Home >Companies >News >Mahindra revs up to introduce Android platform in cars

Mumbai: Srinivas Aravapalli, vice-president and head of vehicle systems at Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M), a unit of the $16.9 billion (around 1.1 trillion) Mahindra Group, can hardly hide his excitement about being the first Indian car maker to become a member of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), a global alliance of around 30 vehicle manufacturers that plans to introduce the Android platform in cars.

“We should see the first Android Auto-powered cars sometime in 2016," said Aravapalli, but declined to commit to specific timelines “because of our agreement with Google". M&M made the announcement about the tie-up at Google I/O, Google’s developer conference in San Francisco that was held on 28 May. Android Auto is Google’s solution to bringing the power of the Android operating system (OS)-driven smartphone to a vehicle’s infotainment system.

Currently, Aravapalli and his team are working on the “integration part" with Google, and hope to begin by having Android Auto in the company’s flagship models—the XUV 500 and the Scorpio.

Android Auto will enable Android phone users to connect to a compatible car and use customized Android apps and services that will be accessible on an in-dashboard screen. Users can control Android Auto with voice commands, make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, set reminders, get turn-by-turn navigation, explore Google Maps and even listen to music.

After the integration with Android Auto, owners of Mahindra vehicles will have in-car access to Google Maps, customized Google services and third-party apps through an infotainment screen, according to Aravapalli. He added that “eyes-free technology" like voice and spoken directions, combined with integrated controls like steering-wheel buttons, “reduce driver intervention significantly".

“Our company has been staying ahead of the curve when it comes to electronics in cars," Aravapalli said. Acknowledging the fact that imported luxury brands sport such advanced electronics, he pointed out that since 2000, M&M has been constantly adding new features such as ambient-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, tyre pressure-monitoring apps, cruise control, USB-based audio, voice-messaging system, (christened the “talking car" by the company), navigation in six regional languages, and parking assistance systems.

“Way back in the year 2000, we were the first company to offer a remote key. In 2005, we were again the first to get USB on audio in the Scorpio. In 2011, we introduced a six-inch infotainment screen in the XUV. A year later, we introduced the Blue Sense App in the XUV, initially for Android smartphone users," said Aravapalli, explaining why the alliance with Google makes sense.

M&M’s Blue Sense app now enables even iPhone and Windows phone users to connect with the vehicle using Bluetooth technology. The app provides alerts and warnings related to “door open", tyre pressure and quantity of fuel left, among others. The app also helps drivers connect with their vehicle via Bluetooth, get information about maintenance, tune in to their desired radio station and operate as well as control the infotainment system using their devices.

M&M’s association with OAA, according to Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India magazine, will help Mahindra introduce advanced features. “The integration of Android technology with the car will make communication with the car more seamless," he said.

However, an analyst at a global consulting firm who declined to be identified, said while it will help Mahindra make its sport utility vehicles smarter, “it’s unlikely to put it ahead of others in the game as most global auto makers are already part of some such alliance or the other".

Members of OAA, launched by Google on 6 January 2014, include car makers like Audi AG, Bentley Motors Ltd, General Motors Co. (GM), Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd, Renault SA, Hyundai Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Volvo Group.

To be sure, Apple Inc. has CarPlay, which features Siri voice control that works with the car’s controls and uses Apple Maps. CarPlay was launched in 2013.

But the fact remains that the Android OS accounts for 78.9% of the total smartphone OS market, followed by 17.9% for iOS and 2.5% for Windows, according to the March 2015 quarter figures released by research firm Gartner Inc. in May.

Car makers have the option of availing a similar solution from the Car Connectivity Consortium—a non-profit organization of auto makers, smartphone vendors and after-market car electronics providers—that has developed an open industry standard system called MirrorLink, which rivals CarPlay and Android Auto.

Some cars like the Hyundai Sonata feature both CarPlay and Android Auto. GM, too, is adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to some 2016 Buick and GMC models. The Chevrolet Volt, on the other hand, supports CarPlay and MirrorLink.

For truly connected cars, vehicle makers use OSs like QNX from QNX Software Systems Ltd, a subsidiary of BlackBerry Ltd, and Windows Embedded from Microsoft Corp.

The GENIVI Alliance, which uses a variant of Linux, is another option. It’s a non-profit industry alliance committed to driving the adoption of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) open-source development platform.

On 10 March, the GENIVI Alliance said its members Renault and Nissan will launch a new joint programme to deliver a common IVI system based on software developed within the alliance.

“QNX Software Systems is the clear leader in automotive software, specifically for infotainment, and is forecast to remain the leader for years to come," said Egil Juliussen, director of research, infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems at IHS Automotive, in a 5 January press statement.

The QNX software system includes head units, hands-free systems, connectivity modules, digital instrument clusters and advanced driver assistance systems.

QNX says its software has been deployed in the infotainment and telematics systems of more than 50 million vehicles. These include brands such as Acura, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The demand for connected services in cars is unquestionable, according to the Connected Car Industry Report 2014, by telecom firm Telefonica.

“What remains, however, is for original equipment manufacturers to ascertain how these products and services should be delivered. According to our survey, drivers want to access connected services through the dashboard, with more than 60% of respondents across all markets preferring to access features in this way," the report concluded.

“By 2025, the industry will not only recreate our highly personalized and digitized lives inside our cars, but also give consumers a bigger role in defining that experience, whether as a driver or passenger," said the IBM Automotive 2025 Global Study, released on 15 January.

Shally Seth Mohile contributed to this story.

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