The 60th Grammy Awards, being broadcast January 28, represent the music industry’s biggest night – and they remind us how intertwined music and cars are.

As Tari Haro shared recently on our blog, at the 2018 CES Ford announced a new, high-end audio system coming to Ford models. Ford noted that the car is the place where the largest percentage of people listen to music, including roughly seven out of 10 people between the ages of 13 and 24 and nearly 8 out of 10 drivers over the age of 45.[i]

But how do people listen to music? The answer might surprise you. According to Edison Research, AM/FM radio still commands most of consumers’ time when they are in a car, accounting for 57 percent of their time.[ii] The entire distribution looks like this:

  • AM/FM radio: 57 percent.
  • Compact discs/own music collection: 15 percent.
  • Satellite radio: 14 percent.
  • Online radio: 9 percent.
  • Other: 5 percent.

And the distribution has not changed much since 2015, when Edison found:

  • AM/FM radio: 60 percent.
  • Compact discs/own music collection: 17 percent.
  • Satellite radio: 11 percent.
  • Online radio: 8 percent.
  • Other: 5 percent.

It’s interesting to see how old-school forms of music consumption endure while people drive their cars, especially compact discs, which have experienced sharp declines in sales over the years. Consumers don’t buy CDs like they used to, but apparently they’re still willing to take their CDs with them while they drive.

Why does radio listening still endure? Possible reasons include:

  • It’s easy to turn on the radio and listen to music while you’re driving. The act of turning on a AM/FM radio and punching in your favorite station is uncomplicated, which is important while you’re driving.
  • Listening to AM/FM is a passive experience. The radio station curates all the music for you, leaving you with fewer decisions to make while you’re focusing on driving.
  • The generations who do most of the car buying and driving in the United States grew up with AM/FM radio. It’s the experience they know.

But listening habits in the car are going to change, as digital natives (born 2000 or after) who grew up in an era of music streaming learn how to drive. Theirs is the generation that does not identify with compact discs or traditional radio as the primary form of consuming music.

Times are definitely changing. In 2017, Ford announced that future models will lack CD players, instead providing streaming content. Foisting new products that lack CDs on to the market may alienate generations of car drivers who still find CDs useful, but Ford is probably anticipating and responding to the way digital natives consume music.

That said, change is coming gradually, not with a bang. The Edison Research data is a reminder for salespeople at automotive dealerships to personalize the on-the-lot experience, for instance considering generational factors in discussing a car’s features.

Traditional forms of music listening are enduring – but not for long.



[i] Variety, “Ford Unveils Hi-Res Audio for Cars at CES 2018,” January 9, 2018.

[ii] Edison Research, The Infinite Dial 2017.