In Conversation With Sumit Chauhan – Vice President, Lifestyle Audio Division, HARMAN India

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We recently caught up with the Vice President of the Lifestyle Audio Division of HARMAN India, Sumit Chauhan to know about auto market with regards to audio systems, the new products (JBL Speakers and Amplifiers) launched by the brand and the Company’s short and long term strategy. Below is the edited copy of the interview with Sumit Chauhan.

We see a lot of new cars coming out with HARMAN speaker systems these days. Can you share some numbers on the growth you have achieved as an OEM supplier?

Car Audio is all about the quality of the sound. HARMAN infotainment systems supplied to Tata Motors are award winning products and trendsetters in their own way. Our Display Audio systems, with home grown Smartphone connectivity solutions, such as Turn by Turn Navigation, custom tuned acoustic experience in the Tata Hexa by an Indian OEM is an industry first for that segment. Tata’s popular SUV Hexa features JBL, a popular brand from HARMAN, in the form of a 10-speaker audio system. This vehicle had undergone custom acoustic tuning in our local acoustic engineering center, under the supervision of our expert sound engineers to provide the best signature sound for the vehicle.

Apart from Branded Audio System we are also offering speakers to TATA Motors for their existing and future programs. TATA Tiago is a good example where we received appreciations from the market on the audio system where our speakers are used. In TATA Nexon, we used our speakers and tuned a 8 speaker system considering the cabin volume to provide a true-to-life acoustic experience.

Tata Tiago AMT Interior

The other part of our business is Aftermarket Car audio. Car audio aftermarket is a significant part of HARMAN’s business – covering up to 10% of the lifestyle audio business globally and around 15% of the lifestyle audio business in India.

When we look at the market share, we are somewhere between 20-25% in India. HARMAN’s growth rate for the car aftermarket business is about 12% CAGR globally and about 15% CAGR in India.

Also, since the quality of audio which comes as standard fitment is getting better by the day, are you seeing a de-growth in the aftermarket segment, as people probably don’t see the need to upgrade the OE audio system.

Over the years, car manufacturers have realized the importance of good and quality audio fitments and customers’ decision making is also contingent on the features which are offered. Although there has been an increase in the OEM supplied audio fitment, it does not seize or hinder the aftermarket car audio.

The audio fitment which comes with cars varies depending on the price range, manufacturer, supplier etc. A budget segment car will not have a high end audio, and this is where the opportunity for aftermarket lies. If the person buying an entry level model is an audiophile, he/she will make sure to install the best audio technology after buying the car. For music lovers, audio quality matters the most and they are willing to explore options to customize their vehicle as per their choice.

Factory fitted audio equipment are getting better by the day but not for all segments. As a result, customers prefer to change the speakers, add up amplifier and subwoofer for better audio experience.

New Volvo XC40 – Harman Kardon speakers

Does the introduction of complicated electronics and assemblies, which are difficult to dismantle on cars, have an adverse effect on the aftermarket audio segment?

New and innovative technology is the need of the hour; and each industry needs to ensure that it’s not falling behind. The introduction of complicated car electronics will only compel the aftermarket audio segment to embrace the technological growth and evolve with time. The need for crystal-clear component audio system with latest technology innovations is being met by an aggressive auto industry.

What other trends do you see in the auto market with regards to audio? Are the tastes and preferences of the Indian customer changing in a drastic way? How?

Since 2017, there have been many innovations and new trends in the automotive audio industry.

We are in the nascent with regards to car audio in the Indian market. That said the perception and expectations are rapidly moving away from aftermarket install. This is primarily attributed to warranty issues and more importantly the evolution of OEM systems affording better user experiences.

As technologies improve, we can expect to see more and more electric vehicles on the road. One of the most striking features of these vehicles is their silence – and the lack of familiar audio cues is giving rise to significant safety concerns. HARMAN is taking the lead on solutions to mitigate these safety concerns and add sound to the silence and created HALOsonic, a tailor made suite of sound solutions. HALOsonic technology encompasses not only the cancellation of sounds, but also the creation of sounds through Electronic Sound Synthesis (ESS). Sounds may be produced on the outside of a car for hybrid and electric vehicles in order to enhance pedestrian safety. Sounds may also be produced inside the car for improved driver feedback and enhanced driving experience. The HALOsonic Internal Electronic Sound Synthesis (iESS) is the part of the system that enhances the driving experience. Drivers are accustomed to the audio response of a combustion engine as they accelerate, decelerate and drive around corners,
something which is missing in a near soundless electric car.

ESS is an exciting area for automotive engineers, as it offers endless opportunities to create unique sound environments. The ability to offer such customizable, high quality sounds in electric cars will add both enjoyment and greater safety to electric driving. It could also be a competitive differentiator for electric car manufacturers, who stand to gain from developing signature sounds for their respective models.

Tata Hexa JBL speaker

What is the range in terms of price that HARMAN offers in India at this point in time?

HARMAN offers a variety of solutions in the car aftermarket segment, including car speakers and amplifiers. The recently launched JBL Club, GTO and Stadium series of speakers and amplifiers are available from INR 3,000 to 20,000. All the three new series of HARMAN Car Audio Solutions come with proprietary Plus One™ woofer cone architecture that provides higher sensitivity, increased low-frequency output, greater musical character and can be fitted in almost all car segments available in the country. They are available through car after market dealers and showrooms across 30 cities and in over 100 towns in India.

How are the newly launched products (Club, GTO, Stadium and amp) different from the existing range of JBL speakers in India?

All the three new series of HARMAN Car Audio Solutions come with proprietary Plus One woofer cone architecture that provides higher sensitivity, increased low-frequency output and greater musical character. Given below are some details about these newly launched products.

  • JBL Club Speaker fits in almost every vehicle line at a reasonable price. This series boasts of advanced design technologies, such as woofers with UV-resistant polypropylene cones that are engineered to deliver clean, non-resonant sound quality under the demanding heat and humidity conditions of the car or truck environment. The JBL club speakers are launched at a starting price of INR 3,300.
  • JBL GTO Series are an ideal upgrade to any car‘s audio system. It is the most popular factory-replacement speaker, including component separates with woofer, tweeter and passive crossover. The price for JBL GTO speaker starts at INR 4,300.
  • JBL Stadium speakers are sophisticated crossovers coupled with soft dome tweeters, which produce smooth as silk highs with extraordinary detail, even at the highest volume levels. An optional midrange speaker with bandpass crossover provides seamless integration with woofer and tweeter. The price for JBL Stadium speakers in India, starts at INR 5,300.

JBL Amplifiers

  • The high-performance JBL Club Amplifiers deliver world-class JBL power from an aggressively-styled chassis built to fit today’s space-limited vehicles. They also feature dedicated connections for several advanced vehicle technologies, including many driver assistance systems, and the HARMAN HALOsonic system – a suite of acoustic solutions that cancel road noise for better-sounding music. This new JBL amplifier is launched at INR 14,600.

Sumit Chauhan with JBL Boombox (1)

With integrated infotainment system being the buzzword these days, what’s your short and long term outlook on aftermarket audio market?

At HARMAN, the infotainment (referred as Connected Car at HARMAN) and car audio division are separate Business Units.

Like mentioned earlier, we have award winning infotainment systems which can be experienced in Tata cars and we have always been at the forefront of innovation. The next big thing which we are working on in this segment are Digital Cockpits. Our infotainment system for automakers such as Tata Motors is only a start, Digital cockpits is the next big thing and its experience will go beyond just placing an interactive touchscreen in a car. Indian automakers are keen to showcase more features in affordable cars too, and HARMAN’s expertise in innovations could help them.

HARMAN’s in car entertainment team plans to introduce a number of Bluetooth-enabled products for the car audio market. We plan to introduce a couple of devices which can go either on the steering wheel or the (bicycle and motorbike) handle bar. They will come with a Bluetooth-interface and function as a portable speaker, thus ensuring hassle-free smartphone usage and high quality audio for the driver/ rider. We also plan to launch a range of amplifiers and speakers, both of which are specifically designed for motorbikes.

When we look at the two-wheeler market – the CAGR for accessories (Bluetooth helmets, speakers) that go on two wheelers is actually increasing, particularly in countries like India. This (2-wheeler accessories) is currently an open market with no big companies involved and HARMAN wants to focus on this as the company’s top aftermarket strategy. While we keep grabbing market share in the 4-wheeler segment, HARMAN will increasingly focus on the 2-wheeler market as well.

What are the challenges this industry is facing? Also, what are upsides?

While OEMs continue to offer more pre-fitted in-car entertainment systems, such as media players and speakers, the demand for aftermarket car audio devices will also continue to grow at the current pace, thanks to the sheer volume of Indian industry and the demand for customized audio experience.

This brings a number of upsides and positive opportunities for the overall automobile market. According to The Car Audio System Market 2025 report , the automotive industry throughout the globe is evolving and adopting advanced technological developments and innovations, along with increased focus on driver’s comfort and safety. The car audio market is also witnessing several developments in the technology such as voice-enabled audio systems and smartphone controlled audio systems.

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