By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The name-brand OEM integration device, which connects just about any device that users would want to play back in the car directly to their existing radio, is still in its infancy. But it is poised for high growth, said suppliers.
Offered by vendors including JL Audio, Alpine and Rockford Fosgate, the products have seen only moderate sales since their first introduction about 18 months ago. The reason, in part, is lack of retailer training.
"The adoption of OEM integration has been slowed by a natural human resistance to change in our industry. It takes time for installers and salespeople and store owners to become comfortable with practicing OEM integration; not just carrying the products, but the actual installation techniques involved," said JL Audio marketing VP Manville Smith.
Some said the category will eventually see tremendous growth, with Smith noting, "It will experience growth as dealers become more comfortable with it. The other reason it's going to grow is it's really the way forward for our industry, whether we like it or not."
Another factor slowing sales last year was that some of the OEM integration devices require a second adapter (from suppliers such as NavTV or Peripheral)to fit into certain cars.
Alpine said its $400 V-Hub, when used in a Mercedes E or S class, requires a third-party device that can cost $800. "So the guy has to spend $800 to get his $400 adapter to work," said marketing VP Steve Witt, noting that prices on these third-party adaptors are starting to fall, which should help boost sales in the coming year.
Among the new OEM integration products this year is a revised Harman Kardon Drive+Play 2, which now allows for many devices to connect to a car radio. In addition to iPod integration, the Drive+Play 2 adds the ability to interface with the Microsoft Zune and other MP3 players and, when used with an adapter, to provide Sirius capability, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming and HD Radio. It has a 3.5-inch display that mounts on the dashboard to show artist and song information. Shipping is expected in late February at a suggested retail of $399.
Mitek is joining the ranks of suppliers offering OEM integration devices this year with a new re-Q. It is a "black box" that connects to an OEM amplifier to correct factory "bass roll off," which is the circuitry used by OEM radios to automatically lower the bass when a user turns up the volume. The factory creates this effect to protect the sound system, but it limits the sound quality of an add-on aftermarket system. The re-Q automatically restores the bass, said Mitek. It is expected to ship in the first quarter at pricing to be announced.
Alpine is adding to its OEM integration line with a new integration monitor to ship in February. The TME-M740BT monitor can be added to a factory CD receiver and can be used with the Alpine Vehicle Hub Pro OEM integration device. As the user adds components to his factory system, such as an iPod, HD Radio, satellite radio, and navigation, the new touch screen can control all these devices. The 7-inch widescreen WVGA also has built-in Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling. A target suggested price is $399.
AudioControl is shipping an OEM integration device called the DQL-8 that is a processor which allows the interface of an after-market amplifier with a factory car radio. It also has an input for an iPod or satellite radio module at a suggested $599.
Scosche is launching an adapter that clips to the bottom of an iPod to make it Bluetooth ready and able to stream music without wires to a Pioneer or Sony head unit.
Also new from Scosche is an adapter for the latest Apple nano. The Scosche NRFM2 has a built-in FM transmitter that displays the available frequencies on the nano itself. It also has a built-in remote control that can be attached to the steering wheel. Scheduled to be shipping in December, the NRFM2 has a $79.99 suggested retail.
BlitzSafe is offering one of the least expensive direct-connection universal iPod interfaces. The new UIIFX has an active circuit to match the audio level of the radio. It connects the iPod to the radio via auxiliary input, or through an auxiliary interface or FM modulator. It also charges the iPod and goes into sleep mode after a 20-minute charge, when the car ignition is turned off. The unit ships this moth at $66 for an initial one-month offering and then $76 suggested retail.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.