The remodelled Ford Endeavour may not have been compelling enough to get a second glance, but its launch did mark a new chapter in Indian automotive history: it became the first vehicle to be sold with a navigation system as an option. The Tata Aria, which hit the roads recently, was the first car to have a navigation system from the word go. And in the coming months, several new cars will have the option for a factory-fitted navigation system, including Hyundai's not-so-expensive i20.
And you do not need to own a car with an in-built navigation system to enjoy the pleasure of being told by a recorded voice exactly where to go. MapMyIndia, a company that provides map data, also retails off-the-shelf car navigation devices with preloaded maps. These use a plastic suction cup to fit onto your windscreen and take power from a car's 12-volt power source. You could also use Nokia's Ovi Maps on Nokia's Nseries devices (and some others), which provide turn-by-turn navigation, as well as use Google Maps, on most Android devices. The latest version of Android also has a specific navigation application.
But will the maps save you in a crisis? Will they tell you that you took a wrong turn at Bulandshahr and will now lose an hour-and-a-half? To use a cliché, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and using MapMyIndia's vx240 Navigator (Rs 16,490, retail, New Delhi) the taste is best described as middling, but with great potential. The device, which featured maps with addresslevel data for 15 Indian cities, has a wealth of data. You still do not end up using address-level information enough, since most localities have hare-brained house-numbering schemes, but when it comes to "Points of Interest", which remains the best way to find your way around a city, it hits the spot. Ovi and Google are not bad at all for free services.
While neither has addresslevel data as yet, both systems have a wealth of location data on Indian cities. However, avoid fiddling with your phone on the road, and keep it in a holster in front of you so that you can see it and the phone gets a clear satellite signal.
There is another issue with navigation in India, which Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India, tweeted while driving the Tata Aria. (The Aria uses maps provided by the Nokia-owned Navteq.) He argues that in India there is almost always someone on the road to guide you. He has a point, but India does have 3.3 million kilometres of roads. And we have not really taken up a navigation culture.
Like in other countries, there will be stories of old couples getting lost thanks to the navigation system. But with more cars coming with navigation systems, the systems will only improve and you will not have to stop to ask for directions.