Dutch multinational technology firm TomTom was one of the leaders in personal navigation devices (PND) until GPS with Google Maps became the mainstream in smartphones. Although the PND industry has died a slow death, TomTom has evolved and flourished. Corinne Vigreux, the founder of TomTom, tells Business Today how the company shifted its focus to evolving mapping solutions and has set up its second largest site in Pune.
How has TomTom's journey been in India?
Founded in 1991, TomTom invented an easy-to-use navigation device, helping 18 million people reach their destinations. Since then, it has grown from a start-up into a leading global technology company but still retains its entrepreneurial spirit. In India, we will be celebrating our 10-year-long presence in 2018. Throughout this journey, we have grown continuously - going from access to talent, building up engineering teams and allowing mass production at high quality to balancing insourcing and outsourcing capabilities and creating customer market proximity. Today, TomTom has a large presence in Pune, and we are extremely proud of our contribution and accomplishments.
What kind of presence do you have in the Indian market now?
Our India operations are headquartered in Pune, and we work across various departments - from engineering to marketing and sales to customer care. Earlier this year, we announced the launch of TomTom Traffic Centre in Pune. It demonstrates how TomTom turns data into actionable insights that can help traffic planners and inhabitants make smarter decisions. Traffic Centre gives technologists, governments, B2B and automotive licensing partners, as well as other stakeholders, access to traffic management expertise to help them start planning for a smart future.
What are your investment plans in India?
In India (Pune), we have grown from a handful of employees to one of the largest TomTom offices. The launch of the Innovation Hub in 2016 and the Traffic Centre in 2017 is a testimony to our commitment to the Indian site and market.
Enabling cities to become smarter is very important for India as a country, and we ensure that our technology and information are in perfect alignment with that goal. TomTom is enabling the building of smart cities through our traffic data and maps. The launch of the Traffic Centre demonstrates how we are paving the path for smarter cities and smarter mobility.
Globally, TomTom invests a large part of its revenue in R&D, which covers all product development, including our map releases, map-making information systems, product-related online services, and device software and hardware development projects. In 2016, our global R&D cash spending totalled 283 million euro, an increase of 6 per cent compared to 2015. We have over 3,100 people working in R&D across 36 countries.
With personal navigation devices becoming a thing of the past, how have you managed to survive so long?
We started as a small software company 25 years ago. We experimented with digital maps on portable and mobile devices, and that led to a breakthrough in technology. We have sold 80 million navigation devices since then. The world has changed, though, and we have diversified our business and are building on our leading position in navigation technologies. Currently, we provide location-based content, software and services to business customers. For example, we supply traffic information to 54 countries. With our HD maps and Road DNA, we are well placed to provide the kind of maps that autonomous driving requires, and we are partnering with technology companies such as Microsoft and Uber to enable the future of driving.
How actively do you update your maps for the Indian market? Who are using TomTom maps in India?
In June 2017, we announced the availability of weekly updates of our global map database for business customers. The industry norm for global automotive-grade maps is quarterly map releases. But TomTom has moved beyond this in 2016 with monthly updates and has now taken a step further by introducing weekly map updates. By making a new map available every seven days, we are enabling our customers to access high-quality map updates more than four times faster than before. For our licensing business, we work with strategic partners across the globe including India. Similarly, we have relationships with local and global major automotive companies.
Google Maps and MapMyIndia are popular when it comes to local maps. How do you plan to take on the competition?
TomTom has been innovating in the digital map industry for over 25 years. Its map-making process leverages community updates to ensure that our maps most closely reflect real-world reality. This process necessitates the use of local knowledge. TomTom maintains a local staff presence in India, ensuring the most accurate map available in the Indian market. By leveraging our world-class expertise in map-making and traffic technology, coupled with our large workforce in India, TomTom is competitively well positioned in this region.
You have been selling wearables in India for a few years now. What kind of market share have you captured?
Wearable is a large category, and we do not cater to the entire gamut. Our focus is clearly on the running community who are looking for a reliable training partner to achieve their goals. We cannot share country-specific numbers, but globally, we have, until and including 2016, sold over 2.7 million sports products.
How is TomTom contributing towards the future of driverless cars?
It is widely known that mapping is a key pillar for autonomous driving technology and that autonomous vehicles need high-definition maps (HD Maps) to position themselves on the road, to plan their path and to assist the vehicle sensors. That is why we have invested in this technology early on, launching the TomTom HD Map in 2015 and quickly becoming the leader in coverage of HD Maps, with nearly 4,00,000 km mapped across Europe, the US and Japan. We now have coverage in 48 US states and 19 European countries. We are also partnering with Baidu to create HD maps for China. Our ambition is to shape the future of mobility and take a front seat in the autonomous driving space through our contribution.