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A Senator Asked Automakers To Keep AM Radio In Cars. Here’s How They Responded.

Eight automakers say they have yanked AM radio out of the dashboard for some of their models, mostly in the fast-growing electric vehicle segment, due to a combination of technical hurdles, a belief that AM content can be accessed through streaming, and their conclusion that whatever content AM once had a lock on can now be found elsewhere.

In a series of letters to Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), none of the eight – a list that includes BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo – are signaling they are having any second thoughts about the move, despite cajoling from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the critical role AM radio plays in delivering public safety information to the public during times of emergency.

The responses from the two biggest U.S. auto sellers, Ford and Toyota, illustrate radio’s challenge. Ford has long embraced radio’s technology upgrades, including the HD Radio rollout. But keeping AM has proven to be a step too far.

“We acknowledge that broadcast AM radio has long been an important source of information for consumers,” Ford Chief Government Affairs Officer Christopher Smith said. But he added that information is now available through several alternatives, and many cars without AM can use HD Radio subchannels or internet streaming to provide the missing station’s content. Smith also pointed out that EAS alerts are now available on wireless devices. “With FM, satellite radio, mobile data, and others, vehicles and their drivers have numerous alternative sources to receive these alerts,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, No. 2 seller Toyota is hedging its bet on whether it might follow in the footsteps of the other carmakers and discontinue AM in its electric vehicles.

“Electromagnetic interference with AM radio signals from the battery electric platform is a challenge,” Toyota VP Stephen Ciccone said. “While Toyota has addressed this problem in our current vehicles, we would like to refrain from commenting on potential future business plans,” he told Markey in his company’s response.

Mazda said it has no plans to reintroduce AM to its first electric vehicle, the MX-30. The feature was dropped “due to poor reception quality” caused by the battery-powered motor’s interference with the AM signal. Like Toyota, Mazda would also not commit to keeping AM in its gas-powered models. “Mazda has no plans to remove support for receiving FM radio signals with future vehicle models,” it added.

Telsa, the EV trendsetter that first opened the door to removing AM radio from the dashboard, explained the electric drivetrain operates at a similar wavelength as AM, making it “unstable and unusable.” Senior Director Rohan Patel said that despite these challenges, Tesla understands how important it is for Tesla owners to have access to preferred media, including AM radio, during daily commutes. Patel believes Tesla’s suite of web-based media options allow drivers to listen to those stations via mobile apps.

Some Big Brands Remain Committed To AM

Even as AM is being dropped by some brands, some other carmakers have no plans to change the radio available in their dashboard. That includes Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Mitsubishi Motors, which said it is working to develop “innovations such as radio noise reduction measures, when necessary, to allow for broadcast radio in our vehicles.”

Honda said that for its two officially announced EVs, both AM and FM will be featured since the models were co-developed with General Motors utilizing GM’s pre-existing Ultium platform.

Yet not all auto brands think the mitigation efforts are worth the effort. Volkswagen EVs will not feature AM. Senior VP Anna Schneider explained their engineers have investigated the hardware and software methods touted as ways to reduce the problem, but the results did not meet VW standards. And while other countermeasures, such as metallic cages and shielding of the motor and battery could work, Schneider said it would reduce an electric car’s performance due to the added weight.

Industries Start Talking

The automakers’ defense of removing AM from their vehicles is not sitting well with Markey, who says automakers have undermined FEMA’s system for delivering critical public safety information to the public.

“Although many automakers suggested that other communication tools – such as internet radio – could replace broadcast AM radio, in an emergency, drivers might not have access to the internet and could miss critical safety information,” Markey said. “The truth is that broadcast AM radio is irreplaceable.”

But the Alliance for Automotive Innovation says the federal government and the automotive industry both need to recognize that the ways in which consumers receive information will change with innovation. VP Garrick Francis added they are also committed to maintaining consumer access to vital safety information, and so they have been meeting with the National Association of Broadcasters and FEMA to consider options.

In the meantime, NAB this week launched a new “Depend on AM Radio” campaign highlighting the importance of AM in the car for news, entertainment, and public safety information.

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