We're stronger than you know

January 25, 2015 | Earlier this month, I wrote about the odd juxtaposition of Ford's concerns with the legal status of a special edition car that features manufactured engine noise, while ignoring the negative effects of all of its cars' illegal non-emergency honking on the public and on Ford's own consumers. Little did I that this practice has become commonplace among automakers with some car models until I read a recent article in the Washington Post.

The Atlantic article about the Mustang made it clear that the added sound could be heard outside the car, while the Washington Post article was less clear about whether it was describing engine sound that can be heard inside the cabin, or outside the car, but it seemed to be describing a combination of the two.

I have no issue with the prospect of manufactured inside engine noise or manufactured outside engine noise. With the latter, I'd prefer to hear manufactured engine noise than to hear the honking horn of the Volt's pedestrian friendly alert. Pedestrian friendly warning noise is supposed to tell people "I'm a car, and I'm here" rather than shout "Watch out!"

In the Washington Post article, an industry analyst calls the attempt to reproduce a sense of confidence about engine performance a form of deception. There is something patronizing about piping noise into the cabin, and I can't imagine hearing it, knowing what it is, and being able to set that aside - like listening to a laugh track when you know that there isn't a live audience.

In a similar vein, GM's rogue sound editor has struck again in a Chevy Colorado ad. As with the Buick ad where a chirp was dubbed in, this Colorado chirps - a slightly toned down Lifetime movie "Whoop!" chirp rather than the quiet electronic tone that some automakers use. As with the Buick ad, it is bizarre to see a display of concern about social conformity for an alert sound in an ad, when there is no such concern in real life.

Although I have no issue with piped in sound (though it would be nice if it were optional) I find it not so much deceptive as patronizing, and ultimately just silly. It's like an automaker refusing to eliminate horn honking from its cars' array of alert sounds out of fear that one segment of its consumers might not be able to adapt to hearing a softer sound, or the use of flashing lights.

Imagine a world where automakers had more confidence in their customers' ability to adapt to improvements. Where product developers competed with each other to reach the industry benchmark for quiet across every noise source imaginable. And not just on the pages of sustainability reports - not just in the imagination, or in an ad - in real life - where what you see is what you get and what you hear is what you should be hearing.

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