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Auto Instrumentation: Stylish Innovation

Published March, 2016

- SHANKAR SRIVASTAVA

Auto instrument cluster and infotainment panel attract the first attention of all potential buyers.

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The automotive instrument cluster today is a stylish, sophisticated, personalised space, which provides the driver and occupants with relevant information at all times ensuring a safe and comfortable driving experience. The instrument cluster is fast becoming an area where automobile makers can differentiate from their peer group and appeal to the visual senses of their customers. OEMs and Tier 1s are looking for automotive instrument cluster platforms that are simulation-friendly yet cost-effective, offer superior personalisation, flexibility, and adaptability over multiple vehicle programmes.

The first items which attract the attention of any potential buyer of a passenger vehicle are the instrument cluster and infotainment panel, may it be a four- or a two-wheeler. Every manufacturer has its own signature concept design of presenting the functional features of the instrument display in the innovative manner with focus on aesthetics, clarity, ease of vision, ergonomic positioning, and accuracy and so on. In order to ensure that driving is equally safe and comfortable, a clear presentation of the information relevant at any given point in time and in the current driving situation is indispensable.

With the number of mobile devices steadily rising, the requirements that integration solutions have to meet are also increasing. Most of the recognised manufacturers offer surefire possibilities for more conveniently employing these constant companions in vehicles. Their wide-ranging Telematics solutions make it possible to receive and transmit information in and from the vehicle. Obviously, all developments are geared towards making motoring safer and more comfortable.

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Shape of things to come

Automotive instrument clusters offered in modern vehicles are trending to resemble an aero cockpit. Driven by safety regulations and the customers' need for multi-faceted information and media requirements in modern vehicles, the market is witnessing increasing provision of onboard computers, advanced 3D navigation and infotainment, high-resolution digital instrument clusters, natural speech processing, image processing and visualisation for driver assistance. As this computer becomes more complex, automakers are exploring new platforms to get into market faster with the lowest total cost. Fully autonomous and driver assistance technologies have become a key focus for every car manufacturer, as well as transportation services and technology companies. Surround Vision with Advanced Rendering close the gap between consumer electronics and automotive infotainment.

With every new launch of an automotive vehicle, one finds redefined what in-car entertainment can be, transforming the passenger experience with integrated Web browsing, theatre-quality HD movies, and console-quality gaming. It's a whole new level of innovation that delivers the ultimate in passenger productivity and vehicle entertainment.

Most luxury car makers like Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Masserati, Audi, Toyota Lexus, Porsche and others deliver first time features in automotive instrument cluster designs to meet the aspirations of their high profile and wealthy clienteles. These include conventional surround view systems show the driver a virtual view of the area around the car, using sophisticated structure-from-motion and advanced stitching for better image rendering and reduced "ghosting", such as where a line on the pavement can appear in two places at once. They include powerful graphics to render a virtual car with high detail models and realistic lighting effects, enabling the driver to see what the car looks like instead of a generic mode. Since the car needs to know exactly where it is, recognise the objects around it, and continuously calculate the optimal path for a safe driving experience, innovative software developments equip the on-board computers with computational capabilities for object detection, map localisation, and path planning, integrated with connected transport facilities, available in a country or location.

On the other hand manufacturers such as BMW, Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz have included fuel-economy gauges in some instrument clusters, showing fuel mileage in real time. The ammeter was the gauge of choice for monitoring the state of the charging system until the 1970s. Later it was replaced by the voltmeter. Today most family vehicles have warning lights instead of voltmeters or oil pressure gauges in their dashboard instrument clusters, though sports cars often have proper gauges for performance purposes and driver appeasement. Autonomous and driverless cars are the next to come and their requirements have and will provide a completely new dimension to this important auto component.

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Market Vision

Instrument clusters and infotainment panel market is directly proportional to the volumes of passenger cars, SUVs, MUVs, motorcycles and scooters produced by all the OEMs put together. Very small volumes are sold in the aftermarket space. The diversity of presentation is dependent on the various models and their variants offered by the OEMs for domestic consumption and exports to various countries. As per the data release by SIAM, the total sales during FY 2014-15:

Production:

The industry produced a total of 23,366,246 vehicles including passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, three-wheelers and two-wheelers in April-March 2015 as against 21,500,165 in April-March 2014, registering a growth of 8.68 per cent over the same period last year.

Design Trends - Instrument Clusters

• Analogue to Digital Display
• Telemetry data display
• Operational safety info and alarms
• Clear visibility
• Integrated Center Stacks
• Merged computer informatics
• Advanced graphics
• 4 K Display Panel
• Navigation information
• Connected transport information
• Gesture controls
• Driver identification
• Driver health monitoring
• Ergonomic positioning
• All-weather efficiency

Domestic Sales:

The sales of passenger vehicles grew by 3.90 per cent in April-March 2015 over the same period last year. Within the passenger vehicles segment, passenger cars and utility vehicles grew by 4.99 per cent and 5.30 per cent respectively, while vans declined by (-) 10.19 per cent in April-March 2015 over the same period last year. The overall commercial vehicle segment registered a de-growth of (-) 2.83 per cent in April-March 2015 as compared to the same period last year. Medium & Heavy Commercial Vehicles (M&HCVs) grew by 16.02 per cent and Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) declined by (-) 11.57 per cent.

Three-wheeler sales grew by 10.80 per cent in April-March 2015 over the same period last year. Passenger carriers and goods carriers grew by 12.16 per cent and 5.27 per cent respectively in April-March 2015 over April-March 2014.

Two-wheeler sales registered growth of 8.09 per cent in April-March 2015 over April-March 2014. Within the two-wheeler segment, scooters, motorcycles and mopeds grew by 25.06 per cent, 2.50 per cent and 4.51 per cent respectively in April-March 2015 over April-March 2014.

Exports:

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In April-March 2015, overall automobile exports grew by 14.89 per cent over the same period last year. Passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, three-wheelers and two-wheelers grew by 4.42 per cent, 11.33 per cent, 15.44 per cent and 17.93 per cent respectively during April-March 2015 over the same period last year.

Going further, "Automotive Mission Plan 2016-2026" released jointly by SIAM, ACMA and DHI envisages Vision Statement AMP 2026: "By 2026, the Indian automotive industry will be among the top three of the world in engineering, manufacture and export of vehicles and auto components, and will encompass safe, efficient and environment friendly conditions for affordable mobility of people and transportation of goods in India comparable with global standards, growing in value to over 12 per cent of India's GDP, and generating an additional 65 million jobs."

AMP 2026 envisages that the Indian automotive industry will grow 3.5 - 4 times in value from its current output of around 4,64,000 crore (circa 2015, which is one year before the end of the Mission Plan period) to about 16,16,000 - 18,88,500 crore by 2026, based on a base case with average GDP growth of 5.8 per cent and an optimistic case with an average GDP growth of 7.5 per cent during the period.

From the above it is clear that the market size of auto instrument clusters can also be expected to grow exponentially.

Way forward

Innovative introduction of instrument clusters are going to continue to be introduced with every new launch of an automotive vehicle: Passenger Car; SUV; MUV; Cross Over; LMV, LCV and others. The designs of displays will be similar to the fashion statements made in haute couture.