Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Market for car premium audio systems turns up the volume

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Buoyed by the proliferation of quality sound systems in mid-range cars, premium audio systems in automobiles are projected to attain double-digit sales growth worldwide in 2011 and in the years ahead, according to a new IHS iSuppli Automotive Research topical report.

Global sales in 2011 of premium audio systems will reach 7.9 million units, up a robust 14 percent from 6.9 million units last year, on their way to 13.3 million units by 2015.

This year’s sales will yield worldwide revenue of $7.3 billion for the market, up 11 percent from $6.6 billion in 2010. Strong unit-sales expansion of 12 to 18 percent is expected during the next three years for premium audio systems, which is defined as products with any or all of the following features: surround sound, eight or more speakers and 400 watts or more. Premium audio also covers branded audio--i.e., systems with some sort of branding associated with them—which can be found in car locations like speaker grates, amplifiers or headunits.

“While many automotive infotainment functions are migrating out of built-in car electronic systems and into portable devices like smartphones, music remains a basic feature that all vehicles must have,” said Mark Boyadjis, senior analyst and regional manager for automotive electronics research at IHS. “This means that audio systems that can produce high-quality sound will continue to be in demand. Furthermore, while premium audio previously was restricted to luxury and high-end cars, its usage is now broadening to include mid-range automobiles as well. This will steadily grow the market size for premium audio systems.”

Brand names dominate
Most high-end audio systems are sold by premium brands, given that car buyers are more comfortable buying products from familiar vendors when they are likely to spend anywhere from $300 to $6,300.

Bose and Harman/Kardon are the leading premium audio system suppliers, with both focusing on surround sound systems with six or eight audio channels. Bose supplies systems and speakers to more than 18 car makes, including many General Motor brands, as well as Alfa Romeo, Audi, Infiniti, Mazda, Fiat, Nissan and Porsche. Harman is used by brands such as BMW, Buick, Hyundai, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz.

Other premium audio suppliers include Alpine; D&M Holdings for Boston Acoustics; Bowers & Wilkins; Burmester; Clarion; Hyundai Mobis for Dimension; Sony; Panasonic for ELS Surround and Fender; and Pioneer—just to name a few.

Premium audio is alive and well
Numerous technology trends are impacting the premium audio space. For instance, surround sound, with 5.1 and 7.1 surround formats, is a feature that is growing in popularity. The increasing availability of matrix systems that synthesize surround sound from stereo is the major factor driving growth of surround sound.

Speaker count is also an important differentiator for premium audio, with high-end cars featuring as many as 14 speakers. Average premium wattage ranges from 507 for model year 2011 (MY 2011) cars in the United States, to 565 in Japan and 592 in Germany.

Portable music players play an increasing role
An important premium audio trend is the accommodation of digital music players in vehicles, with car manufacturers adding interfaces capable of playing mobile music. An auxiliary input is the least expensive interface, with nearly all premium audio systems sold in the United States currently including the feature. The use of an iPod interface also is becoming more common, now available in 91 percent of US MY 2011 cars and in 61 percent of cars worldwide. The next two years will see the growing dominance of two more interfaces—USB and SecureDigital, IHS believes.

Digital music also is available via satellite radio and digital radio in some regions. In the United States, the Sirius XM Radio Corp. is steadily increasing location-based services and other premium content for ongoing revenue growth, even though satellite radio on its own no longer drives unit sales increases. On the other hand, the market for the digital radio technology known as HD Radio continues to grow rapidly, with considerable uptake occurring in US vehicles from 2008 to this year.

Amped up
Also growing in importance for premium audio systems are class D amplifiers that fit with multichannel audio, featuring lower power requirements important in electric vehicles, as well as more than 90 percent high-power efficiency ratings that translate into improved output and less power lost to heat.

Class D amplifiers, speaker technologies and other elements that go into low-energy audio systems are optimized for small cars, like the Bose Energy Efficient Series audio system in the 2012 Fiat 500; or for hybrids and electric vehicles, like the JBL GreenEdge audio system in the 2012 Toyota Prius v, which will use 120 watts of energy and convert to 600 watts of power output.

Source: IHS iSuppli, USA.

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