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Dude, Where’s My Car Radio?

Roger Lanctot notices an interesting thing about two new European electric vehicles: They lack a radio

The new Citroën ë-C3 EV hatchback replaces the in-dash radio with a clip for a smartphone in its lowest-cost version. (Photo courtesy Citroën)

Automotive technology guru Roger Lanctot recently noticed something funny about two new electric vehicles launching this year in Europe — they don’t have radios. The new Citroën ë-C3 hatchback and the Dacia Duster SUV both, at least in their basic trim-level package, rely upon a Bluetooth-connection for audio entertainment, not the airwaves.

Writing on LinkedIn, Lanctot noted that Stellantis, which owns Citroën, and Groupe Renault, which owns Dacia, seem to have found a loophole in European Commission regulations. It turns out while the EC has mandated that car radio support DAB+ digital radio, it did not mandate that vehicles include a radio. He wrote:

The deletion of radios entirely by Stellantis and Renault is nothing less than a shot across the bow of the broadcast industry. At least these two car makers are sufficiently fed up with the challenge of delivering an interference-free experience in a low-cost EV, that it is worth ditching the radio entirely – with a clear nod to smartphone mirroring as a viable alternative – as suggested in the car reviews.

Lanctot noted that ë-C3 and Duster are launching at the same time the European Broadcasting Union is advancing “The Playbook,” an effort to ensure that multimedia interfaces in cars provide easy access to broadcasters’ programming — be it over the air or via apps.

The Dacia Duster all-electric SUV includes a proprietary app-based media connection in its basic trim package, but even the higher-end trim packages lack over-the-air radio. (Photo courtesy Dacia)

However, he is skeptical of a European effort to use regulation and mandates to direct the design of in-car audio interfaces. Similarly, he is skeptical of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act, which has not yet passed Congress despite bipartisan support:

… [B]roadcasters would do well to refine their digital offerings and upgrade their metadata presence to better leverage the array of emerging technologies enabling in-vehicle search and content recommendations along with relevant contextual data and alerts. The only rational response to the deletion of radio is to deliver a superior user experience intended to make Dacia and Citroen drivers envious. Let the market decide which is best.

Fred Jacobs picked up Lanctot’s points in his blog post “Where’s My #!&$% Car Radio?!”, writing:

Ultimately, automakers are going to attempt every cost-cutting move they can, especially if they can get away with it. In a free market system, consumers don’t have to buy a vehicle if they’re unhappy with how it’s equipped.

Both Jacobs and Lanctot noted that reviewers weren’t picking up on the lack of radio in the cars, perhaps because reviewers aren’t given access to the basic trim version of the car, focusing on the more nicely outfitted models. The ë-C3, for example, appears to include radio in the €27,800 MAX version, but not the €23,300 YOU version, which replaces the 10-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support with an in-dash clip to hold a smartphone.

Dacia, however, does really do away with over-the-air radio entirely. The €19,690 Duster Essential only supports its proprietary Media Control app and Bluetooth streaming. The €21,600 Expression, €23,100 Extreme and €23,100 Journey models add a 10.1-inch screen with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Perhaps the consumer outcry about a missing radio will arise when those stripped-down, basic trim package versions hit the market, but in the meantime, Jacobs offers a reminder for the U.S. market:

So, car manufacturers, don’t lose sight of the fact that here in the U.S., nearly three in four radio listeners tell us FM in their infotainment systems is a “must have.” And more than one in three feel the same about AM. Remove them at your own risk.

Both Lanctot and Jacobs are participating in the WorldDAB Automotive 2024 event on June 13 in Prague, Czechia.