|Inside the fight over AM radio in EVs|
Once at the center of American life, AM radio stands in the middle of a tussle between automakers who want it gone to save money and avoid noisy interference in electric vehicles, and federal lawmakers who say it is key for emergency alerts during catastrophes.
BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo do not offer broadcast AM radio in their electric vehicles, citing the EV motor's electromagnetic interference with the AM system and a resulting ticking sound. About a third of all new EV models available for purchase in the United States in 2023 are not equipped with an AM tuner, according to SBD Automotive, a global automotive technology research firm.
Automakers are dumping AM radio as they face immense pressure to cut costs, reduce complexity and increase EV efficiency, even marginally. Competition is fierce and companies are struggling to make money on electric vehicles under $70,000. They also cite little AM radio use by new-car buyers.
An AM tuner adds from $20 to $30 to a vehicle's bill of materials, according to SBD Automotive. Automakers want to slash spending where they can as they divert capital to new EV models and driver-assist technology.
"They are going to leave no stone unturned," said Eric Noble, president of consulting firm The CARLAB. "They're going to look to pull costs out anywhere they can."
But this retro technology might be here to stay. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides some radio stations, most of them AM, with backup communications equipment and power generators so they can broadcast alerts "under all conditions," even if other systems, from social media to TV, fail.
Legislators have introduced a bill that would require AM radio to remain in vehicles to ensure drivers have access to hardened emergency alert systems. AM radio reaches about 45 million listeners each month in the U.S., compared with 231 million listeners for FM, according to Nielsen ratings.