German DAB display on a receiver optional in VW models there

German DAB display on a receiver optional in VW models there

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Kudos to Ford for including DAB radio as standard in the new C-Max minivan line - now with a seven-seat Grand version due on sale here in the UK next month. Joining Mini which announced back in February it too would be standardising Digital Audio Broadcasting, our equivalent of HD radio in the US (same idea, different technology).

DAB - much better sound quality, numerous extra stations thanks to the multiplex technology - has been around for several years now and is catching on in the home consumer market after a slow start - 50% of all national commercial radio listening is now via digital platforms. Our local Tesco Extra supermarket's consumer electronics section has a heap of portables and mini hifis on the shelves but the DAB button is still a rare sight on the dashboards of cars in UK showrooms. It's usually a ridiculously costly factory option - GB39.95 for a passable portable radio at Tesco; GBP300 more on the bill for your new Jaguar; GBP100-300 on other Fords, for example.

Atermarketing either involves an adaptor that sucker-sticks to the windscreen and plays through a spare FM frequency slot on the existing stereo - boosting station choice but not the fidelity - or spending hundreds to change out the head unit to get the full deal.

The UK government has made clear it wants to switch off analogue radio - AM and FM - as it is already doing with television but has not yet set firm dates - 2015 is one mentioned target. That seems to have prompted most the UK car industry to acknowledge DAB, with many OEMs now offering the option, but keep fitting AM/FM as standard, leaving it open to recent tabloid newspaper claims it is selling us radios which will be 'obsolete' before the car.

The TV retail industry faced similar claims when it was still flogging analogue-only TVs well after the digital switchover had been heralded.

At the beginning of July, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) welcomed the publication of government’s Digital Radio Action Plan which, it said, "acknowledges the scale and complexity of the challenges facing the automotive industry in its transition to digital radio".

Government minister Ed Vaizey MP said the plan reaffirmed the government’s commitment to securing a digital future for radio and outlined the automotive sector as "a key concern for government". 

He pledged to work with car manufacturers to ensure that all new cars were fitted with digital radios as standard by the end of 2013.  He also made reference to concerns raised about the 31m vehicles currently on UK roads which will be affected by the digital upgrade, reinforcing industry’s message that that there needs to be an affordable and easy conversion solution.

“Vehicle manufacturers are confident that it will be possible to meet the 2013 target for new vehicles, but further action will be required to prepare the heritage parc for the ambitious 2015 timeframe. Key tasks include the development of more retro-fit options that meet agreed technical standards. It will also be important to assure consumers that those installing this equipment are appropriately trained,” said SMMT chief executive, Paul Everitt, at the time.

The aftermarket is one thing but why we have to wait three years for the auto industry to standard-fit on new vehicles a technology it already offers as an option now is beyond me.

Perhaps Ford's move, as the top-selling brand, may speed things up.

DAB 101