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The Big Screen Dilemma

Exploring availability and market penetration for head unit display sizes



In modern automotive design, the unity between driver and car has become a major focal point of innovation. This innovation has led to a 77% increase in the standard fitment of digital infotainment systems by OEMs in the U.S. between model years 2013 and 2022. Ultimately leading this technology-driven movement are advanced HMI systems – and that means screens. Display technology has become crucial to how automakers and consumers alike view the driving experience.


This brave new era has led OEMs, tier 1 suppliers, and vehicle planners to ask questions like “Is a bigger display size universally better? Is there an optimal screen size for head units? What is the market penetration among different display sizes?” We'll supply some clues to these questions before the end of this study using insights provided by the automotive data tool, VehiclePlannerPlus.


In this study, we'll review head unit display size availability data from 2013-2023, and then take a brief look at the market penetration from the 2018-2022 model years to help us understand market responses to these availability trends. By the end of this study, you’ll have a better understanding of the history and trends of head unit displays and how your brand can capitalize on these to increase market share.


A quick note on methodology - head units come in a range of sizes and types. We’ll keep the comparisons simple by only looking at display size in inches, and these will be grouped for clarity.


Availability and Screen Size


From an availability standpoint, automakers have favored different head unit sizes over time.


3" - 5" displays

Between 2013 and 2015, this screen size was extremely common, being present in nearly 40% of vehicles. However, its use by OEMs continued to steadily decline, and in 2015 was overtaken by the slightly larger 5”-7” display. Overall, by 2023 this type of display is only common in working vehicles like cargo vans.


5" - 7" displays

This screen size grew steadily in popularity throughout the early 2010s and became ubiquitous between 2016 and 2019, where it was used in as many as 1 of every 3 vehicles. However, after 2019 its popularity, much like the 3”-5” screens, had also waned. At present, it accounts for about 10% of head unit displays available in 2023 models.


7" - 9" displays

This display size is what we might consider the “once-and-future-king” of car display sizes. The data clearly show that this screen size has always been preferred by OEMs. However, it’s interesting to note that over the last 10 years, the number of vehicles available with these displays has shrunk from around 60% to 40%.


9" - 11" displays

As the end of the decade approached, larger screens became more common in vehicles. Between 2018 and 2020, screens in this size class began finally taking off, roughly doubling in availability from 5% to 10%. After 2020, it continued to grow at that rate until reaching just under 20% of availability in 2022. This share has been stable into 2023.


11" - 13" displays

Like the earlier screens, the trend line only began to make meaningful progress beginning in 2018, where it made modest gains of around 3% per year until 2021, when a massive shift occurred. Within that year, the percentage doubled from 9% to 18%. Robust growth continues into 2023, where it currently rests as the second most common screen size in 23% of available cars.


>13" displays

It may surprise you to learn that Tesla is the only entrant in the >13" category. In the early 2010s, relatively few cars had head unit displays available - only about 23% of vehicles in 2013 had a head unit display, at least in the way we would conceive of it today. Meanwhile, all Tesla Model S cars had 15” or 17” displays. As the years progressed, the share of new vehicles being made with head unit displays continued to grow, until the present. In 2023, almost all vehicles have a head unit display. in short, this explains why these “supersized” displays disappear from our availability data – there is only one OEM who makes them, and currently it just isn’t a large enough percentage of all cars being made to register.



Market Penetration

Predictably, there appears to be a strong correlation between the availability and market penetration rates for these screen sizes. We’ve discovered a few key takeaways:

  • The 3”-5” and 5”-7” screen size groupings fall consistently, reaching single-digit market penetration rates by 2023.

  • Market penetration of 7”-9” displays decreases by 20% by 2022, despite still being the most popular screen group.

  • The large 9”-11” and 11”-13” categories secured 30% of the market by 2022. The notable absence of the >13” displays is due to Tesla’s sales data being notoriously hard to secure, and when it comes to jumbo-sized screens for 25-40 year-old male technophiles, theirs is the only game in town.

We thought it would be interesting to visualize our market penetration data with another graph that helps to show relative volumes of market penetration by year. Notice how neatly the availability data we discussed in the beginning overlays onto our market penetration rates.



Comparative Analysis

Despite a highly active decade of technological disruption and innovation, automakers continue to fit a broad array of displays to their vehicles. While some would assume that automakers might converge onto a tight range of available display sizes, this is a mirage – the truth is that there is greater diversity in screen sizes now than ever before.


For example, in 2013, there were 8 different sizes available between 3” and 8.4”, with only 12% of vehicles fitted with one of these screens. Whereas in 2022, there were 20 different sizes ranging from 5”-17” and 90% of vehicles having one of these screens equipped.


However, despite the presence of many size options, we concluded that many new car buyers today were inclined to choose a larger in-vehicle display in 2022:

  • 3”-7”: these smaller screens account for 18% of available displays but are chosen by consumers only 3% of the time.

  • 7”-9”: Although only supplied on 43% of vehicles, 63% of vehicles bought were fitted with these screens. These displays have kept their place as the most fitted and purchased, which suggests that this is something of a sweet spot between cost, design spec and utility for carmakers and car buyers alike. This is largely driven by it being the most common screen size in mainstream vehicles.

  • 9”-13”: despite equal availability of 9”-11” and 11”-13” displays in 2022 vehicles, buyers chose the smaller 9”-11” displays 4% more often than its larger counterpart.


Summary

Based on our findings, there does seem to be a movement towards larger screen sizes from both OEMs and consumers over the last decade. However, the claim that “bigger is better” has not fully materialized – there seems to be a variety of factors that decide which displays are used and could be further investigated across such dimensions as vehicle segmentation, trim level, mainstream vs premium vs luxury brands, and so on.


Here’s one final chart to stoke the fires of imagination. You can filter this by year, and explore how display sizes have changed over time for different vehicle segments.





To learn more about how we used our VehiclePlannerPlus data to quickly develop this analysis, reach out to benjaminmarz@sbdautomotive.com or request a demo below.






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