Front-seat television technology is beginning to creep into the worldwide automotive market, but regulators, automakers, and suppliers say it’s unlikely to take hold in the US.
The growing trend -- said to be more popular in the Asian market than in North America or Europe -- involves the use of electronic kits that enable a vehicle’s navigation system to be converted for front-seat TV reception. Some Japanese suppliers sell the conversion kits into the automotive aftermarket, and service providers on three continents offer to install them. With such kits installed, drivers would potentially be able to view television shows while their cars are moving.
Automakers and suppliers interviewed by Design News called it a bad idea. “We are categorically against it,” John Hanson, spokesman for Toyota, told us. “We adhere to the idea that a two-second loss of eye contact with the road is the absolute maximum. That’s why we are 180 degrees away from the idea that a driver might be watching television.”
Still, such systems are available, though clearly not from automakers. Providers of aftermarket services in the UK, US, and Japan are offering to install such kits. “Watch movies, TV on your nav screen!” writes one aftermarket services company on its website. “Our modules and kits add a video input feature while still maintaining the OEM appearance and functionality of your stock navigation unit,” writes another.
One UK-based aftermarket firm states it can do the installation of such kits “for Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and other UK and imported vehicle(s).” The company did not respond to an email request for an interview with Design News, however.
Autobacs Seven, a giant aftermarket parts supplier based in Japan, has publicly acknowledged that it sells conversion kits. Automakers told Design News that there may be good reason for suppliers’ willingness to stock such kits. “Asian consumers have been more receptive to front-seat TV,” said a major auto company spokesman who asked not to be identified. “In Korea, everybody’s driving that way. They have docking stations for their tablets so they can watch while TV they drive.”
Several large electronics suppliers, including Delphi Automotive, told us they are against the idea of nav-TV, but declined to be interviewed. A spokesman for Pioneer Electronics USA, a worldwide automotive electronics supplier, said that it takes driver distraction issues seriously, adding that its navigation systems are engineered so that drivers aren’t permitted to input information while the car is moving. The company said it does not sell nav-TV kits in the US, but wasn’t sure if it offers them in Asia.