Bill mandating AM radio in new cars not necessary, trade group says

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill that would prevent automakers from eliminating AM broadcast radio in new vehicles isn’t necessary, an industry trade group representing automakers is expected to tell a House panel Tuesday.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation’s Scott Schmidt, vice president of safety policy, will argue that while the group’s members are “committed to ensuring drivers have access to free, public alerts and safety warnings through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System,” the way consumers receive information is constantly evolving, according to his written testimony.

Emergency alerts under FEMA’s system are sent out across multiple platforms, including AM, FM and satellite radio as well as cellular networks.

“The intent is not for the public to rely on a sole source to receive the alerts but to create a ‘net’ of sources in which the public can receive them. In other words, the more the better,” the testimony, which was made public Monday, states.

Schmidt also will argue that there are several reasons behind automakers’ decisions on vehicle design and offered features, including technical challenges, market expectations and consumer demand.

“These factors, coupled with the numerous regulations on automobiles, dictate the decisions that automakers make when designing and constructing vehicles, prioritizing safety, efficiency, and consumer preferences,” the testimony reads.

The House’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology is holding the hearing over concerns that automakers have removed, or are planning to remove, AM radio receivers from their vehicles, especially electric models.

At least seven automakers — BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo — do not offer broadcast AM radio in their electric vehicles, citing electromagnetic interference from EV batteries that can generate static, a high-frequency hum and other noise and affect the reception of AM radio signals.

Ford Motor Co. previously said it would not include AM radio in any of its new models starting in 2024 but reversed course last month “after speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system.”

In May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation — known as the AM for Every Vehicle Act — that would direct NHTSA to issue a rule requiring automakers to keep AM broadcast radio in new vehicles at no additional charge.

The lawmakers argue AM radio is important during large-scale emergencies, especially “when the cell phone runs out, the internet gets cut off, or the television doesn’t work because of no electricity or power to your house,” U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., the House bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement last month.

In a blog post Monday, Alliance CEO John Bozzella pushed back against those concerns.

“Whether or not AM radio is physically installed in vehicles in the future has no bearing on the multiple methods of delivering those emergency communications alerts to the public,” Bozzella wrote. “Mandating audio features in a vehicle isn’t necessary. Congress hasn’t ever gone this route, especially in a competitive environment with so many choices — many of them free.”

Two witnesses — Lt. Col. Christopher DeMaise, who is commander of the Homeland Security branch of the New Jersey State Police, and Jerry Chapman, who is appearing on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters — are expected to testify in favor of the bill.

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