Today’s connected cars could ultimately get us on the path of autonomous vehicles. But that’s a long way to go, and the connected cars are now getting better at their jobs and less dependent on smartphones for connectivity. We reached out to Tae-Jin Park, Executive Director and Chief Sales Officer of Kia Motors India, to learn a little more about the smart cars of today and his company’s activities in the field.
Edited excerpts from an email interview:
How do you make a car smart? Which guiding principles do companies consider? What problems do you want to solve?
The boundaries between different technologies are blurring and just like a smartphone, a car should also meet all the needs of today’s customers. Telematics is the area that makes our cars smart and right now Kia is the leading supplier of connected cars in India. We offer smart cars with a variety of advanced Connected / Smart features such as remote vehicle control, AI-controlled voice commands, over the air (OTA) map updates, and dedicated 24-hour contact center support for emergency and concierge services.
At Kia, we build smart cars based on the three guiding principles of safety and comfort. Under these categories, there are many problems that an intelligent car can solve. For example – three buttons that are attached to the IRVM (interior rear view mirror) of our vehicles, namely SOS, RSA (breakdown assistance) and UVO, are not only useful in emergency situations, but also offer our customers convenience with just one push of a button.
A lot of the features we see now are the same ones you have on the phone? Will that change?
A car is no longer just a way of commuting. it is an extension of one’s personality. Today’s Internet savvy generation has developed connectivity needs that aren’t just limited to their smartphones. They expect a similar seamless access to the Internet world with their cars as well as easy mobility. And as we move into the future, connectivity will be more than just a feature, it will be a necessity in today’s world.
Most of the functions of our connected cars are an integration of vehicle-specific and telephone functions. Such as Remote Engine Start / Stop or Live Car Tracking etc. requires that both technologies come together. In addition, there are also many vehicle-specific features. To give you an example: Kia vehicles are equipped with an embedded M2M SIM (Machine to Machine) card, with the functions in the car such as SOS, RSA (breakdown assistance), ACN (automatic collision notification) and POI (Point of Interest / Destination Support)) that could only be possible earlier with telephones.
In the future, connectivity functions will only increase, as will the integration of phone and car along with car-specific technologies. A phone is not required for features such as V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle) technology. Similarly, we can observe features like V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) or V2P (vehicle to pedestrian) which do not require a phone to function. Since the development of connected cars, it has challenged the conventional definition of mobility and we are sure it will never stop as the possibilities are endless.
How much customer feedback do you get before looking for new features?
At Kia, we believe in innovation that is based on customer needs and requirements and is reflected in all of our products. Our product strategy is designed to keep an eye on Millennial and Gen Z consumers. When we first entered India, we carried out deeply rooted research for more than two years which helped us understand the local market and customize the cars with the required features accordingly. We have seen many unmet requests from the Indian audience, so we put together all of our research to develop our product and pricing strategy that hit the sweet spot.
Our research and development team and product planning team work together to develop the best possible product, taking into account all external factors, before introducing new products / features / services etc. Based on our research and feedback from customers, we take a call to request a specific feature in that specific time.
How often do you add new features as updates? Is that easy to do in a car?
We analyze the market trends over time and then only roll out feature updates. We improve the performance of networked vehicle technology with every product event such as the model year change or the introduction of new products. We also try to pass the improvement on to our existing customers through software updates whenever possible. In today’s world, with advanced contactless technologies like OTA (Over the Air) updates are simplified much easier, with the possibility of further service expansion. We are among the first manufacturers in India to introduce OTA technology into the car.
Are there any concerns about safety when cars get smarter?
Our customers are at the center of our strategy and therefore securing their data becomes one of our main focuses. We employ the best data protection practices in the industry that are consistent with government guidelines and have partnered with leading companies to provide our security infrastructure to do so.
How much are the automotive companies looking forward to 5G to improve the functionality?
The global adoption of 5G will disrupt many industries, and the automotive industry will see many changes too. 5G will fundamentally improve the communication between customers and their vehicles and offer a seamless driving experience. This gives OEMs the flexibility to explore and implement related functions that require high speed and low latency.
However, connected car technology is still a new concept in India. The rollout of 5G in India is in the early stages and the timetable for its official rollout is still unclear. As a leading brand in connected cars, Kia is well equipped to tackle the new age of seamless connectivity. We are constantly analyzing the evolving consumer trends and will introduce new features in connected vehicle technology as soon as the market is ready.