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Consumer Demand Drives In-Car Connectivity

Pioneer’s Cardenas puts dashboard evolution in perspective

LONG BEACH, Calif. — As vice president of marketing for the Car Electronics Division of Pioneer Electronics USA, Ted Cardenas is responsible for overall brand strategy, sales initiatives, promotion and advertising. That puts him in the center of what’s happening with the changing car dashboard as the aftermarket receiver manufacturer talks to customers about Pioneer’s in-vehicle entertainment, navigation and connectivity products, and directs them to its retail and distribution partners.

Ted Cardenas with demo models of Pioneer receivers. Radio World News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief Leslie Stimson recently spoke with Cardenas about the “connected car” and radio’s place in its evolving digital dashboard.

He began working in consumer electronics during his junior year in high school at Sound and Service in Carroll, Iowa, in 1989. Cardenas has been with Pioneer 18 years, starting as a product specialist, providing training and support for car and home electronics dealers.

In 2000, he moved to Pioneer’s headquarters in Long Beach, Calif., and became brand manager for the mobile business group’s marketing division. In 2007, he moved into a management role within the product planning department, working with Japanese engineers and design teams across U.S. mobile electronic product lines. He was promoted to his current role in 2012.

RW: We’re hearing a lot about the “connected car.” What does that mean and how do all types of audio consumption fit into that definition?

Cardenas: It’s reaching out to the cloud or the Internet to bring some kind of content or event to push other content out. … That’s where the connected car gets really unique, because it’s really one of the first mediums, if not the first for us, to be able to not just receive information that’s being broadcast from somewhere like a radio station, but also to have true two-way communication … Now, whether it’s the device, the car or the consumer, that information can be sent back up to the cloud to get dynamic things like location-based services, to get real-time traffic or weather or to cue different media sources and entertainment.

RW: Do consumers care whether the connection is an embedded modem vs. a tethered cellphone connection?

Cardenas: If the tethering is seamless, then the consumer doesn’t care or doesn’t want to know. If the tethering requires some action on their part, then there is still some resistance to it.

RW: Meaning they just want it to work?

Cardenas: I would generally say yes, most consumers just want it to work.

I think that has been one of the primary success points of Apple, when compared to a lot of other things. They use that in their marketing, “You can just pick it up and use it. It just works.” Ultimately, and I don’t really know if there’s a lot of solutions out there that do this for the car, but ultimately if we’re going to hit critical mass and we’re going to have a lot of consumers who have this connected vehicle, it’s going to need to be as simple as: I get in my car, I turn on the car and it’s connected.

RW: Does it seem that after NHTSA released its guidelines to minimize distraction, automakers are now pulling back a little bit on how they implement connectivity in the dash?

Cardenas: I represent only the aftermarket. … We’re pretty fortunate because we’re serving a consumer who is coming to us and saying, “I want a solution for this technology, and I’m willing to pay for it.” … The OEMs have a completely different and far more complex customer. They may have a customer who says, “I want that white car over there and I really like how it looks and I like how it drives. It’s got this thing in the dash, which I may or may not want.”

It’s a really, really difficult proposition for the auto manufacturer, because on one hand, they have to meet demands of the consumer who wants that technology, and make it simple enough and make it work — but at the same time they have to make it very simple for the consumer who just wants an AM/FM radio and doesn’t care about those connected features.

RW: At the CES show, discussions about where cars are going centered on driver-assisted technology, then automated, and finally, driverless vehicles. How does that affect how Pioneer is thinking about future products?

Cardenas: If we ever got to, and I’m sure we will sometime in the future, but if we got to the point where the autonomous vehicle would be commonplace, really, that’s going to change the entertainment system almost entirely. It would become almost much closer to a home entertainment system at that point, because we’re simply getting in the vehicle and sitting down and letting the vehicle take us where we desire.

RW: Radio is now beginning to realize the dash is more crowded, with streaming radio and satellite radio, as well as the ability to plug in your MP3 player and other devices. Are AM and FM stations always going to be in the dashboard?

Cardenas: My position personally — and I think the position of Pioneer and most of the companies that are players either in the aftermarket or the OEM entertainment space for the automobile — we still firmly believe that terrestrial radio, AM and FM, certainly have an important place. Now is that importance going to diminish over time? Yes, that’s a very real possibility. What is that timeline? I personally believe that it’s still quite a long ways out. …

Part of it is embracing, at least in my opinion, other technologies like the Internet, like Web pages, like Tweets, or other types of ways that the radio station that has traditionally been broadcasting out information or entertainment to their consumer base, embracing other methods to do so, not as alternatives, but to do so in conjunction with the radio broadcast they’re doing.

RW: In a broad sense, speaking of radio’s competitors in the dash, why are manufacturers putting the capabilities to receive all these things into devices?

Cardenas: It’s two-fold. One is consumer demand. I would imagine all of us have tried those services, and [two], it’s also the fact that we now can. If we rewind just 20 years ago, there was limited space and controls. Devices were larger and the cost was higher, and so, as a manufacturer … we had to make choices. … What I think is great about today from a consumer perspective is you can have all of those things.

Pioneer has advanced HD Radio in its receivers. Last year, the company introduced Artist Experience on some of its models. This year, the HD Radio section of its new Networked Entertainment Experience receivers feature AE and display what’s playing on multicast channels, if available. Shown is the AVIC-6000NEX. I use pretty much all of those, but not every single day. I will switch. If I’m listening to Pandora for a certain amount of time, eventually I start hearing the same music over and over. And sure, I could switch over to another channel; but more often than not, I will switch to a completely different source. I’ll go back to FM, and then I’ll go back to music that’s on my iPod or that I have in my CD player. …

Radio has a clear advantage because you’ve got a person on the other end of that line. … A good example … is my wife listens to KISS(FM) here in L.A. every single morning, not because she likes music, although she likes music, but that’s not her driving reason. It’s because she wants to listen to Ryan Seacrest in the morning.

RW: Some CE manufacturers are moving away from making in-dash radios with knobs and buttons. Will those remain or not?

Cardenas: It goes to consumer demand and it’s cyclical. I would say if you looked back over the last 20 or 30 years, about every five years there’s a group that takes all the buttons and knobs away and changes it to something else, and then they come back because we as consumers, for whatever reason, we tend to like knobs. We tend to like hard keys that are single-, or at most, dual-purpose, so that I know: When I press this button, it’s going to turn the radio off. Or I know when I hit that button it’s going to tune to preset number three. …

I think the question becomes more of: Will we still replicate a lot of those controls but do it with touch interfaces as those interfaces evolve and get so much better? Right now, you can get into a Pioneer radio, and it’s got a volume knob. Today, we have a couple of products that have a capacitive touchscreen in the dash — five or 10 years from now will there be a majority of products that have a capacitive touchscreen? Or maybe even multiple touchpads, like some of the OEMs are doing, or a secondary touchscreen that you can put your hand against and act like you’re turning a knob… and will that do the same thing?

RW: The capacitive touchscreen — what does that recognize?

Cardenas: There’s two primary types of touchscreens: Resistive, which requires a physical press. You’re actually pressing through the material on the screen to make an electrical connection that’s embedded in the screen. A resistive touchscreen is commonly what you find in an automobile. …

A capacitive touchscreen is like what you have on your smartphone or your tablet. A capacitive touchscreen … still has some electrical sensors in the touchpanel, but instead of requiring a physical push, it’s using the electrical capacitance in your skin to indicate to the system on the backside where you’re touching on the screen. … Swipes and multi touch are possible on both technologies, but the resistive tends to be much faster. …

Pioneer was the first to introduce it into the car in the aftermarket, and we did it with our AppRadio, the original one, which we launched in 2011. Today we have two AppRadios, and at CES we introduced our flagship navigation [model], which will ship to retailers [in March], and that also has a capacitive touchscreen. By April we’ll have three of our family of products that now feature a capacitive touchscreen.

RW: We’re now seeing handhelds that are FM-receive, and only if there is an FM chip in the device. Do you foresee making car radios that are FM-only and leaving out AM?

Cardenas: From Pioneer’s perspective I cannot imagine that happening for a really long time. … [W]e’ve basically got an engineered tuner chipset that we designed a long time ago and … just for the cost of engineering we basically have that legacy design, and it’s what goes in every radio, and there’s no need to change it.

RW: How does Pioneer find out what consumers want?

Cardenas: We still do research. We do focus groups. Our retailers will tell us the things that people came in asking for or what people bought and maybe didn’t like the experience, so we tend to get a lot of our feedback that evolves the product … and make minor changes or even dramatic changes.

What has really grown to become a fantastic tool over the last couple of years is social networking because now we’ve got a method to carry on a conversation with some of our most enthusiastic customers or potential customers. …

[T]he 50,000 likes on our Pioneer Facebook page are really passionate, enthusiastic consumers. We are engaging them in a true two-way communication. We may post the news about a new model or hint about a new feature, and then we’ll get a lot of pretty constructive feedback.

RW: What was the concept behind the Pioneer AppRadio Hackathon?

Cardenas: There are a lot of people developing apps, but they’re developing the majority of them for the smartphone or tablet and few of them are designed specifically to be used in-car. Our motivation for doing the Pioneer AppRadio Hackathon was to introduce these app developers to our AppRadio platform. … We were really looking for things that offered location-based services. The example we used was if Jiffy Lube wrote an app … It would pop up an indicator on your Pioneer AppRadio and say: “It’s been 2,950 miles since your last oil change. Jiffy Lube recommends an oil change every 3,000 miles. You’re going to drive by a Jiffy Lube in one mile on your left. Don’t you want to stop by and get your oil changed? And for doing so here’s a 10 percent-off coupon,” or something like that.

RW: That dovetails with what NextRadio is doing. The person is listening to an FM station through the app on a smartphone, and they may get a coupon from McDonalds, if they’re near one. It’s location-based, targeted advertising.

Cardenas: That’s hot right now. There’s huge potential revenue, potential advertising. There’s a lot of apps that are doing it, and people are trying to figure out the best way because it is so relevant and targeted.

RW: Is there something I should have asked and didn’t?

Cardenas: We get feedback from consumers and retailers, and working closely with iBiquity, we’ve evolved the HD Radio interface on our next product, the NEX [Networked Entertainment Experience] receivers we introduced at CES. Last year, we introduced Artist Experience. This year we have the ability to display what is playing on HD2 and HD3, if it’s available.

RW: Do you still do road tests of your HD Radio prototypes, making sure they can receive the signal?

Cardenas: We’ve got a torture loop that we’ve been using for some 20 years. It’s used for all of the “radio” — so that could be AM, FM, HD Radio. We use it for satellite radio and even for the connected car to see if we’re able to receive a satellite signal. … Our offices are in Long Beach, Calif. Near Long Beach is Palos Verdes, a little peninsula jutting out into the ocean. It’s a hill and you can drive a loop around Palos Verdes and be blocked entirely from almost all of the towers that are in the Los Angeles area. Once you get on the other side of the hill, you only have ocean to the west and hill to the east, and you have a very difficult time receiving any broadcast signals. Our engineers in Long Beach … know exactly where the problem areas are, so they can mark on their notes, “In this specific area we had an issue.” … Our team in Detroit has a similar loop. We’ve tested in various cities. We’ve done tuner testing in almost every major metropolitan area in the United States.

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This is one in a series of articles about radio’s role and future in the evolving automobile dashboard. To read other articles visit