Get ready to say goodbye to those road trips spent revisiting old compact discs. Hyundai is starting to do away with CD players in its 2016 car lineup. At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the South Korean automaker introduced its Display Audio System, a touchscreen setup that bypasses the shiny plastic orbs altogether to sync with Apple or Android phones.
For now, Hyundai says the change will apply only to certain models. But the company eventually wants to bring the new system to all of its basic models. And it’s not the first car manufacturer to junk the audio format that once promised “perfect sound forever.”
Sure, it’s only logical that CD players, like cassette players before them, would start to drop out of new car models as they become less popular. Still, signs point to the compact disc moving even more quickly toward the trash compactor.
The first rumblings of the in-car CD player’s demise began in 2011. That year, Ford became the first major car company to trumpet plans for eliminating its CD changers. The Big Three automaker first scrapped CD players from its Ford Focus models in Europe only, but Detroit made plain that discs’ days were numbered. “The in-car CD player — much like pay telephones — is destined to fade away in the face of exciting new technology,” Ford exec Sheryl Connelly told the Telegraph at the time.
What’s more, the CD player is be vanishing from new car models sooner than might be expected considering the history of its older sibling, the cassette deck. Tape players started popping up in automobiles in the early ’70s, and despite a massive decline in sales, they didn’t fully lose a place in the market until 2011, when Lexus became the final company to drop cassette decks from its new models. CD players have only been around since the mid-’80s, but they’re already on the same highway to oblivion.
The clearest reason is in the numbers. Out of 257 million albums sold last year, 141 million were on CD, a 15 percent drop from 2013, according to Nielsen SoundScan. While CDs still outsold digital albums, which moved 107 million units, that overlooks the surge in streams, which were up a remarkable 55 percent to 164 billion in 2014. For comparison, CD sales totaled 730 million in 2000, their biggest year ever. (See the Recording Industry Association of America’s most recent data on CD shipments below.)
Are there contrary signals? Sure. Another rationale for binning the CD player is to save weight, with an eye on fuel economy, as The Detroit Free Press has reported (via Automoblog.net). As oil prices near a six-year low, engineers might not consider that extra five pounds so much unnecessary flab. And, of course, the CD player ought to have a long future in the used car market. Finally, if the recent resurgence of interest in vinyl and cassettes has anything to say about CDs, it’s to hold onto them after they’re at their least fashionable.
So while it might not be time to ditch that trusty old Case Logic CD binder as a traveling companion just yet, maybe pause before spending any holiday money to buy a new one. Oh, and keep your eyes on the road.