CD players dying one car at a time

CD players are going the way of the ashtray, roll-down windows and whitewall tires. Chevrolet is the latest to join the ranks of automakers like Ford who have ditched physical media players in favor of music streamed through onboard systems and auxillary music devices like smartphones and iPods.

While reasons for the change are speculative and varied, many industry experts agree that the CD player is literally dead weight. Weighing in at about five pounds, manufacturers are looking for any way they can to slim down autos’ bodies in favor of maximum fuel efficiency.  

Measuring inches shorter than the Mini Cooper, Chevy’s foray into the mini car market with the 2013 Spark – partially manufactured in White Marsh  –  is just one example of optimizing every inch of precious space. The 7-inch dashboard touchscreen display, the largest in its class, sacrifices CDs for more modern tech features like phone syncing interfaces and onboard navigation.

There’s also the fact that most consumers are turning away from CDs anyway. In 2004 the Recording Industry Association of America expanded its gold and platinum album sales program to include digital sales as they became more prolific.  Auto manufacturers are taking note of customers’ preferences. In 2011, Ford dropped multi-disc CD players from its European Ford Focus line in response to buyer behavior. Ninety-five percent of the model’s buyers chose versions with MP3 device connections while 90 percent chose a Bluetooth device connection.

Music sales in 2012 prove that digital is dominating the music industry. A year-end report released by Nielsen Soundscan and Billboard found that total music purchased, including physical albums, digital albums and digital songs, rose by 3.1 percent. Yet, rather unsurprisingly, physical album sales dropped 13 percent. According to a Cornell University study, CD sales declined 50 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, physical music remains the chief form of music purchases.

While there is a nostalgia factor and people loathe to change, Stratacom research analyst John Canali estimated that about 331,000 were sold without CD players last year. That number is expected to skyrocket to 12.1 million vehicles by 2018.

Vehicle CD players are only a symptom of optical drives’ slow demise. Today’s tablets and notebook computers like the MacBook Air and Chromebook able to store a million-song library and stream video on demand lickity split are evidence that digital music and video are turning discs, as a whole, not just CDs,  into relics. Lookout DVDs…Netflix and Blue-ray may make you next on the chopping block.

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