By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
In-car navigation sales have ramped up so rapidly that the category has become a lightening rod for new entrants and new technology debuting here at International CES.
According to The NPD Group of Port Washington, N.Y., total in-car navigation sales in the United States skyrocketed 126.5 percent in 2005, through October, and 74 percent in units. Upward of 80 percent to 90 percent of that growth was in portable and transportable units, said NPD industry analysis director Ross Rubin.
Portable navigation is more popular than fixed navigation because the portable units “are easy to buy, they don't require any installation, and they tend to be less expensive than the in-dash units,” Rubin said.
Last year, “transportable” devices were the hot item. These plug into the 12-volt adapter and then sit on the dash or windshield. But this year suppliers are racing to offer true portable navigation units than can double as handheld GPS for use when traveling. Some suppliers are also adding MP3 or video capability so that the units become entertainment devices.
In fixed navigation, suppliers are experimenting with new configurations, including a rear-view mirror from Audiovox with built-in navigation and an in-dash DVD/monitor that docks with a portable navigation device from Alpine.
Suppliers offering their first battery operated portable navigation devices at CES include Alpine, Audiovox, Blaupunkt, Clarion, JVC and Sony.
Kenwood also said it is working on a portable or transportable unit, and Panasonic said it would offer one later this year.
Alpine's new Blackbird PMD-B100 personal navigation device (PND) has built-in batteries, 3.5-inch touch screen as well as a “real time” traffic receiver that uses ClearChannel traffic data to offer updates about every minute through RDS. It has built-in maps of the United States and Canada, and it can store MP3 files on the hard drive or play them from an SD or MMC card. When the user enters the car he can dock the Blackbird in an Alpine IVA-W200 in-dash double DIN/DVD receiver/monitor. Shipping was expected to start Jan. 2 at a tentative suggested retail price of $699 for the Blackbird and $999 for the IVA-W200.
Audiovox is also introducing its first PND. The battery-operated unit called the ARGOS has a 4-inch screen and 20GB hard drive with preloaded maps of the United States and Canada. It is XM capable and doubles as an MP3 player and photo viewer. The ARGOS is expected to ship this spring at a suggested retail price of $799.
Blaupunkt's first portable navigation units are the Houston and the Houston MP3. They use six-hour lithium-ion rechargeable batteries and come with a 3.5-inch screen and 1GB SD card with preloaded U.S. maps. The step-up version offers MP3, WMA playback and JPEG photo viewing and comes with a smart-cable power charger. The Houston and Houston MP3 will ship early in the second quarter at suggested retail prices of $599 and $699, respectively.
Clarion's new portable navigation system also doubles as a portable media player (PMP). The NICE P200 has a 4-inch touch screen and 20GB hard drive, built-in FM transmitter and offers music (MP3, WMA, WAV) and video (DivX, ASF, WMV, Xvid, AVI) storage. The battery-operated unit allows users to synchronize their contacts, schedules and address book with a PC. The NICE P200 is expected to ship in March.
Dual is expanding its portable/handheld navigation offering to a total of three models with built-in maps. Two new units include the XNAV3550 with 3.5-inch touch screen, 1GB SD card and MP3 and AVI audio/video file playback at $599 suggested retail price. A similar model will be available with a 7-inch screen, said the company.
JVC is introducing a navigation/PMP called the KV-PX9. It plays movies and music, devoting 13GB to multimedia and 7GB to navigation. The KV-PX9 uses a lithium-ion battery with three-hour life when navigating and 10-hour life with MP3 playback. It is compatible with WAV, MP3, WMA, JPEG, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF and AVI files, and it can also store data files including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It has a 3.5-inch touch screen. Shipping is expected in March at an $899 suggested retail price.
Navmax, a new navigation supplier founded by former Eclipse manager Phil Maeda, is making its formal debut at CES with a transportable navigation unit called the VMAX501. The unit has a 5-inch touch screen and a CF card slot for downloading maps from a supplied set of CDs. An upgrade version has a 4GB Microdrive with preloaded maps of the United States and Canada. Suggested retail prices are $599 and $799, respectively, with shipping in January.
Sony is introducing its first navigation unit since the mid-90s. Sony said it is attempting to achieve with navigation what it has accomplished in other portable categories, which is to “make it smaller and perform better,” according to mobile electronics marketing director Andrew Sivori. The company's new nav-u uses a proprietary Sony engine, which offers a fast response to commands, said Sivori. The 3.5 inch screen is “Wega-like” with 350 nits of brightness, he added. The nav-u has built-in maps on 1GB of internal flash memory. Features include a “home” button and a repeat button to hear directions again. It comes with a USB port and a “robust mounting system,” plus a ported enclosure for better bass. It will ship in February at $699.
Initially, AVN (in-dash navigation and DVD/monitor in one chassis) showed signs of becoming a high growth category, but suppliers say that growth failed to materialize in 2005.
Industry forecasts predicted AVN sales would hit 150,000 units in 2005, but sales amounted to about that half that number, according to Alpine.
Michael Townsen, marketing VP for Pioneer said, “I would agree that the total industry sales of AVN product was less than expected. I attribute that to the growing popularity and convenience of the portable market,” he said, noting that “the challenge of Pioneer and other suppliers and retailers is to create awareness with consumers that there is an AVN option.”
Alpine said that part of the AVN “problem” is that the in-dash A/V segment appeals to a younger demographic who may not be motivated to pay the additional $400 to $600 for navigation.
For Alpine, a solution is to offer a separate in-dash A/V product that can dock with a portable navigation device (see the Blackbird and IVA-W200 mentioned previously).
Another unique fixed in-car navigation device is from Audiovox. Called the LCMRNAV, it is a rear-view mirror with a built-in navigation processor, an SD card slot and 4.5-inch LCD screen embedded in the mirror's glass. The mirror ships with discs of U.S. street maps, which must be downloaded to the supplied SD card. It has built-in speakers and inputs for a rear-view camera and back-seat baby camera. It is expected to ship in spring at a suggested retail price of $999.
Crimestopper is also showing a mirror-based navigation system called the NavPro NP3000 at a price to be announced.
New from Pioneer is the AVIC-Z1, an AVN unit with built-in hard drive, MP3 storage and iPod integration. Pioneer says the AVIC-Z1 is “smarter” than other systems because it more accurately calculates shortest routes.
From Eclipse is a new double-DIN AVN5500 with 6.5-inch motorized screen and a Memory Stick slot.
Kenwood is introducing its first flash-based navigation add-on product designed to work with Kenwood A/V units. It will have built-in maps and an SD card slot at a suggested retail price of about $800.
Jensen is introducing an in-dash car computer with navigation and Bluetooth, called the NAVDINPC 1.0 (see story p. 156).
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.