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Branded Car Audio Hits Full Stride for the 2007 Model Year

December 19, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS — Premium audio is making a comeback in cars and major automakers are not letting it slip away to the aftermarket. According to Telematics Research Group (TRG), 80 percent of 2007 models for sale in the U.S. will offer “branded audio” as optional or standard equipment up from 67 percent during the ’06 model year.

As the name implies, branded audio is when Original Equipment Auto Manufacturers partner with a known audio brand to sell premium audio solutions. Well known brands in the consumer audio space such as Harman/Kardon, Bose and Boston Acoustics top the list, but the list of partners is growing as more automotive OEMs strike up unique marketing partnerships with famous names in audio,” says Phil Magney, principal analyst with TRG.

Automakers are doing a better job anticipating user expectations, but branded audio is only part of the story. The introduction of digital content into the car, such as MP3 and WMA compressed audio file support, will be available on 75 percent of ’07 vehicles, up from 61 percent of ’06 models, according to TRG data.

Consumers also want to transfer and play their personal digital media content from a PC, or portable media device, and the most sought after feature in cars is support for Apple’s iPod. Last year only 12 percent of vehicles for sale supported true iPod integration, while nearly 50 percent of the ’07 models support iPods. Meanwhile, auxiliary input is supported by nearly 60 percent of ’07 models.

While the addition of iPod integration increased dramatically, only 5 percent of 2007 models support a flash memory interface in one form or another (about 17 vehicles in all). But the next generation of automotive audio systems promises to utilize more storage and interface options. USB will gain considerable support as will hard disk drives. Last year, no cars sold in the U.S. offered a factory-installed hard disk, but for the ‘07 model year there are about six models that have factory-installed hard disk drives used for navigation and music server.

“The rapid adoption of available solutions from automotive OEMs is a stark contrast to the normal multi-year product development cycle in the automotive industry,” says TRG’s Magney. “The variety of solutions reflects the swiftly changing landscape of the mobile audio market where branded audio solutions, premium quality and device integration are driving market growth.”

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