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Cadillac becomes the first US auto manufacturer to include HD Radio technology…but will anyone listen?

On the heels of recent announcements from both Hyundai and Mazda, each stating they would expand HD Radio in select car models in 2012 and 2013, Cadillac said today they will become the first US car manufacturer to include HD Radio as standard equipment in some Spring 2012 models.  HD Radio will be part of Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) “infotainment” system, which debuts in the XLS luxury sedan early next year (for more on the technical specifics of CUE, click here).  The press release touts HD Radio as a unique addition to the CUE system:

More than 1,300 digital HD2, HD3, and HD4 channels across the country are broadcasting programming, which can be heard with an HD Radio receiver.

HD Radio Technology also transmits show Program Service Data – such as song titles and artist information – that display on the CUE audio screen. It can be paused up to 20 minutes, allowing users to resume the program – similar to a DVD – if they interrupt a program while driving.

In the Cadillac CUE system, HD Radio users will have the added feature of iTunes® Tagging, which allows listeners to tag their favorite songs for later preview and purchase on iTunes.

“HD Radio Technology is an excellent addition to CUE, the groundbreaking user experience for connectivity and control which will debut in the new XTS luxury sedan in spring 2012,” said Cadillac Product Director Hampden Tener.

But that’s not the whole story.  Much as it has been in the past, HD Radio will continue to receive stiff competition from the usual suspects: Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, iPod connectivity, and, most interestingly, access to a Pandora application directly from CUE.

Personally, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with HD Radio. Since it’s inception, HD Radio had a tough time correctly branding and positioning the service, which, remember, doesn’t stand for High Definition (it doesn’t stand for anything, and is technically the proper name of the product created by iBiquity).  I love the idea of HD Radio: it widens the terrestrial radio band and gives the listener more choices with minimal effort.  All that’s necessary is an HD Radio receiver.  But within the last few years, instead of creating new, unique content on the HD1, 2 or 3 stations, radio owners are dumping formats from the traditional FM band and placing them on HD Radio.  For instance, while it saves face for CBS to tell fans of West Palm Beach’s rock station WPBZ that their station still exists, even though it was displaced from FM earlier today by an Adult Top 40 format, it’s just on an HD Radio station (and also streaming online).  In other words, there are few unique HD Radio stations that make HD Radio a compelling option, especially when presented on the same platform as Sirius/XM and Pandora, as we’re seeing in the aforementioned CUE system (sidenote: I find the most intriguing HD Radio offerings to be those that combine two of the best features of terrestrial and satellite radio: localized and niche programming.  For example, WXDX’s HD2 stream is devoted entirely to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.  At Detroit’s WRIF’s, their HD2 stream goes under the moniker of RIFF2, and is comprised entirely of music – new and old – from the Motor City.)

HD Radio’s major problem is that consumers still have a hard time pinning down exactly what HD Radio is.  While including the offering in more cars, where the majority of the time spent listening to terrestrial radio takes place is a start to increase awareness, I have a hard time believing your average new car buyer will take the time to embrace or even casually explore HD Radio.  Pandora announced earlier this year they’ve reached 100 million users, with 36 million of those users accessing the site monthly, and with more internet radio applications likely to be included in automobiles within the next few years, HD Radio has a tough hill to climb.

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7 Responses to Cadillac becomes the first US auto manufacturer to include HD Radio technology…but will anyone listen?

  1. Greg December 7, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    BMW has had an HD Radio TSB outstanding since 2007, and Volvo has two since 2009. All this shows is that iBiquity has a great sales team, convincing some automakers to install their flawed tachnology. Don’t forget about the Bartels/Wolf investigations into iBiquity and the automakers. I called my local Kia and Scion dealerships, and NO HD Radio. I bet it is the same with some of the other automakers. Ford still does not have a factory-option to install HD Radio – they know better.

    As far as you loving HD Radio, it causes significant interference to adjacents, making them unlistenable. So, HD Radio realy doesn’t offer more radio stations. What a complete fraud.

  2. Ben Y. December 7, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    “In other words, there are few unique HD Radio stations that make HD Radio a compelling option,”

    Amen to that. All I had in terms of HD2 stations was a country station but weird enough once one popped up on the FM dial it went away.

  3. John Anderson December 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    If iBiquity showed no momentum getting its product into cars (and, more importantly, mobile phones), HD Radio would already be dead. The fact that automaker adoption is in “select” models and as an adjunct-option in “infotainment” systems doesn’t speak highly regarding their inherent love for HD Radio. Given that they’re effectively redesigning the dashboard to bring in IP-based content, I think they see it as an extra bell or whistle to the larger playing field.

  4. John Trimble December 8, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    It took GM long enough! Almost every other automaker selling in the U.S. has been providing HD Radio, either as standard equipment or as an option, for a while now. Yes, Cadillac is the first U.S. _nameplate_ to offer HD as standard, but other vehicles manufactured in the U.S. but with foreign nameplates have been including it as standard equipment, and other U.S. nameplates have been offering it as an option (Ford).

    Typical that GM is late to the game. HD Radio is the future of terrestrial radio in the U.S.. Consumers love it, broadcasters want it. Time for GM to make HD standard across _all_ of its products.

  5. John Anderson December 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Untrue, Mr. Trimble. NO auto manufacturer, foreign or domestic, has committed to putting HD Radio in as standard equipment: it’s been mostly an add-on to higher-end model variants and, now, as “standard equipment” in (mostly) luxury vehicle “infotainment” systems, which come with many features that consumers do want (like in-car streaming), and where HD Radio finds itself in an adjunct role.

    Considering that HD Radio has a whopping receiver penetration rate of .007% after nearly ten years, your claims are simply laughable.

  6. John Trimble December 10, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    John, you might want to do some research.

    BMW has made HD Radio standard on all models.

    Hyundai offers it as standard on the Azera.

    Now Cadillac.

    Due to the recession, the deployment of HD Radio was slower than expected, but now it’s available, either as standard or optional equipment, from most automakers. When optional, it’s usually part of an upgrade package for the entertainment system.

    The way it usually works with new features on automobiles is that they start off as options, then eventually become standard as the cost of providing them goes down. Once one manufacturer makes a feature standard, its competitors have to follow.

    In a few years you’ll see HD Radio as standard on nearly all vehicles. The problem for iBiquity is that it takes a long time for the country’s fleet of vehicles to be replaced. It could easily take ten years before most vehicles on the road have HD Radio. Fortunately, there’s no deadline here, it happens when it happens.

  7. Greg December 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    John A.,

    Mr. Trimble is actually “SMS” and “SMS88” from ba.broadcast Usenet. He posts the same crap there continuously.

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