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Traditional Car Audio Products Still in Demand in the Dash

According to a study consumers spent more than $170 million in 2011 connecting portable media devices in-car

While portable media devices in the car dashboard are gaining in popularity among consumers, traditional car audio products, like radio, are still in demand.

That’s according to The NPD Group, which says sales of products designed to integrate portable devices with the vehicle accounted for more than $170 million in 2011.

NPD’s study, “Mobile CE: A Look Inside the Vehicle,” found 84 % of vehicle owners have a portable media device and more than three-quarters (79%) are using them in the car. These devices are also used regularly with half of smartphone owners, and nearly two-in-five (37%) iPod owners said they use their devices “always” or “most of the time” while driving.

Yet traditional car audio products are still in demand, according to the findings. Seventy three percent of vehicle owners with an FM radio said they use it during most car trips and 57 percent of consumers said the presence of a compact disc player will be vital in their decision to purchase their next car stereo system.

“Traditional radio and CD audio remain firmly entrenched in the vehicle from both a device and entertainment standpoint,” wrote Ben Arnold, NPD’s director of industry analysis in a blog post. “But as ownership of mobile devices, digital content and apps expands, consumers will be looking for ways to customize the in-vehicle environment with content and services.”

In-vehicle connectivity is also starting to emerge as a purchase factor with a third (32%) of consumers saying the feature is highly important in their decision to buy future car audio products.

Consumers are also connecting their digital media devices through a variety of ways. While 18% of vehicle owners have an auxiliary input installed into their vehicle stereo system, 11% are connecting through a USB port. Despite being present in just 13% of vehicles, wireless connectivity is gaining favor as a way to more easily control these devices and tap into connected services.More than half (56 %) of vehicle owners with a built-in Bluetooth or wireless phone connection installed said they always use it or use it most of the time.

“The key is for auto makers and traditional audio manufacturers to facilitate consumer use of connected devices in the vehicle, allowing content from the smartphone, tablet or digital media player to easily stream or be controlled through the deck mounted in the dashboard,” Arnold was quoted in a release describing the study. “We’re only going to see greater consumer attachment to social media, streaming audio and video, and other services as content options grow.”

NPD conducted the survey of more than 1,600 vehicle owners in December.