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DETROIT – Fast forward eight years and in-vehicle CD players will be a thing of the past, says Frank Homann, Siemens VDO vice president-cockpit modules.

Compact discs, the space-saving digital recording media that have displaced cassette tapes, are themselves being displaced due to the proliferation of MP3 players, Homann tells a forum here at the SAE International World Congress.

“We’re developing systems right now for 2012 and (CD players are) still in,” he says. “I believe that probably by 2015 you won’t see them. If a company takes a very drastic approach, they could actually take (them) out sooner.”

The elimination of CD players not only will save auto makers $20-$40 per vehicle, it will free up valuable real estate within the car, Homann suggests during a session on open-electronics architectures.

The center stack, where most CD players are located, is prime property for navigation systems, which often share their displays with audio components.

Federal standards require screens to be positioned so drivers can view them without losing sight of the road.

“We have to be up as high as possible,” Homann says. “We’re having a hard time trying to package all that stuff, because of the size and shape of (CD players). And it’s the area where the HVAC (heating ventilation and cooling) unit is located.”

Industry trends for factory-installed equipment support Homann’s prediction. According to Ward’s data, 19.6% of all ’06 cars built in North America for the U.S. market had MP3 capability – more than eight times that in the ’04 model year.

Related document: % Factory-Installed Equipment on ’06 Model U.S. Domestic Cars

Over the same period, the proliferation of CD players slipped to 95.2% from 99.1%. Meanwhile, just 11.7% of cars featured cassette tape players in the period, down from 29.6%.

The next breakthrough will be the iPhone, Homann says of Apple’s new $280 phone/PDA/MP3/video player unveiled in January. “iPod was huge,” he says, referring to Apple’s blockbuster MP3 player.

“It wasn’t just the functionality and what you can store and the size and the picture quality, it was the (human-machine interface).

“You will see (in-vehicle) cradles in the future; iPhone cradles,” he says. “And then some of the technology will migrate into the (vehicle).”

Homann finds iPhone appealing because it also portends greater use of hands-free calling. Hands-free systems are mandated in Europe, and traffic fatalities have been reduced as a result, he notes.

“We can look at the data and (the hands-free system) really helps. I am a firm believer in going hands-free.”

But Homann doesn’t expect Siemens and fellow hands-free phone system suppliers will band together to force change as did Robert Bosch Corp. and Continental Automotive Systems with electronic stability control, in a campaign to educate the public about the safety benefits of ESC.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. since has mandated that ESC be made standard equipment on all U.S.-market cars and trucks by the ’12 model year.

“It’s the consumers that really have to drive (the movement for hands-free systems),” Homann says.

emayne@wardsauto.com