In the mid-2000s, automakers set their sights on generating new revenue by going after a piece of the vehicle-customization pie. As a result, “tuner” versions of automobiles no longer were the domain of customizing shops and aftermarket-parts producers. Aero kits, high-end wheels, lowered suspensions and chrome exhaust tips could be installed at automakers’ factories or by the dealer, so your one-of-a-kind ride already was pimped out at many dealerships for you to drive away.
The automotive aftermarket is under attack again.
Automakers can install smart-entertainment systems that incorporate the utmost in technology, right at the factory. That’s because automakers know that today, for many new-vehicle shoppers, high-quality sound takes a back seat to connectedness—to one’s email, Facebook newsfeed, Twitter feed, texts and music that’s cloud-based or that resides on a smartphone.
Although manufacturers of aftermarket automobile electronics pump out systems that provide this technology, too, these companies are doing so in a new era in which their expertise is required less, just as vehicle customizers witnessed 10 years ago. So what has been the response of some aftermarket automobile-electronics manufacturers, in particular in regard to automobile receivers? It has been to produce numerous versions of a “base” model, with each version including fewer or more features and functions than the base version has. Rather than try to compete with the automakers’ packed-with-tech, factory-installed receivers, aftermarket companies are going after new-vehicle buyers who are interested in some tech, but only the tech that they want. These consumers are able to forgo the significant cost that they would pay if they bought a vehicle that includes not only a fully featured smart-entertainment system that’s installed in the factory but also the equipment package of which that receiver—or multipurpose system or navigation system—is a part.
Of course, the availability of the latest technology in aftermarket electronics components is important to owners of vehicles that were manufactured before the emergence of today’s breed of sophisticated technology.
ARE YOU RECEIVING? According to Mark Boyadjis, who is the principal automotive-user-experience analyst at market-research company IHS, the North American market for so-called head units (read: receivers, multipurpose systems or navigation systems) that are made to be installed by the consumer via an installer is projected to be $780 million in sales in 2018 compared with $1.7 billion in 2011.
“The automotive companies have done a good job of putting better equipment in [vehicles] at the factory, so demand for aftermarket installation is falling,” Boyadjis says.
So, catering to the individual preferences of the aftermarket buyer—to provide a better-bang-for-the-buck option—is the only way that the makers of aftermarket automobile-electronics systems can survive. Hence, the slicing and dicing of models, particularly receivers, whether they include CD players or are of the so-called mech-less, or CD-player-less, variety. Aftermarket automobile-electronics manufacturers now approach the development of a receiver model from the perspective of engineering the root architecture of the component and then tweaking it to create, for example, a version that produces a high wattage but lacks Sirius/XM Radio readiness and vice versa.
Consider three CD receivers that are from Pioneer: the DEH-X6900BT ($110), the DEH-X4900BT ($100) and the DEH-X3900BT ($90). These models are similar, except that the most expensive one has a 13-band equalizer and three RCA jacks. The second and third models have a five-band equalizer and two jacks. The least expensive model lacks a function that permits you to change the color of the LED display readout, a function that the other two models have.
Not long ago, the sign of a true audiophile could be found in the boom of the bass that was produced by the stereo that he/she had in his/her automobile. Today, for many consumers, it’s all about connectivity.
“Consumers, especially younger consumers, are demanding connectivity in their vehicles,” says Chris Cook, who is the president of the industry trade group Mobile Electronics Association. “Being connected is a lifestyle.”