DETROIT - BMW of North America LLC will offer digital radios as a factory option in its 2006 7-series models. The sedans go into production in the fall.
"We are the first to offer HD radio in a production car," says BMW spokesman Bill Scully.
Scully says digital radio - also known as high-definition or HD radio - has several advantages over analog in-car radio receivers. Digital radio receivers offer clearer reception. They also can display information such as weather, traffic, sports scores and stock reports.
And radio stations that broadcast over a digital network can simulcast multiple programming on the same band. Drivers in vehicles with digital radios can tune in those other programs with the touch of a button.
About 460 of the largest 13,000 U.S. radio stations have switched to digital radio. Nineteen offer simulcast programming.
"Digital radio offers advantages over regular radio," says Scully. "AM is upgraded to FM quality and FM is upgraded to CD quality."
BMW has not announced the price of the option. Digital radios retail from $499 to $999 in the automotive aftermarket.
Robert Struble, president of iBiquity Digital Corp., said digital radio has gotten a warm reception from import-brand automakers. He said digital radio receivers will be featured in the next few years as a factory-installed option on eight brands and 30 models.
iBiquity develops and licenses software that allows radio transmissions to be broadcast and received in a digital format.
Struble would not identify the specific manufacturers that will offer the technology, but said European and Asian companies are leading the charge.
"Five years from now you won't be asking for a digital radio," Struble says. "You will be asking for a radio and it will automatically be a digital radio. Just like you don't ask for a color TV; you ask for a TV and it is already color because that is the standard."
iBiquity is based in Columbia, Md. The company was founded in 1991 through a partnership of CBS Inc. and Gannett Co.