Sound advice

by Katy de Vries

BRAMPTON, Ont. – A favorite tune, the sports scores from the night before and traffic reports are all things that make a driver’s life on the road easier and more enjoyable. So the equipment that makes these things possible is an important commodity for truckers.

Good reception, convenience and value are the qualities that drivers are looking for in the sound systems they purchase and that manufacturers attempt to deliver when designing them. Fortunately, new technologies are always being developed to keep up with the drivers’ needs.

Some are even pleasing to their ears.

“These drivers are spending tremendous amounts of time in their truck, so the desire to have more of the creature comforts of home is certainly great in the commercial vehicle market,” says Tuan Hoang, product planner for commercial vehicle audio for Delphi Corp.

Delphi makes over six million radios each year and there are innovations surfacing every day, Hoang says.

One of the newest and most exciting technologies is satellite radio, says Chris Al, new truck sales manager for Premier Peterbilt in Brampton, Ontario.

“Satellite systems are technically only available to drivers in the U.S. but our Canadian drivers are asking for it, so I see that as being a way of the future,” Al says.

Bob Riedford, commercial vehicle sales manager for Delphi Corp. added satellite radio is especially good for long-haul truckers, who will travel in and out of range a number of times in one trip.

“With traditional radio, you’re not able to maintain programming for very long while crossing the country, but satellite radio can eliminate that problem,” Reidford says.

But satellite isn’t everything. Options are also important, points out Hoang.

Delphi offers products that give the driver choices about what kind of technology they want to have installed in their cabs, he says.

“We are seeing a crossover trend in all of our markets, where audio systems are continuing to merge with navigation systems, dispatcher and company software, cellular phones and other entertainment hardware. So there are a lot of options for the driver in terms of the package they want,” Hoang says.

Drivers are also looking for ways to integrate stereo systems with navigation systems, says Scott Munro of Toronto’s Kromer Radio’s sales department.

When it comes to installation, drivers tend to be happier with the systems installed at the OEM level, but Delphi does see demand on both sides, according to Reidford.

There are those who want equipment installed at the factory and others who want to upgrade, replace or install aftermarket equipment, he says.

Both Munro and Al agree.

“Most of the trucks out there today come with a very good system in them already, but we do see a few guys come in and want to customize or upgrade their system,” says Munro.

Adds Al: “Ninety-nine per cent of the drivers are satisfied with the system they get from the OEM because there are some really good quality systems coming from the factory these days. The stereo system is not much of a deal maker or a deal breaker with new trucks, the way it can be in the used truck market, so buyers tend to be pretty happy with the systems provided by the OEMs.”

Delphi offers a complete system development, said Reidford, which means the system includes all components, from the receivers, amps and speakers, to complete antennae systems.

The alternative is for the OEM to get each component from different suppliers, but drivers feel more comfortable with knowing they have a complete integrated system from one company, he says.

Delphi recently conducted a driver survey and used the results to help dictate what technologies should be developed, Hoang said.

The survey results showed that almost 80 per cent of drivers want CD playback capabilities in the commercial market.

Other areas of interest were rear-cab entertainment systems, remote controls and MP3 and Internet audio technologies, which Delphi expects to launch in 2005.

“It really makes sense to give these drivers what they are looking for, they are spending day and night on the road and we want to be able to make their living space as comfortable as possible. We want to basically put their living room on the road, so to speak,” says Hoang.

Hoang suggests drivers look to the future when they are considering the stereo system components of their vehicle.

“When consumers are looking for their next truck or radio, they ought to be looking for some key technologies coming down the pipe. There is more and more demand for wireless activity in the vehicle and streamlining equipment is becoming more important to the driver, so the idea is to think ahead when buying a stereo system,” says Hoang.

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