Harman has some mind-blowing ideas for the future of car audio.
EV buyers' top concern when shopping for a new ride is driving range. That's why carmakers need to make all the systems that run off the battery - such as air conditioning, radio, lights, and even the windshield wipers - as efficient as possible, ensuring that most of the battery's power is going towards motivating the car.
Electronics company Harman International is debuting a new premium audio experience for EVs that is more efficient than a conventional audio system at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we had the chance to speak with Harman Vice President of the EPIC Experience Team, Chris Ludwig, and Vice President, Global Marketing Car Audio, Bill Wyman about this new technological evolution.
Harman's EV Plus+ Solutions audio and communications bundle will be on display at CES in a Tesla Model X. Attendees of the show will be able to experience the new system hands-on at Harman's booth in the Hard Rock Hotel.
EV Plus+ Solutions can be broken down into three key pieces of technology that will change how consumers purchase premium audio. The first innovation is called Ecotect, a new type of audio system that uses approximately half the components of traditional premium audio. Harman doesn't have any immediate calculations on how Ecotect can improve an EV's range but Chris Ludwig says the company is "targeting around a 50% reduction" of how much energy it uses compared to a traditional system.
"We call it EPM, experiences per mile," says Bill Wyman. "We're trying to create a solution for the key pain points that consumers have been telling us. One is range anxiety. We have to make sure that anything that we do doesn't negatively impact range."
Ecotect is paired with two pieces of technology called the Audio Marketplace and Software-enabled branded audio. The former is a cloud-based ecosystem with over-the-air updates, where owners can purchase new features for their audio system. The latter is Harman's unique solution for premium audio where rather than purchase an upgraded stereo from the factory, owners can upgrade it after they have purchased the car similar to how BMW sells new features through OTA updates.
Both of these solutions sound like an interesting approach to improve the audio purchasing experience for consumers. The Audio Marketplace, for example, will contain purchasable features such as NatureScapes (serene sounds recorded from US national parks), Voice-Sensing Volume Fade (automatically lowering the volume when it detects conversation), eESS Safe and Sound (using sounds to alert drivers of pedestrians), HALOsonic Road Noise Cancellation, Clarify (improving the quality of MP3s), and a feature called Virtual Venues (recreating famous concert locations from around the world).
"Virtual Venues was born out of the need for artists that wanted to practice before going into a venue that they'd never been in," Wyman explains. For example, the system could make your car audio sound like it is being played live at Madison Square Garden. This can also be paired with a light-up speaker function with different patterns such as a "starry night," says Ludwig.
In addition to specific features, the Software-enabled branded audio allows customers to purchase premium audio after they have bought a car. For example, if you were shopping for a new BMW, you could automatically upgrade your Harman/Kardon system to Bowers and Wilkins through an OTA update.
Harman sees this as an opportunity for automakers to sell premium audio to customers who might otherwise skip it. "Somewhere north of 50% of consumers will walk into a dealership or start their purchase journey, wanting or at least being very interested in car audio," Wyman says. "But only about half of them actually get it. And the number one reason is availability." For example, if you want a white car with Harman/Kardon and the dealership only has a green one, many people will choose the color as a priority over the audio system.
Software-enabled branded audio "allows us for some interesting conversations, particularly on the business side," says Ludwig. Harman is interested in possibly splitting some of the revenue from the Software-enabled audio with the OEMs, which would be pure profit for them. We think the concept for upgradable car audio is a pretty unique one and we can't wait to see its future applications.