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.