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Exclusive: Letters From Automakers Offer Mixed Bag For AM Radio.

Letters from a group of automakers to members of Congress about the current availability of AM receivers in their vehicles – and their plans for the future – offer a mixed bag for AM broadcasters. Inside Radio’s review of letters from seven automakers – Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Rivian, and GM show some have committed to keeping AM in all their vehicles, while others have already completely removed the legacy band from their models. Some have excluded it from electric vehicles but kept it in internal combustion engine models (ICE), and some are hedging their bets about their future plans.

As widely reported, Ford reversed an earlier decision and is keeping AM in 2024 Ford and Lincoln models. And all current GM vehicles sold in the U.S. have AM/FM receivers. But with electromagnetic interference from electric vehicles creating a reception challenge, GM has “implemented several strategies to mitigate the effect” according to VP David Strickland. “These strategies can include a combination of cable shielding, specialized connectors, and component requirements to mitigate the interference with AM radio that can vary based on vehicle-specific factors,” Strickland said in a letter to Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN) and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH).

Beyond that, GM is keeping its future for AM close to the vest. “GM is firmly committed to ensuring that customers continue to have access to FEMA emergency alerts and information to complete their journeys safely,” Strickland’s letter continues. “Our future product plans and vehicle development initiatives involve confidential business information.”

Meanwhile, Mazda says the only vehicle in its fleet without an AM receiver is the MX-30, which is only sold in California. That’s because the MX-30 was “primarily developed for the European and Japan markets with small quantities intended for California in the United States,” VP Daniel Ryan said in his response to the lawmakers.

Europe has adopted Digital Audio Broadcasting while AM stations in Japan are simulcast on FM. “Other than the MX-30, Mazda is not planning to remove AM radio receivers from future models,” Ryan’s letter says, adding that more than 99% of Mazda vehicles sold in the U.S. have AM receivers. The automaker will, he says, “continue to review technical solutions to mitigate AM radio interference on all future models.”

Volkswagen Group of America, which includes Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, and Lamborghini vehicles in the U.S., offers AM, FM, and HD Radio in all its ICE vehicles. “This radio strategy is evaluated on a yearly basis and currently we have no plans to deviate from this strategy,” wrote Anna Schneider, Senior VP of Industry & Government Affairs. The group currently has just three electric vehicles but plans to roll out more than 25 new all-electric models to American consumers by 2030. “In the case of AM radio, the technology was evaluated, and it was determined that we are currently unable to offer AM radio in our EVs because of the poor audio quality our drivers would experience,” Schneider says.

For some luxury automakers, AM is a thing of the past. BMW of North America no longer includes analog AM receivers in any of its models. However, it does include HD Radio as standard equipment in all its models. But that’s cold comfort for many operators since most AMs don’t broadcast in HD.

Like BMW, Volvo has also removed analog AM receivers from all models. It is exploring making HD Radio standard equipment in future models. Electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian does not include analog AM receivers in either of the two vehicles it manufactures.

Responses from Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Polestar were not available for Inside Radio’s review.

Streaming Sold As AM Alternative

Automakers that removed analog AM receivers offer electromagnetic interference and the availability of AM radio programming via streaming apps as their explanation. Volkswagen said it took “numerous steps” to avoid removing AM from its EVs, including both hardware and software methods “but the performance did not meet the quality standards our customers expect.” Other interference-combatting measures like metallic cages or shielding and additional filters “could further reduce the interference” VW said, since adding that weight would have a “substantial impact” on its EVs’ range and performance.

Volvo also hasn’t found a technology “that supports receiving analog AM signals that reaches our standards for quality, cost and customer benefit.” Rivian echoed a similar refrain, citing additional costs and weight that would be involved in using electromagnetic shielding and specialized antennae.

All the automaker letters reviewed also voiced support for keeping motorists informed in emergencies through other means. Some also noted that EAS alerts can be received by HD Radio and satellite radio and that WEA mobile alerts are available on mobile devices, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems.

None of the automakers indicated they plan to charge subscriptions for access to broadcast radio. That’s no surprise since lawmakers pressed them with a question of how much in federal loans, grants, and subsidies they have received during the 2008 auto industry bailout. Virtually all the automakers dodged the question, however.

“No federal loans, grants, or tax incentives can mitigate interference to analog AM radio receivers,” Volvo USA-Canada CEO Michael Cottone said.

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