Filling the hole in the dashboard

Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.

It wasn't that many years ago that auto dealers ordered cars from the factory with simple AM radios or without radios.

Dealers would swap the radios for some fancy sound system that could be installed at the dealership, and everyone was happy -- happy, that is, until the automakers discovered how much they were losing and created their own devices to counter the independent radio systems.

Well, chances are it's about to happen again. This time it's going to involve Bluetooth connectivity and the customer's smartphone. I bet before long all you'll have to do is have a place to put a smartphone. It will hook itself up to the car's wiring and speakers, and everyone will be happy as can be -- except that dealers and factories will lose the sale of some high-end sound systems.

Consider the speed of a smartphone's operating system, and you realize how that hand-held computer will take over the navigation, entertainment and communication functions in the automobile.

It wasn't that long ago that you would buy a mobile phone hard-wired into your high-end vehicle. And don't forget the last century's citizens band radio craze and how some factory radios came with CB capabilities.

I guess the ultimate will be having nothing installed in the vehicle, and every time a new driver hops in the car, the vehicle will automatically link itself to whatever systems are installed in the driver's smartphone.

No more factory sound systems or navigation units -- what will replace that revenue for the factory and the dealer?

That's the $64,000 question.

The next big idea may well be video streaming of TV shows and movies from the cloud.

With the rapid speed of technology, it's almost impossible to figure out what would fit in an automobile next. Things seem to change every six months.

It's a far cry from the 1930s, when dealers first installed Motorola radios in cars, some with cutting-edge push-button tuning. Putting technology into vehicles has come full circle.

I have no doubt that something else will come along to help the customer and the dealer. It always has and, let's hope, always will.



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