This assertion is backed up by Ford Motor, which reports that 80 percent of its customers opt for the version of its smart-entertainment technology that includes its Sync system, which provides voice control of functions. The automaker says at least 90 percent of its customers who are under the age of 35 opt for the system.
Although automakers keep upping their offerings of sophisticated smart-entertainment systems, it still is courtesy of the aftermarket by which savvy consumers can save a substantial amount of money while they get state-of-the-art connectivity and entertainment. For example, an aftermarket multipurpose system that provides a Google Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone interface, SiriusXM Radio, Pandora, iHeartRadio internet radio and navigation can be had for about $1,000 or less installed. You could pay $6,000 on a 2017 Ford Escape if you upgrade to the Escape Titanium trim level to get the package that includes such a system.
Furthermore, consumers who own a vehicle that lacks the new breed of automobile-electronics components can turn to the aftermarket, so they can have this technology themselves.
“There is still a lack of education among a big chunk of the driving public … that they can upgrade their older vehicle to modern, state-of-the art connectivity and audio for not a lot of money,” Boyadjis says.
Yet those who don’t want the connectivity aren’t compelled to pay for it. Manufacturers of aftermarket electronics “customize” their models in this vein, too, providing versions of products that exclude Android Auto or CarPlay.
DISPLAYING INGENUITY. Perhaps the most notable innovation in components for aftermarket automotive electronics is the introduction of multipurpose systems that fit into a 2-inch-tall space in the dashboard (single-DIN) and have a touch screen that flips out to be either 6.5 inches or 7 inches tall. This, too, can be appealing to owners of automobiles that predate the new-generation automobile electronics and for which single-DIN is the typical amount of space in the dashboard where a multipurpose system is installed. (Many of today’s new-vehicle multipurpose systems include a 7-inch-tall screen.)
We like the benefit that this type of design provides in regard to its capability to display numerous mobile apps, serve as the display for an aftermarket rearview camera and link to an aftermarket blind-spot-detection system.
The Kenwood KVT-7012BT ($600) is particularly notable, because it can fit into a single-DIN slot in the dashboard. (Editor’s note: The receiver can be installed in the dashboard of a vehicle in which the slot is 4 inches tall (double-DIN), too, because mounting spacers are available to fill the area that isn’t filled by the receiver. These same mounting spacers are available to serve the same purpose if you purchase a 4-inch-tall receiver to install in the larger space that’s typical of vehicles from the 2011 model year and newer.) The flip-out touch screen of the KVT-7012BT includes what the manufacturer calls TrueMirror, which duplicates the display of your smartphone.
When we laid our hands on receivers that include the flip-out screen, we came away concerned about the durability of the element of the flip-out screen’s articulating component on less expensive models. Undoubtedly, the higher that you move up the price ladder, the more robust that the model’s articulating component will be.
Although Consumers Digest looks skeptically upon the worth of extended warranties, experts tell us that exceptions exist. Difficult-to-repair products, such as treadmills, and products that can take a beating during use fall into this realm. Given that these flip-out screens have no track record, we can’t argue with you if you decide to purchase an extended warranty for an aftermarket automobile receiver that includes the feature. This particularly goes for the models that have motorized flip-out screens.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY. Unsurprisingly, automobile technology changes much faster than the rate at which people replace their vehicle. (The current fleet of vehicles that are on the road has an average age of at least 11 years.) As our staff’s investigation of these aftermarket automobile-electronics categories revealed, you have no shortage of affordable solutions for an older vehicle to get tricked out with the latest entertainment technology. In fact, the biggest obstacle that you’ll face might be to find a well-established installer where you live. The economic calamity of the late 2000s drove many installers out of business.
Over his 30-year journalism career, David Kiley served as the president of International Motor Press Association and won the Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism. He has covered automotive electronics for 20 years, including responsibility for AOL Autos/Autoblog’s Tech of the Year Award program.