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Volvo Sensus: Smartphone in a Dash

No AM radio on hybrid models

The future is electric for the iconic Swedish Volvo brand, with the company moving to offer a mix of electric and hybrid electric cars exclusively.

But that move could inconvenience some Volvo owners who may also listen to AM radio over the air.

I experienced that when I test drove the XC60 T8-E All Wheel Drive Inscription model for the program “Radio-Road-Test.”

The XC60 was named North American Utility of the Year for 2018. The model I drove was a gas-and-electric plug-in hybrid, equipped with Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system as standard equipment.

Sensus has a lot going for it, with a smartphone-esque user interface, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Wi-Fi hotspot and internet connectivity by subscription, and a 9-inch touchscreen in the center stack of the dashboard.

On the test XC60, Sensus controlled an optional $3200 Bowers and Wilkins Premium sound system, which received satellite and FM/HD radio and offered other audio choices via apps. In plug-in hybrid and full electric models of the Volvo XC60, AM radio reception is not offered.

In 2019, all Volvo models will have some sort of electric power component, be it plug-in hybrid, full electric or “mild hybrid” (the system where the traction battery is charged through regenerative braking).

When I asked Volvo why the AM reception option was not offered on the hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, the company answered that the hybrid system caused interference with the AM receiver circuitry. Volvo’s suggestion for people who wanted to listen to an AM station involved taking advantage of the internet connectivity and finding an internet stream for that station — assuming that particular station streamed live.

Future versions of the Sensus infotainment system will have Google Assistant voice interface app, Google Play Store and Google Maps embedded as menu choices.

Other manufacturers that don’t offer AM radio reception in some models of electrified cars include BMW and Tesla.

As if AM managers didn’t have enough to deal with — noise floor, interference, etc. — they have to consider this trend, as more vehicles are sold with some sort of electric power component (hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full electric) and some of them may not have AM receivers. One strategy is for the station to field a skill for Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, so the station stream can be found easily in cars so equipped.

If a station has significant automotive business, it would behoove those responsible for that business to get to know more about the connectivity options for the cars at that dealership. Perhaps that relationship could extend to having the station’s frequency pre-tuned as part of the delivery process. Once an car owner sees and hears how easy it is to find your station on a web stream or the radio, they just might keep the radio locked right there — depending, of course, on the requisite compelling content.

Paul Kaminski writes about connected cars for Radio World, and hosts the weekly program, “Radio-Road-Test.” His Twitter handle is msrpk_com; Facebook: PKaminski2468.