The number of suppliers offering "mechless" head units, which do not include the industry staple of a CD or DVD mechanism, is expected to grow significantly next year.
Several suppliers told TWICE they are investigating the new category or planning to offer units at the upcoming International CES, following in the footsteps of Alpine, which launched the first mechless IDA-X001 ($399 suggested retail) this spring. Clarion will also ship at the end of the month the FB275BT mechless model at a suggested $199.
The appeal of mechless units is they can offer a full smorgasbord of connectivity to HD Radio, music on Bluetooth cellphones, iPods and USB devices at a significantly lower price than a similar model with a CD mechanism. CD capability usually adds approximately $50 to $60 to a receiver retail price, suppliers said.
Both Audiovox and Dual say they are looking into offering mechless products, and Alpine said it will expand its mechless line next year. Eclipse also said it is examining the segment.
Audiovox Electronics president Tom Malone said, "We understand that a new generation of customers could have very little desire in having a CD system in the car when there are other, more sophisticated media devices available to store and play music. Audiovox is very interested in this 'mechless' category and we are looking at it very closely."
He added, "While it is premature to comment on what feature sets this product will offer, we can say that we will be looking at a below-$200 MSRP."
Dual says it plans to enter the segment and claims that with all the portable devices now available, the CD has become "an option rather than a necessity," according to Robb Groner, product development VP.
He noted, however, that the CD head unit is "not going away. Not by a long shot."
Alpine was first out of the gate with the IDA-X001 mechless head unit, which won a 28 percent share in the $300-plus category in The NPD Group's June figures, said Alpine. "We have big plans to expand the X001 technology platform," said marketing VP Stephen Witt. He also claimed that mechless units are not all about price. The X001 added "an expensive full-color TFT display to display iPod artwork and the full spec Apple USB platform with … copy protection vs. a simple USB input and connector."
Clarion will ship this month the FB275BT mechless head unit with an SD slot hidden behind the front panel. It has a rear-auxiliary input for adding a portable music player or plug-and-play satellite radio. It is stereo Bluetooth ready so users can stream music wirelessly from a Bluetooth music-phone (without an adapter). Users may do the same from an MP3 player or iPod if they use an optional Bluetooth adapter called the DGL370 at $79.99. The iPod also requires a $19.99 cradle.
Retailers report favorable sales results for the mechless units. Product manager John Haynes of Al & Ed's Autosound, Van Nuys, Calif., said the Alpine IDA-X001 is one of its better selling models and the company moves about 30 to 50 per month. "We're finding that there are two kinds of car audio people — there's an audiophile and there's an iPod customer. So to devote a piece strictly to an iPod customer was a gutsy move but it's paying off in our stores. The iPod users are completely loving this piece."
He added that the unit is also causing a small jump in CD changer sales for those who buy the X001 "but who still want to put in a CD from time to time. They're adding the Alpine CHAS634 changer which was dead and is now selling a few more pieces."
Neil Riffer, mobile electronics buyer of Glenview, Ill.-based Abt Electronics, said the X001 "is doing really well." He explained that Abt has an Apple store within the main store, so "we do well here with any iPod products." Abt sells a couple dozen X001s per month. He added, "I'd like to see more suppliers offer it to give someone a choice. More people are getting away from using CDs."