When it comes to comfort and convenience, truck OEMs and fleets have gone a long way in most areas to incorporate new technology into vehicles that will attract and retain drivers. The truck entertainment system, however, appears to be the last frontier.
“The trucking industry,” says Dave Emert, president of Seattle Electronics, the national distributor of Sony products for the truck market, “has been typically slow to catch on to some of the electronics available.” He notes that a lot of truck fleets simply don't pay much attention to what's on the dash, and will only provide a minimum of components to keep drivers happy.
In reality, though, there is much to be gained by upgrading the sound system, including improved driver attention and efficiency. “In a lot of cases, the truck is home for a driver, and no one wants to go across country in a stripped-down truck,” Emert points out.
The good news is things are starting to change. Emert says CD players can now be found more commonly in truck cabs. And in some custom sleeper cabs, you can even see integrated audio-video or audio-video-data systems being installed.
To meet the price points fleet managers are looking for, Emert says “we've had to private-label a few products so we can sell them less expensively and still preserve the Sony name. We've implemented CD/speaker packages that are what we call fleet grade, entry-level entertainment packages.”
Emert notes that Sony is an expert at integrating products from a number of different product groups. Recently, they've introduced a new in-dash video that's incorporated into the AM/FM CD player to create an all-in-one unit that has multiple audio-video inputs so fleets can add on accessories like cameras for safety while providing entertainment for the driver.
Dennis Minter, national account manager for Pioneer Electronics, says OEMs are starting to allocate some of their resources to meeting fleet requests for more up-to-date systems that rival aftermarket products.
“Better sounding speakers are now being implemented. Systems that offer satellite radio with XM, Sirius or both are also being developed, and laptop navigation and hand-held devices are being replaced with multi-source, in-dash products that offer all the features of an AM/FM CD system along with split screens for viewing DVDs and navigation programs and even blind-spot cameras, all self-contained in one unit that fits into a standard radio opening,” Minter reports.
He notes the dashboard is also becoming less cluttered now because bolt-on accessories that were once installed wherever space was available are being tucked away behind the dash and operated through the multi-source units like Pioneer's AVIC products.
SAT RADIO IN DEMAND
This year, Minter says Pioneer introduced a Sirius Satellite Radio tuner in addition to its XM Satellite Radio tuner, allowing reception of both formats with any of its in-dash receivers. The company is also offering an iPod adapter. The biggest advancement in the market, however, is a Pioneer navigation product with XM NavTraffic capability so drivers can receive detailed traffic information.
ASA Electronics says the truck market has shown great interest in NOAA Weather Radio availability, along with conventional AM/FM bands. “In longhaul trucking,” says Monica Pletcher, marketing manager, “driving in unfamiliar areas demands immediate 24-hour local weather broadcasts that are readily available on NOAA Weather Radio.”
Fleets also want a truly heavy-duty radio that can survive long hours of operation, including vibration and environmental conditions associated with heavy-duty, longhaul trucking, according to ASA. The company recently introduced two new Jensen heavy-duty radios, one with cassette the other CD unit, both featuring NOAA Weather Radio and all the pre-requisites of “heavy-duty.”
ASA says another popular addition to its line are portable Sirius and XM Satellite radio units that use a wireless FM connection to the existing radio. This gives the driver Sat reception without the expense of a new multi-band Satellite radio.
Pana-Pacific says that due to the overwhelming popularity of satellite radio among commercial drivers, availability of satellite radio is becoming a factor for many fleets in recruiting new drivers. A major trend, according to John Trenberth, president, is to integrate satellite radio into the radio head unit, which eliminates an external tuner and reduces installation time.
“With the trend to more digital music recordings and the younger median age of drivers, there is also a demand for improved quality sound systems,” Trenberth says.
He notes two other technologies that will be integrated into radios designed for the commercial vehicle market: MP3 players and iPods. “Drivers will be able to hook up their iPod with an external connector box and charge and control it via the radio controls.
Michelle Wilson, director of marketing for Pana-Pacific, says the company has worked closely with both XM and Sirius to create aftermarket products that are tailored to the commercial vehicle market.
“Pana has also created and is the exclusive distributor of the XMPRO Series of Roady2 and SKYFi2, in which we add truck mirror mounting options, remote control and suction cup mount to allow drivers to easily move their satellite radios from truck to truck,” she says.
In November, Pana-Pacific will introduce a new Delphi heavy-duty AM/FM CD radio series with an XM or Sirius tuner inside the radio. Features of the series include MP3 playback, iPod ready, digital tuner, large and easy-to-read two-line display, weatherband and anti-shock memory. The radios will be sold with three months of satellite radio service and will be available on new truck orders or as an aftermarket installation.
Delphi concurs with other stereo manufacturers that satellite radio is a growing trend in truck sound systems. “This technology allows drivers to listen to the same station and programming no matter how far they have traveled,” Steve Hartwig, Delphi N.A. Commercial Vehicle director, reports.
The company also says that as driver retention continues to be an issue, fleets are looking for sound systems that are visually pleasing, yet satisfy the entertainment and communications needs of the driver.
Delphi recently introduced satellite radio to the truck market and continues to supply both OEM and aftermarket hardware for XM satellite radio and OEM hardware for Sirius.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CIRCLE NUMBER ON REPLY CARD:
DELPHI CORP. 311
PIONEER CORP. 314
SEATTLE ELECTRONICS 315