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More car makers offer HD Radio, but can you actually buy it?

Car dealer asks, WTF is HD Radio

On Monday the trade publication Automotive News reported that the number of car makers offering HD Radio is up, mostly relying on stats provided by iBiquity, which owns the technology. According to the article pricey brands Volvo, BMW and Rolls-Royce now offer HD Radio as standard, while twelve other brands offer it as an option. Curiously, only one Japanese brand, the Toyota division of Scion, offers HD.

However, there are a lot of things one can buy as an option on a car, so the more important question is, Is anyone buying? On the surface, thing don’t look too bad for HD. Apparently 438,000 automotive receivers were sold in the nine months ending June 30, contributing to a total of three million HD Radio receivers sold in the US, both car-based and not. By comparison about eight million cars were sold in the same period, meaning only about five percent of new cars sold were equipped with HD Radio.

After reading a recent Radio World article, I wonder if at least part of the blame is due to the difficulty of actually buying the option. Writer Thomas R. Ray III, who is normally a cheerleader for HD Radio, recounts the difficulty he faced in getting an HD receiver in his brand new Ford Escape. It turns out the Ford dealership had never heard of HD Radio, and so he ended up with a factory-installed analog radio. He encountered further trouble integrating an aftermarket receiver because of the Ford’s much ballyhooed Sync system.

As long as HD Radio remains an option on most cars, I don’t think it’s going to see the kind of growth it needs to become a mainstream technology. As it is, there isn’t enough to recommend HD Radio to make it work the extra hundred bucks or so to the average car buyer, who is probably more concerned with a CD player or iPod connectivity. I remember back when I was a kid in the 70s that AM radios were standard and FM was an option. It wasn’t really until AM/FM radios became standard that you saw FM radio start to take off. I’m not convinced HD offers nearly as much extra as FM did thirty years ago.

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3 Responses to More car makers offer HD Radio, but can you actually buy it?

  1. Greg August 26, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    Ford has been promising HD Radio since 2007, but it has never materialized. Audi has been promising HD Radio in 2010, too:

    “Audi announced it would make the technology standard in all its models by 2010, but this had not happened in the 2010 models that came out in the end of 2009.”

    The HD Radio option is generally $300 – $500, which would include passing iBiquity royalties onto consumers. Point is that HD Radio is expensive for automakers to install, has no ROI, and HD Radio simply does not work nearly as well as analog. Automaker-related Internet forums are filled with complaints and takebacks of HD Radio equipped cars to dealerships. The same thing happened with Jaguar promising HD Radio back in 2007, but eventually pulled the option after a company-wide service bulletin was posted. I believe that many of these iBiquity announcements are bogus, trying to prop-up iBiquity for an eventual IPO.

  2. Bill August 26, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Who really cares but the few people making a living pushing digital radio. The rest of the world doesn’t care. All they want out of radio is better programming.

  3. G. Henry September 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    It is definitely a shame that the greed of one company (Ibiquity) is stifling a better technology from becoming the standard. It’s almost as stupid as owning the rights to a human gene.
    The other big problem is the FCC’s seeming belief that just because a signal is digital it doesn’t need as much power to broadcast. I know that as a persosn living in an outlying area my television reception has suffered a lot even though it should have gotten even better with digital.

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