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Automakers Offer 1st Standard CDs

Automakers have signaled their intention to boost car CD market share in the 1996 model year by introducing their first-ever standard-equipment CD players and by offering changer-controlling cassette decks [text]and in-dash “dual-format” cassette/CD players in more vehicles.

“This is the first year that we’ve seen it [standard-equipment CD],” said Harry Massey, manager of the EIA/CEG’s mobile electronics division.

As for dual-format heads, automakers believe the cassette/CD product will entice car dealers into ordering more CD-equipped vehicles without fear of losing sales to the majority of customers who want cassette.

The same rationale applies to the expanded availability of changer-controlling cassettes, which some automakers have begun to offer to give customers the option of adding a factory-brand changer to a particular vehicle for the first time without having to settle for a factory-brand FM-modulated changer.

Installers poking around inside the new cars will also find more stock systems featuring passenger-compartment changers. Here’s what the automakers are up to in CD:

Standard-equipment CD: When it rolls into showrooms in January, the Nissan Pathfinder will come for the first time with a standard CD-receiver. A companion cassette is a dealer-installed option.

Dual-format CD/cassette head units are now standard in at least 10 vehicles, including: the Buick Riviera; Volvo’s Platinum Limited Edition; all four Acura TL Series trimlevels; Mazda’s luxury flagship Millenia S; and Mitsubishi’s flagship Montero SR sport/utility vehicle and its pair of sporty Eclipse turbos, the GS-T and all-wheel-drive GSX. All are double-DIN units.

Like many of the new dual-format heads, the models available from Acura, Mitsubishi and Mazda also serve as changer controllers. Acura’s first dual-format head is standard in both trimlevels and the 2.5 TL and 3.2TL in the new TL Series, which replaces the Vigor.

In Mazda’s luxury Millenia line, the flagship Millenia S gets a dual-format head as standard equipment, and this year, a Bose system is standard rather than optional. The double-DIN head controls an optional dealer-installed six-disc changer.

In the Montero SR and two Eclipse models, Mitsubishi’s first-ever dual-format head controls up to four optional port-installed 10-disc changers at a time. The double-DIN head isn’t available in other Eclipse and Montero models. In the Buick Riviera, a dual-format head comes with the standard Concert Sound system.

Optional dual-format heads: As options, dual-format heads have been added this year to six Chrysler models (for a total of nine models), in seven Jeep/Eagle models, in all Volvos other than the Platinum, Buick’s Skylark, Saturn, Mazda’s Millenia, and Pontiac’s Grand Am. In the Grand Cherokee, Saturn, Millenia and Grand Am, the heads are double-DIN models; in Chrysler and Jeep/Eagle models, they’re 1 1/2-DIN size.

Chrysler’s first-ever dual-format head appeared as an option in the 1996 Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country, and Plymouth Voyager minivans, which were introduced in the spring. Now those vehicles will be joined by Dodge’s sporty Avenger and Intrepid sedan and by Chrysler’s LHS, luxury New Yorker, Sebring sports coupe, and Sebring JXi convertible.

In 1995, the format options in these six vehicles consisted of an in-dash cassette or CD-receiver — with the exception of the Sebrings, which offered a changer-controlling cassette and changer.

In Chrysler’s Jeep/Eagle division, dual-format heads are a dealer-installed option in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and Laredo models and a factory-installed option as part of an optional Infinity Gold system. The head is also new to the Eagle Vision ESi and TSi sports sedans and to the sporty two-door Eagle Talon ESi, TSi, and TSi all-wheel drive.

In these vehicles, the head is part of a factory-installed Infinity option that otherwise hasn’t changed much for ’96.

In the Skylark, options are a dual-format head, changer-controlling CD-receiver, and a changer-controlling cassette.

The Olds Achieva becomes the sixth of nine Olds lines available with a double-DIN dual-format head as part of a $260 factory-installed option that includes six speakers powered by the unit’s internal amplifier.

Volvo’s first dual-format head is a double-DIN factory-installed option on all models but the Platinum Limited Edition, where it’s standard. The unit controls an optional dealer-installed six-disc trunk changer.

In GM’s Pontiac division, the Grand Am becomes the first Pontiac available with cassette and CD in the dash, although not in a single-chassis dual-format configuration. Instead, a DIN-size CD-receiver and companion DIN cassette are factory-installed options.

Changer-controlling cassettes: Honda continues to offer changer-controlling cassettes as an option on all models but the Passport. But changer-controlling cassettes are making their debut as standard equipment in four Suzuki models and as options in Cadillacs, Saturns, the Buick Skylark, six Ford/Mercury models, and four Chrysler models. Also, most Mazdas get changer-controlling cassettes this year as standard or optional equipment.

For the first time, a changer-controlling cassette is standard in all Audis. The capability was available previously only with Bose systems, forcing many Audi buyers to settle for FM-modulated changers installed by the car dealer.

In Chrysler’s lineup, changer-controlling cassettes have emerged as options in the Chrysler Concorde LX, Dodge Ram van, and Dodge Dakota and Ram pickups. Format options in these models were limited previously to either a cassette deck or CD-receiver.

In the Ford/Mercury lines, changer-controlling cassettes now appear in 14 vehicle lines (compared to last year’s eight). In the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable lines, all models but the base version come with a changer-controlling cassette and CD changer as factory-installed options.

They’re also available in the Escort and Tracer lines as part of an optional premium system. Previously, the only multidisc option in the Taurus, Sable, Escort and Tracer was a dealer-installed FM-modulated changer.

Changer-controlling cassettes also turn up for the first time in Mercury Villager minivans and Ford F-Series trucks.

At Mazda, most vehicles now come with standard or optional changer-controlling cassettes to replace cassettes mated with DIN-size changer controllers or wired changer remotes. The sporty two-seat Miata, which previously offered an optional dual-format head, is available this year with a changer-controlling cassette as an option.

In Saturn sedans and coupes, an optional changer-controlling cassette and CD changer are available for the first time. The changer is a dealer-installed 12-disc trunk-mount model.

Suzuki’s first CD changer, a six-disc model, is a port-installed option on two sport/utility vehicles: the two-seat X-90 and Sidekick Sport. On the Esteem GLX subcompact and Sidekick, the changer is a dealer-installed option. All four vehicles come with standard changer-controlling cassette.

As mentioned previously, the Buick Skylark’s options include a dual-format head.

In GM’s Cadillac division, a changer-controlling cassette is available for the first time to replace an optional dual-format head.

Up-front changers: Toyota, Lexus, Ford and Chrysler introduced the industry’s first factory-installed passenger-compartment changers in the 1995 model year, and availability continues in 1996. Chrysler and Ford, however, each offer the option in three vehicles this year, up from two.

At Chrysler, the new vehicle is the Chrysler JXi, whose optional six-disc factory-installed changer goes in the console. For the second consecutive year, the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus are also furnished with optional console-mounted six-disc changers.

At Ford, the new vehicle is the Mercury Villager minivan, whose changer goes in a molded bin below the dash to the right of the driver. Ford offered passenger-compartment changers for the first time in 1995 in the Lincoln Continental and Ford Explorer.

The first utility vehicle from Toyota’s Lexus nameplate, the LX450, will roll into dealer lots early in calendar 1996 with a six-disc changer mounted somewhere in the passenger compartment. Lexus declined to provide additional details.

The first DIN-size in-dash three-disc changer offered by an automaker, an Alpine-made model introduced last year by Toyota, is back in all Toyotas as a dealer- or port-installed option. Lexus is carrying over an optional dash-mounted six-disc changer introduced last year in the flagship LS400. ◊[headline]Location Key To Success At High End

[text]By Lee Buchanan

Making a profit in high-end audio is a matter of setting up shop in an area with an affluent demographic mix and concentrating on high-end home theater and custom installation.

That is what two merchants with distinctly different backgrounds — Audio Video Environments of Nashville, Tenn. and World Wide Stereo in Montgomeryville, Pa. — discovered as they sought high-margin opportunities in the high end.

Two years after opening in Music City, Audio Video Environments is thriving on the strength of its high-end business, which was boosted by the home theater boom, said general manager Bruce Rhodes.

“We came down here with the thought that there was going to be a great custom-installation business and a high-end audio business,” Rhodes said. “Two years later, custom is 40% of our business, and home theater is clearly driving everything.”

Stand-alone audio “isn’t a factor for us. We have pulled away from that,” he added. “It was a very conscious decision on our part. We’re still doing high end, but it’s now centered around the display device.”

Nashville’s growth as a recording center — and not just for country music — has drawn professionals from all over the country, including New York and Los Angeles. That influx of buying power has meant boom times for high-end consumer electronics.

“There are more people here than ever who can afford these large-ticket products,” said Rhodes. “There’s also a thriving medical insurance industry here. Nashville is growing in a controlled way, much the way Charlotte has done in the past three or four years.”

Success in the high end, however, is more than being in the right place at the right time. The store has helped build its high-end business with glossy, four-color image advertising.

To reach upscale consumers, Audio Video Environments also relies on direct-mail circulars and a newsletter. “We’re doing the newsletter four to six times a year, plus a Christmas flier,” Rhodes said.

The store also reaches customers through a home remodeling and decorating show, displaying its home theater systems alongside kitchen cabinets, patio furniture and log cabins. “That’s 10,000 or 12,000 people we may not have seen otherwise,” he pointed out.

Time For A Change

World Wide Stereo took a different route to the high end, spurred by an influx of high-volume chains into its market.

Two years ago World Wide Stereo was humming quietly along, ringing up $4 million in annual sales out of a 1,000-square-foot store in its suburban home north of Philadelphia. The 17-year-old company owned the local audio and video market and inherited the high-end business when Sassafras closed next door.

Then the big boys came to town. American Appliance and Bryn Mawr opened stores within 100 yards of World Wide. Circuit City and Silo moved in across the street. Now, Best Buy and Nobody Beats The Wiz are taking a hard look at this suburb north of Philadelphia.

“With the encroachment of all these guys two Christmasses ago, it became a hostile area,” said owner Bob Cole. “I had to change.”

Cole bought an adjacent muffler shop, expanded his store to 3,500 square feet, and expanded his selection. Where he once displayed six televisions, he now shows 30.

“We had a real hard Christmas that year,” he recalled. “We were doing more volume, so much that I canceled all my advertising. But margins were lower and expenses were higher. I had to do something to change.”

To survive the invasion, World Wide focused more on high-end home theater and custom installation. The company is now doing about $12 million annually, “and our margins are returning,” Cole said.

Although World Wide must compete on price with its larger competitors at the low end, it doesn’t have to compete with them in big-ticket home theater, which the other retailers don’t aggressively push.

“With the competition all around me, I have to lean heavily on the high end to differentiate me,” Cole explained. “With the guaranteed pricing [policies], I have to participate in their business, but the high end is where I set myself apart.”

Montgomery was a rural area when Cole opened the store in 1978, but the town has since blossomed into a high-growth, high-income suburb. The demographics are ripe for upper-end retailing.

Although the store is “predominantly a midprice dealer,” he said, “in car audio, we focus on the upper end. And in home theater, the high end we do is almost by default.”◊[text]? Verity Group, the U.K.-based parent of Mission Electronics and Wharfedale, has purchased Quad, the high-end home audio electronics and speaker maker. In the U.S., Quad products are marketed to audio salons by May Audio Marketing of Champlain, N.Y., which also markets the Roksan and Audio Prizm brands, among others. Verity has no immediate plans to combine the marketing, sales and distribution efforts of the Mission and Quad brands in the U.S., Mission said.

? Mitsubishi will re-enter the home audio market with a March introduction of receivers, amplifiers, speakers and CD players. Shipments are scheduled for the second half.◊[headline]Factory RDS, DSP Gain As MD Falters

A look inside the passenger compartments of 1996 vehicles will find RDS (Radio Data System) radios in all BMWs as standard equipment and digital signal processing (DSP) appearing for the first time in Cadillacs. But with Ford scaling back MiniDisc availability, stock MD players will be even more of a rarity than they are now.

Acura cited bad press in swearing off DSP following an introduction a few years back, but Ford remains steadfast in continuing to offer DSP, and now GM’s Cadillac division is going forward with its first DSP option in all models but the Fleetwood as part of either an optional Delco/Bose system or Active Audio System. The latter uses only active crossovers to divide the frequency spectrum among its 11 speakers.

Two soundfield modes simulate the ambience of an intimate listening environment or a large auditorium. A digital “focus” control optimizes imaging for the driver (but not for other passengers), and a “talk” setting enhances vocal clarity.

Last year, Ford became the first automaker to offer a MiniDisc option. And although the option continues, it is available only in three models in 1996, down from six. An MD player is a $681 option on the Ford Mustang and the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique four-door sedans. The Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Mercury Villager minivan lose the option because the DIN-size player doesn’t fit in their restyled dashes.

All other automakers surveyed said they have no MD plans for 1996.◊

(photo omitted)A double-DIN dual-format head is standard equipment in the 1996 Buick Riviera.

(photo omitted)A DIN-and-a-half dual-format head is optional in both the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (above) and Laredo utility vehicles.