A Relic Is Disappearing, Finally, From Car Dashboards in America

  • They're on their way out to make room for bigger touchscreens
  • But it's a very very slow death for the in-dash compact disc

Older people with trunks full of favorite albums on discs are still big spenders on new cars.

Source: Getty Images

Who knew? Automakers still bother sticking CD players into the dashboards of the majority of their cars.

That seems strange 14 years after the iPod ushered in the intangible music revolution. But now, finally, the in-dash device’s days might be numbered. Compact-disc players have been slowly following cassette decks into the automotive-interior dustbin for a few years, and their disappearance is suddenly accelerating. A couple dozen 2016 models are rolling out without homes for discs, particularly cars targeting younger buyers, including the re-engineered Honda Civic and every model in Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion line.

“The demise of the CD is in the near future,” said Corey Tsuno, Scion’s product and accessory operations manager. “I don’t think we’ll ever bring it back.”

It’s not just about saving the $30 it costs to incorporate a player into a dashboard. That little slot is prime real estate that can be used to make touchscreens bigger; the larger the screen, the better the resolution for navigation programs and streaming-music and other apps. Tesla Motors Inc., the maker of luxury electric cars, has set the cool-dash standard with a 17-inch monitor. It’s tough to find space in something like a Civic for one that big -- the CD player had to go for Honda to shoehorn in a 7-incher.

General Motors Co. no longer accommodates CDs in some models including the GMC Canyon pickup and Chevrolet Camaro, and among its luxury models only the Cadillac SRX and Escalade are CD-player equipped. Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. drivers will still be able to listen to discs in 2016 vehicles but the trend line shows that’s destined to change. Last year 17 percent of cars sold in North America were CD-playerless, this year it will be 24 percent and by 2021 it will be 46 percent, according to the research firm IHS Automotive.

Why aren’t the devices falling out of favor even faster? Same reason that it wasn’t until five years ago that the in-dash cassette-tape player was buried. Toyota’s high-end Lexus line had the machines until the 2010 SC 430, said company spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell -- and kept them nearly that long in the GS sedan because the chief engineer was clinging to his old tapes and made sure his cars could play them.

Older people with trunks full of favorite albums on discs are still big spenders on new cars, and even though though CD sales fell 15 percent last year the music industry managed to unload 141 million of them, according to data from Nielsen Plc. And there’s a hardcore group that may never give them up. Audiophiles like the sound, said Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst at IHS. The data that plays music gets compressed to store more tunes on devices like iPods and smart phones, and that cuts into sound quality. CD music has less compression.

If you want both a big touchscreen and CD capability, dig out that portable player from the ’80s and hook it up to your dash with a USB cord. You could even hang it from the rearview mirror. They haven’t gotten rid of those yet.

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