Now you hear it, now you don't

Original Lacross ad featured a horn honk (at 14 seconds)
Newer ad features electronic chirp variant (at 10 seconds)

September 30, 2014 | As an unintentional authority figure on automotive lock alert, car finding, and “panic” acoustic technology, I am sometimes asked how I obtain technical updates – such as the news that three automakers are in the process of transitioning away from horn honking with lock alert – especially since I’m an outsider. In the latter instance, I learned the news just by checking with existing contacts and backing that up with customer service. Otherwise, I might start out using an online contact form, and back up that data with a phone call, a visit to a dealership, or both.

Twice, I started wondering if there might be an update after catching a change in a television ad. In December of 2012, I saw a Mercedes-Benz commercial where a car was blinking and chirping, leading me to wonder if the automaker was abandoning its triple and quadruple horn honks in favor of an electronic chirp. Visiting the Manhattan dealership, I was told that indeed the technology was transitioning. But I didn’t double check with customer service until later, when I realized that the dealership conversation was a miscommunication – it was the other way around – Mercedes-Benz had just completed a transition away from the tiniest, subtlest, civilest, environmentally friendliest, most adorable little electronic tone to triple and quadruple horn honks.

More recently, I caught a Buick Lacross ad that gave me some brief false hope. It was the "that's not a Buick!" ad where, among other things, a parking attendant locates a Buick by honking with the key fob. But in the newer ad, the horn honk had been replaced by an electronic chirp. Granted, it was a loud chirp: think 1990s era Matlock chirp, or that "Whoop! Whoop!" chirp in Lifetime movies.

I searched through YouTube and found the ad and watched it and several of its "sister ads" with other Buick models. And I asked myself, "Can this be? Will General Motors be the first among the Detroit automakers to transition away from the use of horn honking to signify mundane events?!"

The short answer? No. Or maybe I should say seemingly not. The horn honk and the retro chirp sounds are both sound effects. When you listen closely, you catch a half-second horn honk tacked on to the end of the chirp. According to the Buick marketing team, 2015 Buick models will continue to feature horn honking for lock confirmation.

It was a letdown to learn that an automaker that could create a positive change at the drop of a dime will continue to bring traffic sounds to our quiet residential streets. But I'm still psyched knowing that three - THREE - automakers decided to reduce their sonic footprints by transitioning away from honking at the same time. And there is a bit of curious comfort knowing that someone in a product development meeting - someone from General Motors? - someone from Carat, GM's ad agency? - a rogue sound editor? - decided to revise the ad by switching from a honk to a chirp. Someone was thinking about it - and that's something!

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