Holden Volt is launching this year, but with no digital radio, nor signs of one in any other Holden

This week Holden showed off its latest and most technologically advanced car the Volt, to the media. With the electric vehicle set to hit Australian dealers later this year, EFTM’s Trevor Long sat down with Chairman and Managing Director of Holden Mike Devereux to discuss the Volt and took the opportunity to ask just how far off digital radio might be in Holden cars.

Only a few weeks ago the entire radio industry, including commercial stations, the ABC and SBS joined together to celebrate three years of digital radio in Australia. At the event, the broadcasters joined Toyota in announcing that digital radio was going to be available in selected locally built vehicles, a first for Australia.

European vehicles are almost certain to all have Digital Radio from next year with a few countries mandating the broadcast standard be included in cars. This has already had an effect on the Aussie market, with Lexus and BMW both already listing digital radio as an optional extra in some models.

Given Toyota is the number one vehicle brand in Australia, having them support digital radio is a huge boost to the format. But just how close are we to a much wider availability? It seems the answer is still “a long way off”.

Mike Devereux, Chairman & Managing Director at Holden sat down with Trevor Long for the weekly Your Tech Life podcast this week, and the answers were pretty clear.

Speaking about the current state of the digital radio in-car debate Devereux said, “I think it’s a bit of wine before its time.” With some optimism though he went on to add, “but I do think it will be a very short period of time before the capability to broadcast in digital is ubiquitous around the country.”

Putting that in perspective, digital radio is currently licenced in five capital cities – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth – with scientific trials underway in Canberra and Darwin. The industry is no doubt lobbying government for a regional commitment to digital radio, however the likelihood of a full national roll out being announced, let alone actually completed within even five years is frankly very, very low.

With ubiquity a key issue for Holden, that seems to put a bit of a downer on recent excitement around the technology. Devereux is clear that “it’s on the radar”, however he quite knowledgeably points out that “the early adoption of digital radio in this market, for example in Melbourne, is a bit clunky right now, there are certain places where it won’t work, and you’ll see a cut over as you’re driving where you lose the signal”

“This is a big country and people do go from big CBD’s out to places like Ballarat in Melbourne or down in Sydney to the ‘Gong’. You do need coverage – it can be a disconnected consumer experience right now to drive around the country with digital radio.”

Clearly, Holden aren’t keen on the calls that might come into dealers when the radio drops out. Devereux explains that customers will ring them, claiming “‘my radios broken’ – in fact they’ve just come from an area that supports digital radio into one that didn’t and then they came back into an area 20 mins later that did.”

The good news? He is clear “It’ll be here”. But the bad news? Devereaux explains that “we’ll put it on the vehicles when we know the infrastructure is there.”

Which means it’s over to you, radio industry and Senator Conroy…