A Path to Reboot Car Audio

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Keith Lehmann

By Keith Lehmann

Having nearly 30 years of experience in the mobile electronics industry, I’ve witnessed massive changes in the way we develop new products and attract new customers.   As we assess where the industry is today and where it is going, it is useful to go back to a time when the industry was in full swing and examine what would happen if we applied what we learned back then to today’s challenging condition.

Consider how technologically primitive our industry was in the 80’s and 90’s, and yet we sold just about everything we could build.  The reasons were clear; we knew our customers and delivered on their expectations.  The products we offered were expensive but quantifiably better than what was pre-installed by car companies (if they were installed at all – remember the “delete option?”).  Selling to customers was a dream; the art of the demo, offering labor and services found nowhere else, a genuine commitment to being “The Expert” on all things car stereo.

Something happened near the turn of the Millennium.  In 2003, the almighty in-dash CD player (still the single largest revenue-generating product category in the mobile electronics industry today, believe it or not), showed year-over-year losses for the first time since 1995 when the consumer electronics industry began keeping category records.  Then things got worse; over the next two years the CD category revenue declined -24%, and speakers, amplifiers and multimedia collectively declined -16%, and the “race to zero” was in full stride.  Internet pricing and predatory distribution followed as the industry that lost contact with its customer.  We just weren’t relevant anymore to enough people.

We all recognize there is a new customer profile at work.  In pursuit of this precious “connected consumer,” I ask a question and will propose an answer later:  Can the industry gain access to this ever-broadening customer base that is in the market for new connected gadgets?     See Part II here.

Keith Lehmann is a 30-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry. Lehmann was most recently Executive Vice President of Kenwood USA Corporation and in charge of the company’s consumer electronics sector for over ten years. Today, Lehmann is a consumer electronics industry consultant and advisor to companies, organizations and media outlets.

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  1. Companies that offer head units need to be cured of their tablet envy and offer high-end SQ head units. That’s all we lack these days. Lord knows, I’ve contacted /////ALPINE more times than I can recall. Hopefully, I’m not the only one. If you’re reading this, message them on their Facebook page. Squeaky wheel gets the grease!

    1. Dee you have a point. Sony has offered affordable mid level units with adjustable time alignment and seperate front and rear crossover ect. Top level JVC, Pioneer, and Kenwood all offer low noise floors and wonderfully useful processing. Alpine has just always been overpriced when they built any units for customers chasing fidelity. Their menus get low marks from my customers as well.

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