Harman is pushing ahead with plans to sell carmakers the ability to unlock extra amps and speakers (already embedded in the car) by a simple over-the-air software update that can occur any time after the car purchase.
The idea is to “future proof” vehicles, it said during a press briefing prior to CES 2021 last month.
Under the system, the carmaker may preload extra amplifiers, digital signal processors and speakers in the car that can be activated later as an audio upgrade.
5G can make the audio upgrades and other car upgrades quicker and easier. In fact, one of the car upgrades can be moving to 5G from an existing 4G in-car hotspot.
“With our 5G program, you can outfit the vehicle with additional amplifiers and signal processors that provide better sound staging. The additional amplifiers and speakers allow you to say, ‘I won’t buy this when I purchase the car but I will enable it later, down the road.’ Some of the systems can simply be software and signal processing that improves the sound stage so there’s no need to preload hardware,” said Roger Jollis, Director of Product Management, Telematics for Harman in an interview.
He added, “We are in discussions with multiple automakers to put the features in place.” Jollis noted, of course, that Tesla allows such over-the-air updates to activate additional car cameras, or increase the car’s range or add semi-autonomous features.
To make the system viable, carmakers will need to recoup the cost of adding the hardware upfront but there are ways to do that. First, the systems are more expensive when you buy them after the car purchase than at the time of the car purchase, so there’s more margin.
It can also be stipulated, that when the car comes off lease and is cleaned and conditioned for resale as a certified used vehicle, that the car must enable the upgrades at that time and consequently be sold at a higher price. The vehicle then becomes more attractive, as it has better tech that competes with the newer vehicles, said Jollis.
“It can be a reasonable revenue maker, keeping in mind the profitability of the car is not all that big especially at the dealer level.”
Harman also sees 5G itself as an important upgrade to the car. “We’re doing something similar, whereby the initial communication box is enabled to do 5G but it’s not turned on. It comes with 4G, but then when the region is ready and consumers ready, they can complete an aftermarket transaction that enables the stages of the communication module that will bring on 5G,” he said.