Fleet News

Car manufacturers steer clear of digital radio

The Government’s switchover date for digital radio may need some fine-tuning, as a new survey of car manufacturers reveals at least half are steering clear of the new technology.

As part of its Digital Britain vision, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport named 2015 as the deadline for turning off its ageing analogue radio network, in favour of digital sets. The move would mean the vast majority of today’s in-car tuners would cease to work overnight. But slow take up, and new findings from car magazine Auto Express suggest the switchover could now be delayed until 2017.

A survey of 24 mainstream cars manufacturers by Auto Express has revealed a staggering 50 per cent don’t offer any digital radio units for their model range, even as an optional extra. Meanwhile, almost 60 per cent of new vehicles registered this year came with no option for digital radio.
Citroen, Nissan, Fiat and Hyundai are among the makers that have decided to shun the new technology. A Citroen spokesman said: “No Citroens have digital radio fitted (or as an option) and no date has been set as to when this will change.”

The Government switchover currently relies on a number of key targets being met - namely that half of all radio listening must be on digital platforms, national digital radio must match FM coverage (currently 98 per cent), and local digital radio must reach 90 per cent of the population and all major roads.

Only 18 per cent of radio listening currently happens via the digital platform at present, according to the latest figures from audience monitoring firm RAJAR. Complaints include poor coverage. While only 85 per cent of the population can actually get digital audio broadcasting (DAB) at present. New transmitters are constantly being added to the network, but the reception still isn’t up to scratch for some brands.

An Audi spokeswoman said: “We’ve had negative feedback from customers about poor digital radio coverage. If the broadcasters get the transmitter infrastructure right, then it would be a totally different ball game.” Audi is one of the few makers that does offer DAB as an optional extra on some models, but its spokeswoman added: “We can’t currently see DAB being offered as standard as the demand doesn’t justify the extra expense.”

The result is that the Government will have to revise its ambitious switchover plan, delaying it for a further two years, says Digital Radio UK, the body that includes broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers. Fears that a complete switchover would mean a loss of audience has also led to predictions from some insiders that both FM and digital services would run in tandem for a prolonged period.

Auto Express News and Features Editor Julie Sinclair said: “If the Government can’t even persuade the motor industry to back this new technology, how is it going to convince cash-strapped motorists to get on board? Maybe it should put its money where its mouth is, and subsidise the digital switchover by dipping into its fuel duty coffers.”

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