Sen. Ed Markey has done radio a great service by pressing car companies to express their thoughts about AM radio.
For one thing, their individual replies, released now by his office, suggest quite a disparity in how seriously carmakers view the problem of powertrain noise.
While Tesla was telling Markey that “[E]lectromagnetic interference impacts the strength of the AM broadcast signal, causing severe disruption to AM radio transmission that makes the signal reception unstable and unusable,” competitor Kia Corp. — which said it has no plans to drop AM or FM from electric or gas vehicles — told the senator tersely: “We are not aware of issues with electromagnetic interference with AM radio signals from our EVs.”
And meanwhile, Volvo appears to be out of AM radio entirely.
The top-line outcome for Markey is that eight car companies have removed AM radio from electric vehicles, and he criticized them for it.
Markey said these eight “have undermined the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s system for delivering critical public safety information to the public.” They are BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo.
The senator wrote to car manufacturers in December asking them to describe their commitment to AM radio.
Going over the results, he said Mercedes-Benz and General Motors “refused to provide individual responses” and relied on the previously reported response from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.
But 10 automakers — Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stellantis, Subaru and Toyota — “still maintain access to broadcast AM radio in their vehicles.” (But I should note that none of these issued anything like a long-term promise, either.)
Markey reacted by saying that “far too many automakers are ignoring the critical safety benefits of AM radio.” He said that although many automakers named other media including internet radio as replacements for AM, “in an emergency, drivers might not have access to the internet and could miss critical safety information. The truth is that broadcast AM radio is irreplaceable.”
Markey noted that seven former FEMA administrators recently wrote to the Department of Transportation saying that “should EV makers continue removing AM radios from their vehicles, this vital public safety system will no longer function as intended.”
I find the car company response to be interesting reading (PDF). Some replied with ample paragraphs of fancy bureaucratic language; others were short and to the point. Some declined to answer Markey’s specific questions, giving just a glossy commitment to safety; others answered each question. But the resulting picture is of a car industry with no consensus on this.
Here is a sampling particularly of their answers about their intentions:
Mitsubishi: “No, we do not have plans to omit AM and/or FM broadcast radio.”
Mazda: “Mazda has no plans to remove support for removing FM radio signals from future vehicle models. A decision has not yet been made regarding the ability to receive AM broadcasts for future vehicles.”
Nissan: “Currently, all Nissan and Infiniti branded vehicles sold in the U.S. are equipped with AM/FM radio. At present, there is no plan to remove this feature or discontinue access regardless of powertrain type.”
Polestar: “AM radio was available for Polestar 1. Polestar 2 and Polestar 3 do not offer AM radio, and have been this way since launch. … At this point, there are no plans to introduce AM radio in the future. There are no plans to delete FM radio in future Polestar cars.”
Rivian: “Rivian offers free access to AM and FM radio services in all Rivian consumer vehicles that come standard in each vehicle. AM radio service from local and national stations is provided via digital radio platforms (thus ensuring enhanced audio quality). FM content may be accessed either digitally or via built‐in receiver. Rivian has no plans to discontinue either of these features in its consumer vehicles.”
Subaru: “Subaru has not discontinued access to free AM/FM broadcast radio in any of its vehicles. Subaru does not have any current plans to omit AM/FM broadcast radio from future vehicles.”
Tesla: “[E]lectromagnetic interference impacts the strength of the AM broadcast signal, causing severe disruption to AM radio transmission that makes the signal reception unstable and unusable. … Through TuneIn, Tesla owners are able to stay current on their preferred local AM radio shows and broadcasts, ensuring access to the full range of radio programming.”
Toyota: “All Toyota and Lexus vehicles currently on sale include AM/FM and HD Radio, including Toyota’s fully battery electric vehicle in the U.S. market … While Toyota has addressed [interference from EV batteries] in our current vehicles, we would like to refrain from commenting on potential future business plans.”
Volvo: In answer to the question “Has your company decided to discontinue access to free AM and/or FM broadcast radio in any of its vehicles,” Volvo replied “Yes on AM. No on FM. … Our decision to not support AM radio was primarily linked to our electrification strategy. If Volvo Cars had continued to provide AM radio, our BEVs and PHEVs likely would have experienced EMC disturbances and this could result in poor performance,” and the company said it has “no plans for AM antennae in the future.” Radio World has requested verification from Volvo that this refers to its entire line, as the letter seems to suggest.
BMW: “BMW made the decision to not include analog AM radio broadcasting in its EV and PHEV models beginning with the BMW I3 in 2014 primarily for two reasons: 1) electromagnetic interference creates poor analog AM radio reception quality and 2) technological innovation has afforded consumers many additional options to receive the same or similar information.”
Ford: “Many systems without AM receivers can use internet streaming, HD Radio delivered on FM bands or some apps to provide an AM station’s content. … The alternate technologies we’ve mentioned enable a transition from broadcast AM radio without sacrificing the safety of our consumers.”
Honda: “For both of Honda’s officially announced EVs … AM and FM broadcast radio will be featured on the vehicle. Both of these products were co-developed with General Motors utilizing their pre-existing Ultium platform. … While no announcements on future models beyond the Honda Prologue and Acura ZDX have been made, we will continue to strive to offer vehicles that best fit the needs of our customers.”
Volkswagen: “AM radio is not offered in [the EVs within its group] due to the poor audio quality our drivers would experience. … Our engineers have investigated hardware and software methods to reduce the interference, but the performance did not meet our requirements. Additional countermeasures … of the motor, battery and other electromagnetic-producing equipment … has a substantial impact on EVs’ range and performance due to the added weight.”
Hyundai: “We have no plans to discontinue either of these [AM or FM] in future vehicles.”
Jaguar: “We currently do not have any plans to discontinue AM and/or FM from future vehicle models.”
Kia: “Kia has not discontinued access to free AM or FM broadcast radio in any vehicles sold in the U.S. market, and we do not currently have plans to discontinue these features in future models, whether EVs or gas-powered vehicles. … Finally, we are not aware of issues with electromagnetic interference with AM radio signals from our EVs.”