Helmets and riding gears equipped with features such as Bluetooth and temperature control electronics are not a new thing in countries like Europe! But these are yet to strike a chord in India, and the same might be a massive opportunity for the ESDM sector!
Steelbird International is working on introducing a range of riding gear equipped with electronics in India. Rajeev Kapur, MD, Steelbird Hi-Tech India Limited, & President of Helmet manufacturing association, in an exclusive conversation with ElectronicsB2B, shared that apart from helmets with Bluetooth technology, the company is also working on temperature-controlled riding gear, including gloves and riding jackets for the Indian market.
He said, “We were the first ones to launch an aux cable-powered call voice-friendly helmet in India back in 2,000. Though the same sold like hotcakes here, we stopped working on that technology because of two reasons. One, because we felt the same was outdated, and two, because Covid 19 struck, and sales of any kind of protective riding gears simply stopped for a brief period in the country.”
Currently, most of the two-wheeler riders rely upon external Bluetooth fitments in order to listen to music or make calls while riding. The prices of ‘good quality’ Bluetooth devices for helmets start at around Rs 2,600 in India.
Amendment In Laws Will Drive the Market
Co-Chair of ASSOCHAM and also a member of the technical committee of BIS, Kapur is of the view that recent amendments proposed around the incorporation of electronics in Helmets will prove to be a turning point for the market here.
“We had to convince the authorities via our research that things are changing worldwide, and electronics equipped in helmets and other riding gear can make the journey safer for the riders,” he said. He added that the approval for getting helmets equipped with electronics homologated with the ISA mark had been given only a few months back.
Steelbird, owing to the recent amendments, is now gearing up to launch five helmet models equipped with Bluetooth capabilities. Kapoor confirmed that the launch will take place in March this year. A lot of these will also feature blinkers to aid riders during the night.
“The average selling price of the helmets will go up by at least Rs 1,500, but for equipping a helmet with a decent Bluetooth capability, that is something we and the end consumer will have to pay together,” he explained.
The research and development cost involved in developing a new helmet model is approximately Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2.5 crore. The addition of electronics in riding gear, as Kapoor shared, will also require a company to set up a better after-sales service.
“Unlike Europe and many other parts of the world where people ride two-wheelers out of passion, riders in India ride because of the necessity. It is critical for us to make sure that we deliver price- and value-sensitive products, and at the same time, also make sure that these are commercially viable for the company,” Kapur explained.
Electronics As The Common Thread
Apart from the riding gear equipped with electronics, the company has also started working on the electronics toys front. The MD highlighted a baby walker equipped with a Bluetooth speaker as one of the firsts in the industry.
“We saw baby walkers equipped with preloaded songs and thought, why not equip these with Bluetooth speakers, and then we did it,” he said.
Incorporating electronics to enable smart features across verticals, Steelbird Hi-Tech is present and is the common thread the company is working on at the moment. However, it does not have the capability to manufacture the required electronics.
“We are in the process of collaborating with companies in India that can help us with this technology. Our focus is on finding Indian partners, but we have received interest from companies located outside India as well. Though we have not finalised a partner, we hope to do the same soon, and we might not limit ourselves to just one partner,” Kapur highlighted.
Whether the company will foray into manufacturing the electronics required for riding gears is also a decision that Steelbird Hi-Tech has not thought about as of yet.
“Scale, market, and margins will play a big role in deciding whether we manufacture the electronics on our own or not, as the same will require setting up a new unit and a lot of other business dynamics,” he said.
Kapur added, “I think the market for smart helmets will be around two to three million pieces annually four to five years from now. It could be more, but our research shows that. I do not think the market for smart helmets will ever be over 5% of the overall market in India.”
In comparison, the market for normal helmets will grow from 40 million to over 70 million pieces annually. Temperature-controlled helmets, helmets with photo chromatic visors, and more such innovations are what Steelbird Hi-Tech is working to bring to India.
Last year, the company announced that it was in the process of scouting land for setting up a helmet manufacturing unit in Hosur, Tamil Nadu. Kapur had hinted that an investment of Rs 250 crore will be made in setting up this facility.