Car CD Players Obsolete?

The in-dash CD player is being rapidly phased out.

The Car Connection‘s Marty Padgett is predicting the rapid demise of the in-dash CD player.

One of the innovation milestones of the computer age, and one of the most potent symbols of Generation X–the compact disc–is on the way out of cars.

In what’s likely to be the first stage of a drawn-out phase-out, Ford will stop selling CD changers for its vehicles at the end of the 2011 model year, and it’s suggesting the single-slot CD player will follow. It’s a sign of rapid changes in the in-car entertainment world, changes that are particularly swift at Ford, which is jumping on the connected bandwagon with vehicles like the 2011 Lincoln MKX.

As the whole music industry shifts from “hard” digital delivery to “soft” delivery through networks like iTunes and Pandora and less legitimate outlets, automakers are faced with a choice–to adapt audio systems and to put portable players foremost in their product plans, or to deal with the legacy formats like CDs in other ways to hang on to more Luddite users.

In many ways, it’s shaping up exactly as did the end of the car cassette player, which Ford dropped from most cars by 2005. A group of potential buyers don’t want to abandon significant, expensive music libraries. On the other hand, playlists are the new mix tapes, and the world has clearly moved on from CDs, as it did with tape and vinyl.
There’s incentive to move away from CDs quickly. As with cassettes, eliminating CD players from the standard-equipment list will save money and build complexity for automakers. But even more importantly, the move will free up space on the middle of the dash– “Manhattan real estate,” according to Ford’s director of electronics engineering, Jim Buczkowski–in favor of more expressive styling and for other features, like larger LCD screens.

If this happens — and I think it will — it’ll be a much more rapid change. The cassette tape has been a dead technology for more than a decade and we’ve just now finally eliminated it from the available options on cars. And cassette tapes had a limited shelf life, in that they deteriorated. By contrast, the first CDs that I bought way back in 1989 work just as well as they did when they were new. (The jewel cases, of course, are a bit worse for wear.)

But digital music has made huge inroads, with all but the oldest customers likely to have much of their collection on an iPod, a smart phone, or various other means. And, thankfully, it’s relatively easy to transfer one’s CD collection into iTunes or another digital libary.

via Glenn Reynolds

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bob in Zion says:

    Two years ago I would have said they were nuts. Now that I’ve got almost my entire music collection on my phone I don’t keep CD’s in the truck, I just plug into the aux port.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    This is another one of those subjects that people with above average technological use will say is obvious. A quick google says 37% of Americans over age 12 have an iPod or MP3 player. How many of those, ahem teenagers will be in the market for a new car in the coming years?

    (I think the CD changer is qualitatively a different beast, geared towards the high music comsumer who is likely in that 37%.)

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    My car radio recently went kaput. Rather than spending $250 on a new model (and installation) I just got an old tape deck. All I really want to do with my car radio is use my mp3 player, which a tape deck adapter can do for $10.

  4. Mr Evilwrench says:

    Never had a CD changer, had a regular CD player in one car and used it a bit. The one I used most was able to play MP3s straight off the CD; I could have about 200 songs on a CD. Still, I used the input jack more, but not for an MP3 player, rather for a scanner. Now I have Sirius or a scanner. I don’t really drive enough these days to put much time/effort investment into entertainment. Heck, most of my trips don’t last the length of one song. Rather listen to the police.

  5. Brett #2 says:

    All I really want to do with my car radio is use my mp3 player, which a tape deck adapter can do for $10.

    I do the same thing. My car came with a tape-only player, so I just got an adapter to plug it into my iPod (and later my smartphone).

    What I’d prefer to do, though, is have some way to directly stream Pandora into my car without having to use a go-between.

  6. Trumwill says:

    I generally play MP3s on CDs or, if I want to listen to the audiobook I listen to on my smartphone, I’ll plug that in. That latter is something of a recent development. I stopped playing CDs that were only CDs about five years ago. I was hoping that the next step would be to let me plop in DVDs full of MP3s, though I suppose plugging in a USB card would be the equivalent. Maybe I could rig it up with a Pocket Drive and have my whole music collection there.

    I’m not sure how this is going to save real estate, unless they replace it with nothing. Most of the real estate is taken up by visual display, which you want regardless of where your music is coming from. The only exception is if they just outsource it to your personal player with only an auxiliary jack. That would seem like a step backwards. Another step backwards, and a fear, is that they decentrilize the audio system, with a USB port here and an auxiliary jack there. That would make installing an aftermarket player much more problematic. As it stands, if I am dissatisfied with my player, I can always replace it (I’ve been looking into it for the new Subaru). I would hate for that to be changed. I would also hate for this to become a more proprietary set-up, with greater and greater emphasis placed on contracts and deals with third party suppliers (XM/Rhapsody/Pandora/etc).

  7. Herb says:

    Yes, they are….so everyone put all your books on CD on ebay so I can buy em cheap.