products with locally-sourced mechanicals and will import PCB assembly as it is more cost-effective.

On the Google-connected car.
We are doing several things and there will be many more players in this space. One, we are partnering with Apple to integrate the iOS in the car. For Google, we are developing a complete infotainment system based on Android. It will be initially launched for the US market and eventually, I see it coming to India.
In the mobile space, Android dominates and it is in a matter of time before it is accepted as the in-vehicle system platform. Google plans to unveil its own system of Google in the car and apps on the Android device that can communicate with the vehicle’s head unit and provide seamless integration.

On the role of the Pune development system.
The Pune centre started with a functional head sitting in either Germany or North America. He now sits here in India. Harman infotainment engineering comprises centres of competences in areas such as navigation, driver assists, systems, multimedia, networking and so on.
In connectivity, the entire Centre of Competence (CoC) is led by the Indian development centre. We have horizontal COCs that provide core technology and the project teams that take technologies from COCs and add their unique customisation on the HMI.

A lot of Harman’s telematics products depend on the passage of key laws. What is your own reading of the situation?
We are counting on both organic and inorganic growth. The organic growth will be funneled by need for efficiency and with costs and manpower going up, this will assume greater importance. The legislation mandate will fuel inorganic growth. We expect laws to mandate the use of telematics in commercial vehicles and it is a matter of time before it gives us growth. India differs from other markets and we want to provide local market solutions. The US and Europe have gone through the blackbox phase; they have now connected radios with telematics applications sitting atop those radios. This will take some time before it comes to India. So we will go with embedded systems timeline for now. Of course, we wish to supply for both for developed and emerging markets. Embedded systems will be bread and butter for the Harman India in the short term.


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