Tata Motors’ Mohan Savarkar unveils India’s automotive future with AI and ADAS in cars

In recent years, technology has become an increasingly important component of automobiles, to the point that an increasing number of purchasers are prioritizing specific aspects over others, such as the drivetrain and engine.

The automaker in India that anticipated this trend and made the most of it was Tata Motors, with their New Forever line. We spoke with Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles Chief Product Officer Mohan Savarkar about technology in automobiles, the changes in Indian car buyers over the past five years, and whether generative AI is truly necessary for cars, particularly in India.

How do you think client preferences in terms of technology have changed in the previous five years?

In the last five years, technology has had a significant effect. Cars from European markets were divided into three categories: entry-level, mid-level, and luxury. This segmentation determined what technology was installed in certain vehicles. However, even in the luxury car sector, the experience was more focused on driving than on technology.

This has changed. One of the explanations could have been COVID, when people with disposable wealth bought a lot of stuff that was far more high-tech than their cars. This began to reflect in terms of what people desired to see in their vehicles.

For example, five years ago, a feature like a sunroof was not in high demand. However, we are currently seeing that about 92% of our Harrier and Safari customers select a sunroof. Even in other cars in India, demand for sunroofs has increased from roughly 5% in 2019 to over 26% currently.

Similarly, five years ago, the penetration of ADAS in the country was negligible, but it is now around 8% and fast increasing. Similarly, the percentage of 360-degree cameras has increased from 0% to 8%.

Six airbags, telematics, LED lighting, huge infotainment screens, automated transmissions, powered seats, and other features are very popular. Automatic transmission, in particular, is gaining popularity, rising from roughly 8% to 27% as of previous year.

When it comes to vehicles, India is poised to follow the path of more developed nations, despite the country’s low car penetration per thousand people.

What inspired Tata’s New Forever range’s new design philosophy?

People are evolving swiftly over a short period of time, as we can witness. People are quick to adapt to, and then adopt, new technologies in all aspects of their lives.

Cars have long lagged behind our electronics in terms of performance. Once you get inside your car, it’s like going back in time.

That was the catalyst for us to examine how we might keep up with other areas of people’s lives and the rate at which they were adopting new technology. That was the catalyst for New Forever.

Outside of the car, technology is constantly expanding and changing. We had to ensure that we could match that in our cars. If we don’t accomplish this, consumers will begin to believe that our cars lag behind what they are used to in their daily lives. This allows us to ensure that we are on track in terms of what consumers expect and what we provide.

What are the most desired technologies and features among buyers?

All of the features mentioned before — sunroofs, LED headlights, huge infotainment screens, automatic gearboxes, powered seats, and so on — are in high demand in diverse cars to varying degrees.

Most of these features are taken for granted in automobiles like the Tata Nexon; customers simply want them. Everyone desires the sunroof in particular.

Is it true that even car fanatics prefer the creature amenities of a car to the thrill of driving?

It has, indeed. People are increasingly interested in how they experience a car rather than just traveling from point A to point B, and automakers are responding accordingly. People in the back seats, like those in the front, desire some technology or a feature from the car.

What is Tata’s strategy for new automobile technology and features? What is their approach to automobile technology?

It would be a matter of timing. It’s not as if we aren’t aware of a lot of available technology. We want to make sure that we time it so that it reflects where the Indian consumer is heading and what they desire.

For the Harrier, Safari, and Nexon, for example, we chose a more digital theme. The inside and exterior both have a strong emphasis on digital, which has been well appreciated by our customers. Were we to try this three years ago, it could have been too soon, and we might not have gotten the same response.

We must strike a balance in this regard, keeping track of technology, developing new technology, and ensuring that new features and technology are delivered at the appropriate moment.

Is India prepared for higher degrees of assisted driving technology, such as ADAS Level 3 or above?

OEMs can independently add features for up to level 2 ADAS. The road infrastructure begins to make a difference after level 3. In some areas, India’s infrastructure is improving, while in others, much work remains to be done. In India, level 3 ADAS systems may be too soon.

However, there is a silver lining in India’s situation. Countries such as China have only recently been able to do so. Even in countries such as the United States, it has not been extensively implemented. Furthermore, our journey to level two ADAS is driven more by economics than anything else. India will undoubtedly catch up in this area.

Around 2010-11, ADAS began to appear at level zero in the United States. Almost 12–13 years later, there are few cars that feature ADAS Level 2. In India, the first ADAS-equipped vehicles appeared in 2020, and within three years, approximately 8% of vehicles had some form of ADAS.

Another example is ABS, or anti-lock braking systems. ABS was introduced to India as a distinctive feature about 2006. Without ABS, you don’t have a car. It took us 14 years to complete that journey. The travel will be significantly shorter with ADAS.

In India, there is a big thirst for embracing such technology, as we have seen with smartphones or emission standards, among other things. Furthermore, we are well-known for jumping generations.

Some Western automakers are incorporating generative AI technology, such as ChatGPT, into their vehicles. Is there a need for generative AI in automobiles, particularly in India?

Generative AI is on its own course. It is something that will first be seen in other elements of our lives before being seen in automobiles. The question is whether the journey will be as long as that of other technologies.

Perhaps not, considering that every new technology that becomes available is accepted faster than the one before it and usually has a shorter timescale requirement for widespread adoption.

As an example, consider our transition from 3G to 4G, and then from 4G to 5G. The level of acceptance for 5G in India has been tremendous. AI must also be employed meaningfully before we can begin to see its real-world applications and then attempt to incorporate it into automobiles. Although it may take some time, it will not be too long.

What types of technologies can automobile purchasers expect to see more of in the coming five years?

There was a time when nothing changed for 20 years or more, but now five years is a very long time in our industry. However, software-defined vehicles, or SDVs, will be common, and I am keeping them apart from ADAS. With SDVs, you first put together the software and then let the program determine what kind of hardware is needed. This is still on the horizon and has yet to enter the mainstream, but once it does, it will quickly engulf us.

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