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CD players make quiet exit from cars

4:23 AM, Aug 5, 2013   |    comments
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The compact disk player has begun the long slow fade-out from cars.

But unlike other automotive anachronisms - think CB radios or hideaway headlights - the CD player is making an agonizingly drawn-out exit despite better ways to bring music to cars, like thumb drives, iPods, streaming and other technologies waiting to take its place.

A few vehicles, notably Cadillac, with its CUE entertainment system, the Tesla Model S and the Smart car, have already discarded the CD player slot on the dashboard. Add a few more with the annual model changes, such as in the 2014 Kia Soul and Chevrolet Spark. In many other new models, CD slots are banished from prominence on dashboards and hidden away as options in places often more associated with parking meter change or packages of tissues.

If you order the optional CD in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee or Cherokee, or Cadillac with the CUE system, it loses its prominent position on the dash and is banished to the center armrest or glove compartment. In the new 2014 Mazda3, the CD slot is moved way down the dash to the center console level.

But with two USB ports for thumb drives, Mazda officials don't see CD slots lasting much longer. "Eventually, it will be pulled from ours," predicts David Matthew, a Mazda marketing official.

Of course, the reason for the long goodbye is obvious: mountains of CDs accumulated over the years by owners unwilling to see their collections destined for the high-tech trash bin. "There's so much investment in our CD catalog," says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive for J.D. Power and Associates, which released findings of a study earlier this year that shows a dropoff in CD listening while driving.

The survey found external devices such as iPods or smartphones have pulled even with CD players as listening devices in cars. Automotive designers are shedding no tears for the embattled CD.

They're already using the space it occupied for larger center stack screens. "The center stack is such precious real estate," says Klaus Busse, Chrysler's interior design chief. "Every millimeter, not just every inch, counts."

That means there are better uses for the space than a gaping hole for pushing in disks. "If you don't have to worry about the CD player 'brick,' you have much more flexibility in how you can do that," Busse says.

Chris Woodyard and Kelsey Mays, USA TODAY and Cars.com

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