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Tesla Offers Infotainment Upgrade That Removes Radio

Carmaker rolling out software that would enable video streaming — if consumers ditch AM/FM

Tesla infotainment screenRadio broadcasters have long feared that self-driving cars would threaten their dashboard dominance. A new optional infotainment system upgrade from carmaker Tesla proves that these concerns are well founded.

Some older Tesla Model S and Model X owners are now able to purchase a $2,500 update that the company says improves user experience, enables video streaming and supplies an expanded Tesla Arcade but will remove broadcast AM/FM radio and Sirius/XM reception. (Broadcasters will likely wince when they see “Removes AM, FM and Sirius XM radio” under the “Improvements” heading of its software breakdown.) 

Currently, the offer is available by emailed invitation only, according to Tesla Service. U.S. vehicles with Autopilot Computer 2.5 featuring Full Self-Driving Capability will be first in line, while those running Autopilot Computer 2.0 should be contacted later this month.

In response to this news, Strategy Analytics Global Automotive Associate Director Roger Lanctot wrote a LinkedIn article titled “Technology Tyranny and the End of Radio.” 

According to Lanctot, “Once again, Silicon Valley is asking us to surrender one thing in exchange for another. Yesterday it was our privacy. Today it is the radio. Tomorrow it will be our freedom.” Perhaps this conclusion is a bit hyperbolic, but Lanctot concedes that the strategy has a logical side. He writes, “it is quite possible that Tesla has leveraged user data from its own vehicles to determine that radio listening in its vehicles was sufficiently minimal to be worth risking some minor resistance.”

Additionally, it may be “a market research project” to determine customer demand for OTA radio. Why? Tesla is an international company dealing with a variety of broadcast standards while also preparing for 5G rollout; an attempt to simplify its technology offerings makes sense for the manufacturer, if not for the consumer, Lanctot reasons. Nonetheless, it’s clear that he believes radio should remain prominent in the car dash.

This isn’t the first time radio has worried about Tesla’s in-dash plans. As far back as 2017, rumors have circulated that Elon Musk’s tech-car company would remove radio. That fear proved to be overblown for the Tesla 3, but this time, it appears Tesla is indeed moving in a radio-less direction. The 2020 Tesla Model 3, for example, does not offer AM radio, according to Car and Driver. Note that Tesla isn’t the only car company experimenting with removing broadcast radio. In 2014, BMW removed AM reception from its electric i3 models, to the chagrin of organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters and AM enthusiasts.

RW has requested comment from Tesla and will report any reply.