Why Sat Nav(s) are not for Indian consumers?


Why Sat Nav(s) are not for Indian consumers?

[Please note that the word ‘Sat Nav’ used in this post is a reference to Satellite Navigation / Personal Navigation Device (PND)]

While there’s no first hand data available for India, there’s a survey result by  US Automobile Association (AA) members. The result throws shocking insights w.r.t. the behavioral aspects of the consumers in that region. When these behavioral patterns are correlated with that of Indian consumers considering the geographical challenges in India, it reveals some very very interesting facts.

The survey was conducted with 7,380 drivers in Nov 2008 which revealed some of the following facts:

1. Fear – Approx. 75% of respondent who have Sat Nav still carry a Road Atlas.

Isn’t it interesting? This is one of the highly unexpected outcome. It clearly outlines the fear and distrust that majority of the drivers share with PNDs; that there is a possibility to get mislead by these devices.

Why this is important because in US the navigation and exit signs are very well marked on road and the addressing system is extremely systematic compared to that of Indian scenario, where even most local residents may look confused in guiding you to your destined location (forget about the navigation device).

Sign suggesting drivers to not follow Sat Nav system

We all know for one how badly does India suffer with the navigation planning where road names are not marked on the roads at all and the notion of exit signs doesn’t exist (accept at rare places). Turn restrictions are not perfectly mapped till date by the data providers, index of landmark visibility doesn’t exist, the visibility most of the times is not guaranteed.

With such challenges in place, the problem is a very tough problem to solve in India. Therefore, the promise of Sat Nav(s) or that of the providers to take you to your destination without getting lost is an absolute fallacy.

PND users have themselves reported some of the following problems:

  • It takes minimum 15 minutes to bring the device to action. This involves making the satellite connection, feeding it with the relevant destination information etc.
  • The device actually forces them to go in a particular direction while it may not be allowed at all.

In actual, they feel that it creates utter confusion, adds to the indecisiveness on-the-move and leads to higher chances of getting lost on the road.

2. Misguidance – 30% respondents confirmed that their Sat Nav has misguided them. 4% strongly agree that they are worried about getting misguided while only 47% disagree that they are worried.

More than the majority, about 53% confirm about being misguided by the PNDs in real-time in US conditions. In an Indian scenario it wouldn’t be a surprise if this percentage is more than 90%. It’d be interesting to collate the actual percentage of people who are being guided greatly by these devices.

Especially in India, where a common man struggles to understand the basic functionalities of the basic mobile handsets, using a Sat Nav is no kid’s play.

3. Distraction – 22% of respondents agree that their Sat Nav device distracts them when they are driving. 33% seemed confused about it.

Breaking of traffic rules, poor driving habits and lack of patience among drivers are not new things to any one who has driven on Indian roads.

Add to this the visual noise across cities due to  unregulated/ corrupt adverting policies. The banners and hoardings are one of the major sources of distraction to these drivers.

Not to discount the fact of increasing mobile usage while driving among the drivers again.

Soon startups like CashUrDrive and Govt. initiatives allowing the advertising on moving vehicles will increase the reasons for distraction even more on the Indian roads.

With so much to distract for drivers, driving in India demands utmost focus (unlike western world). Isn’t it really important to understand if there’s any room for additional distraction (Sat Nav devices) for the Indian drivers at all?

4. Last-Mile navigation

Last-Mile problem is quite a visible problem to everyone of us in India and no structured efforts can solve it in even another couple of years to come. No data provider has the last-mile data availability today. While a few of them claim to initiate controlled efforts in this direction, it may still be a fallacy. Can a controlled effort really achieve door-to-door mapping across the country in a few years? I doubt.

As a consumer, we mostly invest heavily in a Sat Nav to ease the commute from one point to another point and not between two localities (which even a simple SMS solution can potentially solve or the auto drivers will solve; guaranteed), though the Sat Nav(s) promise point-to-point navigation without the Last-Mile data availability. Isn’t it interesting?

For the reasons above, I think the cost of device is not only in terms of hardware/software or the cost of updating map data but the additional helplessness and distraction it contributes to the Indian drivers On-move.


However, there are few interesting insights about Sat Nav(s) that you might want to have a look at:

  • 44% of the respondents use it very frequently.
  • 49% are worried that it might get stolen – Sheer love with their device, isn’t it?
  • 18-24 age group is most likely to have Sat Nav (43%)
  • 25-34 age group is least likely to have Sat Nav (38%)
  • Men are more likely to own a Sat Nav (47%) than woman (30%).
  • And that the SatNav device is the most wanted gift item in the west.


Note: I do not own a Sat Nav but do keep hearing the bad stories from it’s users, as well as the sad experiences from the car manufacturers. Though, personally I wanted to buy one for myself but couldn’t dare with majority feedback coming negative. It will be interesting to hear some good stories from the end users though. How many are here?

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About the author: Piyush is co-founder of Routeguru.

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