When BMW introduced the electric i3 city car, it was a wild departure from what you saw in the rest of the lineup. And not just because it was battery-powered. While it offered a surprisingly fun driving experience and an optional range extender for owners who needed extra range, one thing it didn’t offer really stood out: AM radio. Now other automakers are or are considering following suit, and U.S. Senator Ed Markey is not happy about that.
As Mass Live reports, Markey wrote a letter to 20 automakers, which you can download here, asking them to keep offering AM radio in future vehicles. But it’s not because he’s desperate to make sure he always has access to the deranged ramblings of some talk radio lunatic. It’s because he’s worried about how cars without AM radio will affect information communication during emergencies.
“Despite innovations such as the smartphone and social media, AM/FM broadcast radio remains the most dependable, cost-free, and accessible communication mechanism for public officials to communicate with the public during times of emergency. As a result, any phase-out of broadcast AM radio could pose a significant communication problem during emergencies,” Markey wrote.
He also claimed:
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 90 percent of Americans ages 12 and older — totaling hundreds of millions of people — listened to AM or FM radio each week, 1 higher than the percentage that watch television (56 percent) or own a computer (77 percent). Forty-seven percent of Americans receive news from the radio, and tens of millions more listen to music. The car remains a main channel through which consumers listen to broadcast radio, with 89 percent of prospective U.S. car buyers saying a radio tuner should be standard in every car. Moreover, 33 percent of new car buyers say that AM radio is a very important feature in a vehicle — higher than dedicated Wi-Fi (31 percent), SiriusXM satellite radio (27 percent), and personal assistants.
As someone who doesn’t remember the last time they listened to either AM or FM radio, except for when I’m forced to in an Uber or Lyft, those claims sound suspiciously high. But to his credit, Markey did cite his sources, including this Pew Research poll. Question the methodology if you want, but at least we know he didn’t just pull numbers out of thin air.
And while it may be disappointing to AM radio fans, there actually is a good reason automakers are taking it out of their cars, specifically their EVs. Autoweek reports that the motors create electromagnetic interference that messes with AM radio reception. Ford even told Autoweek that despite originally offering the F-150 Lightning with AM radio, it’s being taken out.
According to the spokesperson, “While we have had AM on our EVs, it is actually being removed for Lightning... The frequencies involved in AM radio tend to be directly affected by the electromagnetic noise in EV propulsion systems. It takes extra investment to make AM work in an EV, and quality can be compromised as well.”
Automakers are also less committed to including AM radio in their cars because apps such as TuneIn allow owners to still listen to their preferred radio stations over their phone’s data connection. In fact, BMW’s spokesperson recommended it by name when commenting on the lack of AM radio in the i4, iX, and i7 EVs, saying, “If a customer wants to listen to an AM radio station, he or she can elect to do so via services such as TuneIn and connect/play them directly via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto through the car’s speaker system.”
Markey doesn’t appear to be satisfied with apps replacing actual AM radio and asked automakers to respond to several questions in his letter by December 22. Those companies include BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Polestar, Rivian, Stellantis, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo.