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Polestar 2: Radio Shock

by Roger Lanctot | 3月 08, 2019

The electrified Polestar 2 was the belle of the ball at the Geneva International Motor Show this past week. This Tesla Motors Model 3 killer won’t arrive in the market until 2020 and speculation is already spreading that tariffs could block its path – but it’s uncertain arrival is not enough to diminish the impact of its infotainment system.

This product of Chinese-Swedish collaboration is intended to deliver a range of up to 275 miles on a charge and is packed with 408 horsepower and a 78kWh battery. The car is expected to cost $63,000 at launch before $7,500 in incentives (in the U.S.). 

What really set enthusiasts’ hearts aflutter, though, was the car’s Android-based center stack head unit and its infusion of Google-based content and services including Google Maps, Google Assistant and the Google Play store. The pre-production model on the show floor at Geneva revealed for the first time what a full-on Google enhanced in-dash system will do – including controlling a wide range of vehicle functions.

Polestar 2 head unit demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlsEBHqSx10

What the system won’t do is tune in to analog radio. The center stack system in the Polestar 2 will come with access to DAB and DAB+ broadcast radio stations as well as streaming audio content from a variety of apps – but it won’t come with access to analog AM or FM signals. (In the video, the demonstrator says the system will also support SiriusXM satellite radio in the U.S. but has no comment regarding HD Radio.)

This fact alone is hardly a shock. Delivering an AM signal in an electric vehicle is problematic. BMW faced AM reception issues in North America when launching its first EVs there.

Circumstances are different in Europe. The latest developments impacting digital radio adoption in Europe, according to WorldDMB Forum include:

  • In December 2018, France said that the 20% coverage of the country threshold has been reached triggering the 2009 law mandating digital radio as standard for all vehicles within 18 months.
  • Also in December 2018, the European Commission published the EECC Directive which mandates all countries to include digital radio (DAB/DRM) as standard in all new passenger vehicles by 2020 (Model year was not specified causing headaches for the OEMs, but the date for this is by December 2020)
  • Italy released a law stating that digital radio is mandatory in all new cars by 1 Jan 2020 (the law means they are well within the EU Directive timescale and although there has been some serious push back on this, it is very difficult to change a law and so the date stands).

All new cars in the EU will have digital radios in them by December 2020. For the U.K., Norway and Switzerland this isn't a problem as they were almost at 100% anyway, according to WorldDMB, and those OEMs which were slow to comply have now taken note and for these markets they were mostly prepared.

This means that Polestar is more or less aligned with the rest of the broadcast listening requirements of the E.U. The lack of AM reception and analog FM in the U.S. will raise some eyebrows and maybe even some hackles. 

Observers describe the Android-based, Google-infused system as Polestar 2’s secret weapon vis-à-vis Tesla. Presumably the vegan interior was not enough of a game changer.

I think it is safe to say that it will take more than Google to turn the heads of Tesla buyers. While the Google-based system in the Polestar 2 comes with over the air software update capability – that system is unlikely to confer added vehicle range, performance or horsepower to the car.

The demonstrator in the video (link above) says: “New maps, new apps. We will never get old.” In reality, “new apps and maps” already sounds old. If the software update capability is unable to enhance the driving performance it is, in the words of Sean Spicer, a “nothing burger.”

More significantly, Tesla Motors offers a very limited infotainment system package and no app store. I have yet to hear of or see a complaint from a single Tesla owner/driver of a lack of apps in their Tesla. Six years ago Elon Musk had the foresight to anticipate a post-app or nearly app-less automotive world. The Polestar system is shifting the evolution of in-dash systems into reverse.

There is still time to change gears before launching the car. But Google alone won’t close the gap with Tesla. And deleting analog radio won’t be much help either - particularly in the U.S.

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