Mobile Electronics and Technology Trends
Making Rides More Fun, Safe and Connected Than Ever
A number of exciting trends are taking shape in the vehicle-electronics category. From auto sound to infotainment and cloud connectivity, the trends present both new opportunities and challenges for the aftermarket, especially as vehicles move toward greater system integration, cloud connectivity and autonomy.
An entire generation of aftermarket pioneers may remember cruising the boulevard and blaring Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” from their recently invented stereo-cassette radios in the ’60s. Now, five decades later, another generation of aftermarket product developers is giving those words a whole other meaning for today’s vehicle-electronics consumers.
Category observers have identified a number of exciting trends taking shape over the past few years. Connectivity remains one of the most prominent among them—connectivity between a vehicle and a driver’s mobile devices, and increasing connectivity to the cloud and the internet of things (IOT).
In a short time, this will lead to greater vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Not only will cars instantaneously adapt to each user’s mobile comfort and infotainment preferences, but also vehicles will blend more seamlessly into their users’ overall lifestyles. Console systems, for instance, will be capable of drawing their media content from a home-based server or cloud libraries. Vehicle software updates will download as frequently and as seamlessly as they do for home computers. Vehicle occupants will be able to control home devices from the road and vice versa. And destinations, available parking spaces, food and lodging options and other roadside attractions will announce themselves as vehicles come within range. (For better or worse, the latter also means that vehicles will likely be targeted and bombarded with the digital ad equivalent of the once-ubiquitous Burma-Shave billboards that dotted American highways.)
And, yes, vehicles are moving toward greater autonomy. Regardless of how you may feel about this trend toward driverless cars, the technology is already delivering today’s drivers enhanced vehicle conveniences, safety features and onboard sound and infotainment advancements barely hinted at a decade ago. That, in turn, is creating new opportunities for the vehicle-electronics aftermarket, with OEMs increasingly loosening (or losing) their grip on proprietary systems, software and data.
“Transformative technologies are changing how cars are designed, developed, customized, sold, serviced, shared and owned,” said John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle technology. “We are witnessing one of the most fundamental shifts in the history of the automotive industry. New vehicle technologies—from advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to autonomy—are driving this shift, and it’s also being shaped by demographic, regulatory, social and environmental pressures.”
Connected vehicle technologies will soon become standard on all new cars, Waraniak asserted, and that alone represents an enormous new market potential for SEMA companies in the way of connectivity products and applications.
“Connected cars will generate a lot of data,” he said. “Every aspect of the car’s performance will be able to be monitored through an array of connected sensors facilitating diagnostics, tuning and maintenance. Vehicles will grow smarter and cooler with connected electronics systems, high-efficiency engines, increased safety performance and autonomous driving systems. Drivers will look at cars differently, sharing and using them as a space to consume media, make calls and stay connected, and the industry will evolve with new competition, new players and startups. SEMA members are already challenging and partnering with long-established OEMs and aftermarket suppliers to capitalize on new growth opportunities being created by advanced vehicle technologies.”
Audio kits and connected components for side-by-sides and motorcycles represent a growing niche of consumers who want to take their infotainment everywhere and anywhere. Rockford Fosgate launched a full line of kits for the Polaris RZR last year and is following up with kits for the Yamaha YXZ and Polaris Ranger this summer.
Amid all this unprecedented change, a number of aftermarket vehicle-electronics upgrades remain stalwart consumer favorites—auto-sound chief among them.
“Radio replacement is still our number-one category,” said Brett Riggs, AAMP Global vice president for integration and infotainment. “Radio replacement sales have declined as a market generally, but they’re still a good portion of our business. Because of the complication of vehicles, it’s more and more difficult because you have to have specific interfaces, dash replacement kits and so forth to make those modifications. But it’s still a very good market—there are a lot of older vehicles out there that don’t have Bluetooth or navigation. More lately, of course, we’ve seen the push for smartphone connectivity. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have been big drivers of radio-replace-
As for the overall decline in aftermarket sound-system replacements, Riggs believes that the market is radically changing.
“Consumers are different,” he said. “They settle a little bit more for what’s in the vehicle. The discretionary income they have is spent elsewhere—on smartphones, data plans and entertainment. Back many years ago, car audio was a hobby and an interest to a lot of people and something their extra $200–$300 a month would
While OEM systems and their ever more seamless integration into vehicle platforms have presented challenges for aftermarket manufacturers, Riggs underscored that the aftermarket exists to supply options.
“We’re here to solve those problems so that the consumer can have a choice and put in different systems,” he said. “It may be a reason for the consumer to think twice as he investigates making a change, but technology is always going to continue to grow.”
Much of that advancing audio technology is focused on smaller, more efficient amplifiers and speakers that are easier to install while leaving smaller footprints in consumers’ vehicles. To get these products to literally play well with factory equipment and designs—which can vary widely from vehicle to vehicle—companies offer kit interfaces such as AAMP’s PAC brand for virtually every application. Moreover, downloadable software now allows do-it-yourselfers and installers alike to effortlessly and precisely tune aftermarket systems to specific vehicle acoustics.
“With OEMs making it easier to integrate a mobile device with the vehicle’s stereo, people are more likely to upgrade the factory sound system because they have their playlist at their fingertips,” said Theresa Anthony, vice president for sales and marketing at Rockford Fosgate. “To give consumers this upgrade path, we provide solutions that allow them to interface with the factory stereo. That could be a simple way to add bass to their vehicle, upgrade existing factory speakers or add sound processing to create a more realistic sound field. For those consumers who want to add aftermarket amplifiers for a more robust music experience, we offer signal processors that allow integration with factory source units, including CAN-controlled systems.”
Meanwhile, audio manufacturers are also at work expanding and innovating products for an ever wider range of consumers.
“Motorcycle audio is extremely popular now,” Anthony said. “Riders want to get out on the open road and still hear their music. Rockford Fosgate developed front audio kits for Harley-Davidson motorcycles that are very popular. Rockford also launched a full line of audio kits for the Polaris RZR in 2016. Those are in such demand that we followed up this year with audio kits for the Yamaha YXZ and the Polaris Ranger—both will be shipping this summer. That is a growing market. Consumers take their families and their off-road toys out to enjoy the weekend. Part of that experience is having music along for the ride. Rockford developed plug-and-play kits that allow the owner to add a sound system complete with stereo, speakers, amplifiers and even a subwoofer to a UTV. The design challenge really came down to being able to install audio using factory bolt locations while keeping the vehicle’s integrity, and not taking away precious cargo space.”
As consumers come to enjoy and rely upon such enhanced vehicle safety features as backup cameras and lane-departure warning systems, they will naturally demand them as updates to older cars that lack them. AAMP Global is helping to fill this gap with its EchoMaster product line of cameras, sensors and monitors.
Infotainment and Safety
Of course, sound is merely one component of vehicle infotainment, a broader category that will only become more important to drivers and occupants as vehicles trend toward greater connectedness and autonomy.
“I think we all see it coming,” said Riggs, regarding full-vehicle or driverless autonomy. “It’s just when and how it will actually materialize, but I think it opens even more capabilities for us to provide entertainment and infotainment. If you’re less concerned about being attentive to driving and so forth, the consumer is going to want that entertainment and infotainment even more than they do now.”
Busy consumers freed from the drudgery of piloting their vehicles may soon see a full range of work and productivity applications introduced to their aftermarket head units. Until that day, rear-seat entertainment systems for passengers remain popular, though they face challenges from mobile devices.
“Just about every kid older than 10 has a smartphone, so rear-seat entertainment as we know it today is [facing] challenges from handheld devices,” Riggs said. “But the experience of a built-in system is still much better, and it’s available to anyone who gets in a vehicle, not just someone who has a smartphone or a handheld device.”
With more and more going on inside their vehicles, consumers are increasingly relying on advancing technology to keep them safe from the many hazards outside. Waraniak noted that Millennials, especially, fall into this category, with a recent Foresight Research’s Accessories Immersion Report finding that today’s 18–35 demographic values seamless technology and advanced safety performance in their vehicles to the point that they’ll spend an average of $2,220 to tailor their
“Consumers are now becoming more and more aware of the availability of safety features and options in new cars, and they want those same conveniences and safety features for their older vehicles, so that’s a great opportunity for the industry,”
To meet that rising trend, AAMP recently re-launched its EchoMaster brand, which encompasses everything from basic backup cameras to blind-spot detection sensors, front cameras, 360-degree cameras, DVR products and more.
“A whole new category is integrated safety, where we can integrate those cameras, sensors and so forth into either the factory radio screen of the vehicle or an aftermarket radio where the [factory unit] has been replaced,” Riggs added.
Available from a range of manufacturers, current aftermarket safety enhancement products run the gamut from do-it-yourself to professionally installed items, with price points to match. In fact, do-it-yourself backup cameras and rearview mirror replacements with integrated view screens are now popular offerings at virtually every big-box chain. Meanwhile, retail installers can anticipate growing opportunities for integrating safety cameras, radars and related devices and software into older vehicles as consumers learn to expect and rely on such features in their newer cars.
However, Waraniak cautioned that those new opportunities also present new challenges to the aftermarket.
“ADAS sensors, cameras, radar and computer processors are often integrated in the parts and systems that SEMA
companies are providing modifications for—or, in many cases, replacing,” he noted. “Most ADAS technologies are not yet regulated and can be addressed today with functional compliance testing, system evaluation and full-vehicle scanning and software tools. Automakers have guidelines and best practices available to dealers and collision-repair shops to help ensure that ADAS technologies are recalibrated and function as intended after a vehicle has been repaired. If SEMA members are not using those tools and checking the OEM information database, they may be missing an important step in the customization and modification process of late-model vehicles.”
Cloud connectivity and data sharing promise consumers an entirely new range of convenience, safety, productivity and infotainment options. Voyomotive is helping to break that ground with Voyo, an advanced telematics system that connects a vehicle’s OBD-II port to the cloud, allowing vehicle owners to monitor and control an array of vehicle functions from virtually anywhere via their mobile devices.
Even as hardwired products evolve, however, a new segment is forming within the mobile-electronics aftermarket category—one driven by software, digital connectivity and cloud data sharing. A case in point is Voyo, a recently debuted aftermarket telematics system that essentially connects a vehicle’s OBD-II port to the Voyo cloud to enable a suite of convenience, security and fuel-saving applications. Plug-and-play, the Voyo unit interfaces with a smartphone or other mobile device, allowing users to remotely locate, lock and unlock their vehicles; monitor malfunctions, driver behavior and speed; read detailed diagnostic codes
“We’re a combination of Silicon Valley and Detroit automotive,” said Peter Yorke, CEO of Voyomotive, the device’s manufacturer. He sees huge, untapped product-development and market potential in vehicle data.
“We’re one of the few companies—if not the only one—that is actually reverse-engineering data from vehicles so that we can get very, very advanced data from vehicles that we can make available for apps for consumers and for fleets as well as for channel partners, whether it be insurance companies, dealerships or service centers,” he explained. “When data is acquired from the OBD-II port of a car, its typical use is very narrow in focus. It’s data used for emissions testing that the companies by law have to make readily available. We’re getting the other 99% of the data that is generally out of reach, both for consumers and for fleets.”
For instance, Voyo can receive information about such things as when an oil change is due, the oil’s remaining life, whether the vehicle has gotten a flat tire, or whether there has been a malfunction code in the vehicle.
“We’re getting 70–100 non-generic parameters off the vehicle, and those look at how the vehicle is being operated, how the driver is driving the vehicle, and even parameters related to the weather,” Yorke said. “That allows us to determine if the vehicle is in good operating condition and if it’s being driven safely.”
Voyo’s implications are vast. For instance, parents can monitor teen driving habits from a home computer or smartphone. Fleets can network vehicles. Crowdsourcing can serve up routes and road conditions to consumers in ways that rival current navigation apps. But beyond even that, Yorke sees a future in licensing Voyomotive’s application programming interface to third-party developers, that can mine the data trove to innovate countless other applications, products and services.
Voyomotive is also in the process of supplying its data analytics to Tier 1 companies researching vehicle handling characteristics, driver habits and related information for the development of next-generation products. Yorke conceded that OEMs were the gatekeepers to such data and innovation until recently, but he envisions that circumstance changing as an entirely new, digitally driven wave of aftermarket ideas and solutions emerges.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve seen that many of the products and businesses that have changed the way we live have been digitally based,” he explained. “Vehicles have kind of lagged in that field and now are racing to catch up with the advent of driverless cars, [vehicle] intelligence and safety features. Cars were wide open in the days of do-it-yourself fixing it at home. The risk is that the data and what you can learn about the car is becoming more closed as you add more electronics. What we and others are saying is that we should be opening up this data, not only for consumers or for fleets, but also for the distributors and the channels that want to provide additional services and goods to their customer base. At the end of the day, I think history has shown that the ones who opt for more open solutions—and the ones that support consumer preferences—will be the ones that win.”