14 September 2013

Abhishek Mishra on: car features

A few thousand rupees per car is all it would take for manufacturers to make their customers feel happier. And safer

Abhishek Mishra
Car image

Sometime back in the 1990s, the only ‘luxury’ car came with was a factory-fitted air-conditioner. The 1.3-litre Maruti Esteem was launched with power nothing and even the fuel cap had a lock and key mechanism. The last 20 years have made things a lot more convenient for the Indian driver. Almost every car sold in this country comes with power steering – you could count on your fingers the ones that don’t.

Today, cars like the Ford EcoSport come with an automatic emergency dial service that is activated in the event of an accident. And the Mahindra e2o lets you make good use of your smart phone to control pretty much every aspect of the car. Still, there are some gaps that need filling on all cars. So here are some features that I think will be offered (mostly as standard fitment, definitely as options) on all cars in the next five years.

Rear-view cameras: Now how difficult is this to do really? Hyundai, of course, has made rear-view cameras standard across all Verna variants. And embedding the display in the rear-view mirror is a brilliant touch. They’ve offered this as an option on the i20 as well.

Rear-view cameras work much better than sensors because it’s always better to see rather than rely on beeps to tell you where the car is going. I see more and more cars coming with rear-view cameras and hope these manufacturers do as nifty a job of incorporating the displays as Hyundai has done.

Cooled leather seats: I understand that leather seats in cars mean luxury for most people, but in a predominantly hot country like ours, they’re neither practical nor comfortable. If carmakers must offer leather seats – and they really must, given how much customers love them – the least they can do is make sure they’re ventilated and cooled.

Fat cats will especially appreciate. If their car is parked in the sun even for a while, leather seats get really hot. And while the AC at full blast may cool the cabin quickly, they’ll still get out with a sweat patch on their back. Again, ventilated seats are not something  new. Lower-end luxury cars like the Hyundai Elantra and VW Passat already offer these on some variants. So I’m sure cars costing more than Rs 30 lakh will offer this as a standard feature too.

Tyre pressure monitors: This is a huge safety feature that I’m surprised hasn’t already made it to a lot of cars. The security of knowing that there’s a system that continuously monitors tyre pressure is priceless. The number of accidents due to burst tyres has risen in the last 10 years or so because we’ve built roads that allow us to travel at high speeds for long periods of time.

Warning systems like these could alert the driver before things get out of hand. Cars as cheap as the Mahindra Scorpio have offered this option for years now. I think it will be offered on all cars that are likely to be used for long-distance travel.

Those are three features that in my book will be offered with cars in India in the near future. Of course, there are other minor things as well. Steering-mounted controls, for example, really make driving more convenient.

Being able to access the car’s entertainment system without taking your hands off the steering wheel is much appreciated by drivers.

As smart phones get smarter, I think there will be better integration with a car’s infotainment system. I’m not talking only of Bluetooth phone connectivity here. I’m talking of custom apps that pair with the car’s diagnostic system and tell you when your next service is due, what your average speed was, or what fuel efficiency you’re getting.

In the next five years, there’s a good chance that we will see all these options on all cars sold in the country. And probably by then, the authorities will make ABS and airbags compulsory too – despite our healthy disrespect for life, I’m sure anyone involved in an accident will appreciate these two important safety features.

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