The inimitable Richard Watson has come up with what just might be a big (and unanticipated) market: car engine sound downloads.
Richard’s fantastic Nowandnext.com bulletins are now openly available after long being a subscription-only service, used by many of the leading creative agencies around the world. To read the latest issue, go to Nowandnext.com and click on the Orange “Current Issue” button at the top left to read the latest bulletin.
What just caught my attention was his article ‘Why we don’t want a quiet drive’ in the Automotive and Transport section, reproduced below.
Certainly electric car engineers have long been aware that cars being too quiet is a significant safety issue. And yes, absolutely, car sounds are personal statements. The sound of a Alfa Sprint (which I greatly enjoyed driving when I owned one) or a Bugatti motorcycle, for example, are unmistakeable.
When you start to need to make a car noisier than it is mechanically, the range of driving sounds will become infinite. You will be able to choose from the sound of any vintage car you wish, or use an entirely new sound, including those of various types of UFOs, choo-choo trains, or chanting monks.
Of course this market is a little way from taking off big time. And it’s possible that there will be regulation on what are acceptable car sounds. However in that case there should also be regulation on acceptable mobile phone ringtones, something almost everyone would agree on .
Why we don’t want a quiet drive
For anyone who was looking forward to the pleasant, gentle hum of electric/hybrid cars in place of the throaty roar of internal combustion engines, here is some bad news. The future is something called “synthesised engine noises”. Believe it or not, people want cars to sound like cars and – worse still – quiet cars have been found to be unsafe. Nobody hears them coming.
An American study conducted with both blind and sighted participants found that a hybrid car could not be detected until it was too close for comfort. When the experiment was repeated, the hybrids had to be 65% closer than a petrol car before respondents could deduce from which direction it was coming. In other words, cars have to make a sound before we become aware of them. That is what we’re used to.
One answer is to create a different sound inside the car from the one outside, and to direct the external sound using speakers. This ensures that only the people who need to, hear it, rather than everyone in the surrounding area. Even more compelling, perhaps, would be the ability to download engine sounds, like ringtones. One can imagine a few teenage boys who would be thrilled to have such a choice (especially when the car in question is his mother’s “uncool” hatchback). A car with a unique engine sound may then be as desirable as the unmistakable sound of a certain brand of motorbike.