Harman plans to supply digital clusters to electric two-wheeler OEMs in India
Technology major looks to leverage its expertise in designing advanced cockpit solutions for cars to offer digital instrument clusters laden with navigation and connectivity features for electric two-wheelers, which are witnessing strong demand in India.
US-based technology giant Harman, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Korean electronics major Samsung, aims to venture into the electric two-wheeler segment in India with its range of digital cluster and infotainment solutions.
The company, which has been collaboratively working with passenger vehicle majors, including Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Maruti Suzuki India, in India and offers a host of cockpit and digital solutions, including infotainment, telematics, audio, and digital clusters, intends to leverage its expertise in designing human-machine interface (HMI) systems to enter the country’s growing electric two-wheeler segment.
Sales of electric two-wheelers in India surpassed the million-units mark for the first time in FY2023 – 11,71,944 units and 155% YoY growth – and cumulative sales in the first nine months of CY2023, at 616,673 units are up 49%. At end-September 2023, total EV sales were just 14,501 units shy of entire CY2022’s retail sales of 631,174 units, a figure which will be surpassed in October. It’s this rapid rate of growth which has drawn Harman’s interest.
“We believe there is tremendous potential in India’s two-wheeler EV segment, and while we have catered to this category in global markets, we are right now in the process of conceptualising our products for India. This is a market that we have recognised as a key pillar of our future growth strategy, and we should soon be showcasing our innovations in this area,” Nikhil Iyer, Vice-President, Software Engineering for Digital Cockpit, Harman India, told Autocar Professional.
The company believes that just like intelligent cockpit solutions such as wireless smartphone connectivity, and beaming of navigation into the line of sight of the driver in a car, are improving the driving experience whilst making it safer too, it also foresees the potential of modern connectivity technologies playing a huge convenience- and safety enhancement role in two-wheelers.
Globally, the company has been offering its two-wheeler-centric solutions to OEMs, including the likes of Harley-Davidson, Yamaha and Honda, and acknowledges that so far, the category has not been its focus area in the Indian automotive market since it entered the country in 2008. “This segment is a really different ballgame, but we are hopeful of showcasing some products very soon,” Iyer pointed out.
In-cabin experience the real differentiator for cars
Talking about the passenger vehicle segment, Iyer explained that today, the in-cabin experience is the real differentiator amongst various competing products in a particular segment in the market, and companies are increasingly focusing to gain customers by virtue of technologically-advanced solutions and features.
Recently refreshed Tata Harrier and Safari come with bigger 12.3-inch, Harman-developed infotainment system and 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster replete with crisp graphics and usable information like replicating the navigation screen right in the line of sight.
Harman is a key supplier of infotainment, telematics, and digital solutions for Tata Motors, which has seen a tremendous boost in its brand image with its high-quality infotainment and audio setups in its latest model portfolio that comprises cars like the Tiago, Tigor, Nexon, Altroz, Harrier, and Safari. “Today, the automotive market in India is at a juncture where there is a lot of competition, with consumers having immense choice, and that is where differentiation is going to play a key role. That is what we offer with our infotainment and cluster solutions on the Tata Motors cars,” said Iyer.
With Tata’s flagship models – Harrier and Safari – recently getting a major midlife upgrade, the two SUVs have also seen introduction of a bigger 12.3-inch, Harman-developed infotainment system that has become the focal point inside their cabins, while also receiving a thoroughly modern 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster that is replete with crisp graphics, and aids the driver by displaying usable information like replicating the navigation screen right in the line of sight. “These latest generations of digital cockpit products are by far the most advanced systems that we have introduced in the Tata Motors range of cars,” Iyer said.
The ‘Ready Upgrade’ plug-and-play solution to improve the hardware (infotainment) of an existing car. Harman states this will enable OEMs to offer customers more features at a marginal cost.
Introducing a ‘Ready Upgrade’ solution
With the automobile increasingly becoming the third living space, and customers becoming more tech savvy, and demanding, Harman believes it is almost imperative to keep updating the infotainment at frequent intervals during the vehicle lifecycle. This is where Over-the-Air (OTA) updates are playing a key role, and moreover, Harman’s new innovative plug-and-play solution – Ready Upgrade – is likely to transform the space.
“In automotive, the hardware must perform for the entire lifecycle of the vehicle, despite processing capabilities getting improved almost every year. Therefore, at Harman, we are introducing a ‘Ready Upgrade’ product, which will be a plug-and-play solution to improve the hardware (infotainment) of an existing vehicle. With this device, OEMs will be able to offer customers more features at a marginal cost,” Iyer said.
He further explained that Harman has developed a proprietary connector, which allows it to interface with the vehicle network on one end, and on the other side, the connector plugs into an upgradable hardware that can be changed every few years during the ownership cycle to offer a brand-new in-car experience without the customer needing to spend a lot. The company envisions that Harman’s Ready Upgrade solution will empower OEMs to offer modern features to owners of even the previous generation of a car when its facelift, or new model is introduced. “It will certainly increase the loyalty that customers have with a particular OEM,” Iyer added.
Harman showcased this solution at CES 2023, and is already going forward with the technology for global OEMs, including the likes of Ferrari, Harley-Davidson and John Deere. “While it is not currently in the market, we are in active discussions with Indian OEMs on this solution. There is tremendous interest in this technology,” he said.
Bullish on Software Defined Vehicles
The company is optimistic about the undergoing transition towards Software Defined Vehicles (SDVs), and says that in general, software is eating up hardware within the vehicle. “An increasing number of vehicle functions are now being controlled and enabled by software, and we see SDVs are certainly going to be a reality soon.
“Having said that, while it is exciting, and opens new avenues, it also increases the complexity, pushing us to find ways to manage it. Today, a modern car has 100 million lines of code, and in the next few years, we are looking at an ecosystem where an automobile is likely to have around 400-500 million lines of code, which is staggering and exciting at the same time,” Iyer said.
“It will open tremendous opportunities for collaboration as the need for interoperability and plug-and-play interfacing increases and no single player is going to offer a full solution,” he added.
Out of its 10,000-strong workforce in India, more than 4,000 engineers at Harman’s Automotive Division in Bengaluru are developing such projects for the domestic as well as overseas markets. “India is the centre of gravity for Harman automotive, particularly from the software perspective. A good 75 percent of the software for all of Harman’s automotive customers globally, be it in North America, Europe, Japan, or China, is done in India.
“We have been able to be globally competitive by virtue of our costs, as well as resources which include SMEs, architects, product, and project managers. At Harman India, we have built expertise in niche areas that are not commonplace in the automotive industry. Therefore, India is heavily contributing to the success of Harman globally,” concluded Iyer.
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