“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.” – “Video Killed the Radio Star” – The Buggles
I discovered within days of driving home my new BMW X3 last fall that I was a victim of the much ballyhooed chip shortage. Among the features “deleted” from my car were “Passenger Lumbar,” “BMW Digital Key,” and “SiriusXM and HD.”
To its credit BMW and the dealer detailed the deletions on the vehicle’s Monroney label. Sadly, the SiriusXM rep I called to help me find and activate the service was unaware that the necessary hardware was not available as it should have been according to my coded VIN number. (Rumor has it that BMW intends to provide an aftermarket solution – but I’m not holding my breath.)
The experience was startling. Was BMW considering removing the car radio or maybe just doing without digital? Are they thinking that life would be so much simpler if they could dispense with the radio and all the testing and all the related cabling, semiconductors, and those damn antennas.
In fact, delivering an interference-free AM experience in an EV has become sufficiently challenging for some OEMs that they have, in some isolated cases, chosen to simply do without. We expect the radio in an internal combustion vehicle – but maybe not in an EV?
We take it for granted. But who is to say that there must be a radio in the car?
Has the time arrived when we need a radio mandate? Why didn’t my dealer see fit to alert me to the missing SiriusXM and HD Radio hardware? Was the dealer afraid it might be a deal breaker?
Is it time for the FCC to step in and subsidize the chip making resources of semiconductor companies such as NXP, Texas Instruments, and ST Micro? Do we need a strategic SiriusXM/HD Radio semiconductor reserve – to be tapped into in times of supply chain crises?
There is a clear public interest for requiring access to free over-the-air broadcast content in cars – especially in times of severe weather, terrorist attacks, road closures, bridge collapses! You might lose your cell service, but you can always find a channel on the radio. And, of course, the Emergency Broadcast System.
Within a month or two of taking delivery of my BMW I had the opportunity to take in the hybrid radio experience delivered in the newest EVs from Mercedes Benz – the so-called MBUX. Word is that Mercedes Benz has also been hit by radio chipset shortages but is withholding delivery of those chip challenged vehicles until the content can be installed.
My chip-less BMW has me listening to the radio without the benefit of rich HD Radio metadata and visual content and, of course, without SiriusXM, Howard Stern remains out of reach. A new in-car content consumption experience infused with visual metadata and integrated with recommendation engines, search, and personal profiles is arriving in the market only slightly delayed by the chip shortage.
Presumably BMW and others will reverse their “deletions” in recognition of the enduring value proposition of radio in the car.
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