By Brett Solomon
As a custom retailer, did you ever have fears of business abruptly coming to a halt? How about slowly tapering off because of variables you can't control? In the mobile electronics industry, the biggest fear keeping independent retailers awake these days is how motor vehicles are becoming increasing difficult to work on.
Recently, we attended MERA's (Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association) KnowledgeFest in Louisville, Ky. The central motif that ran through the event was OEM Integration and the challenges independent retailers face because of two key problems. The first problem is that dashboard designs are becoming increasingly complex, so much so that the traditional DIN opening is going the way of the dinosaur. After all, do you think it would be a lucrative proposition to change the radio in a Mazda 6 without a proper dash kit available? Even a proper dash kit would tack on a significant amount of money to the installation.
The second major problem is that the wiring infrastructure in today's cars is becoming increasingly dependent on databus systems. For the automakers, this type of system is great, because it reduces manufacturing costs, saves weight, and allows the automaker to increase features. Back in the 1980s, when every outpost of vehicle's electrical system had to be hard-wired with individual wires running back to a central harness, it was a breeze to install a radio. However, databus systems, especially those that incorporate multiplexed signals (running more than one piece of information over the same wire) make integrating mobile electronics into the vehicle's wiring system very difficult. Fortunately for retailers, there are companies that make OEM Integration devices that can "break the code" of complex vehicle databus systems and allow you access to achieve aftermarket installation democracy.
These companies sat on a panel at MERA's "OEM Integration Town Meeting." The meeting consisted of panelists such as Rob Putnam from Soundgate and Ron Freeman of Peripheral Electronics. They discussed the inherent challenges in designing equipment for new vehicles when automakers are not apt to share information on the databus systems they employ in their vehicles. The result in those situations is that it takes large engineering sums and a big lag in time from the time a new car hits the streets to the time aftermarket solutions are available for the vehicle. The bottom line to all this is that costs retailers money! Future technologies that are being developed with CEA such as MOST (a databus system that would allow plug-and-play operation of aftermarket peripherals in the automobile) are a great start to helping independent retailers fight the automakers from keeping them "locked out."