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TUNING OUT

Designers, engineers and consumers have had it with the chunky antenna, even though it has the best reception.

An automotive appendage that often goes unnoticed - unless it loses a battle with the automatic car wash - is disappearing in the face of changing technology, tastes and economics.

The stalwart stick, pole or fixed-mast antenna, mounted on the body of nearly every vehicle two decades ago, is on about half of new models and its ranks are dwindling. When trucks are removed from the equation, it's around 25 percent.

Its vanishing act is notable on many new vehicles. The 2008 Ford Taurus, for example, has a hidden, in-glass antenna and optional small, roof-mounted satellite radio antenna.

"There's an industrywide push to move away from a metal mast antenna," said Alan Hall of Ford Motor Co. "It's safe to say that within the next few years, all (Ford) cars and crossovers will have transitioned to the smaller antenna."

The stick antenna faces interference on several fronts: Designers seek to erase anything that detracts from sleek lines; engineers want to eliminate the drag that increases noise and decreases gas mileage; and consumers desire signals for their cellular phones, satellite radios and Global Positioning System devices.

The change has challenged suppliers. Some have gone out of business or been acquired by larger suppliers as automakers have sought to squeeze costs.

"You have to provide what they want or else you lose their business," said Jan Boring, president of Global Products Inc. and sales representative for the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Harada Industry Co., one of the world's major mobile antenna makers.

The old stick probably would have vanished by now but for one nagging thing: It has provided better reception than its offspring.

"For really good reception for low and high frequency, boy, it's hard to beat a good stick on a large field of metal," says Paul Williamsen, national manager of Lexus College.

The new antenna

The traditional stick, or fixed-mast, antenna is disappearing from cars as automakers embrace new technology that they say looks better and can offer more options to drivers. Among the alternatives on the market or in the works:

- Roof-mounted antenna.

- Hidden, in-glass antenna.

- Hybrid antenna that combines roof-mounted with in-glass.

- Next-generation, multifunctional antenna with several concealed throughout vehicle.

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