Fleet News

Fleets need to switch on to big digital switchover

Fleets need to start preparing for the planned changeover from analogue to digital radio, which will affect every vehicle on the road.

The Government has set a provision target date for a complete move to digital radio by 2015. This means radios fitted into almost every vehicle on the road – it is estimated that between just 1% and 3% of the 31 million vehicles currently on the road are fitted with radios that are digital enabled – will either have to be replaced or fitted with a digital adaptor.

This has huge implications for fleets ordering cars from next year who keep them for the now typical 48-month cycle. All of these vehicles, if they are not equipped with digital radios from new, will have to have an adaptor fitted.

Therefore, the SMMT, which the Government has appointed to lead the digital changeover for vehicles, is advising fleet managers to equip any new vehicles they order now with a digital radio.

However, supply is limited. According to Jato Dynamics, of new cars registered this year just 16% had a digital radio available as standard or an option.

“Raising the level of digital radio demand from all drivers - including fleets – is key to vehicle manufacturers increasing the availability of standard and optional digital radios,” said Bob Davis, the SMMT head of aftermarket services.

“Communicating the issues is a vital part, but it also relies on broadcasters making sufficient content available across a significant proportion of the company.”

This means even where fleets want to ‘future proof’ their vehicles they are going to find it very difficult to do so.

There is some good news – car manufacturers have agreed to supply all new cars equipped with digital radios from 2013. This is two years before the planned switchover date.

But this still means that fleets acquiring new vehicles between now and 2013 must either choose those that come with digital radios or prepare to have their vehicles retro-fitted with new radios or fitted with adaptors before they de-fleet them (see CAP comments panel).

The retro fitting option is not recommended by the SMMT. It is recommending fleets look to have a digital adaptor fitted to their vehicles.

However, there is currently only one adaptor on the market, which retails for around £70. It plugs into a vehicle’s power socket as well as the radio and has to be attached to the windscreen. Such an option will not be attractive to fleets.

It is expected that the closer the changeover dates comes, the more adaptors will become available.

It is also expected that prices will come down, especially as one of the Government’s key objectives within its action plan, which was published in July, is to address the affordability of in-vehicle conversion and “to provide a wide range of affordable options to convert vehicles to digital radio”.

It is also predicted that some of these will be ‘hardwired’ into the vehicle and so will not intrude into the vehicle cabin and will not be moveable from one vehicle to another.

This type of device will be more attractive to fleets who can have them wired into their vehicles before defleet. However, these devices will require a technician to wire them in, which means an additional installation cost.

The SMMT is already working towards a training and accreditation scheme for aftermarket suppliers who plan to fit these permanent adaptors to vehicles when they become available.

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