By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Design
The new Ford Focus will have engine noise pumped in when the driver steps on the gas, a sound that Ford hopes will woo potential buyers.
As automotive engineering has improved, our rides have gotten quieter. Even non-hybrid cars cocoon their drivers in comfortable silence. But some companies are trying to give motorists a little more motor. The new Ford Focus will have engine noise pumped in when the driver steps on the gas. Other cars, like the BMW M5 and Volkswagen's GTI, have done similar things with mixed results. These engine sounds -- some real, some recorded -- are meant to put the roar back into driving, even when you might not be driving a muscle car. But do they really make a difference to drivers?
“Focus ST drivers want to hear the engine sing when they put their foot on the gas,” said Bjoern Boettcher, Ford of Europe’s vehicle sound quality expert, in the press release announcing the technology's application to that model. “Our cars are engineered to be quiet inside the cockpit, so we have to pull out a few tricks to give enthusiastic drivers the sound they crave -- and that’s where our Sound Symposer comes in.” The Sound Symposer will provide Focus drivers with a little bit of engine noise when they hit the gas.
Marketers call this kind of auditory salesmanship "sonic branding." It's at work when you hear jingles or classic voices -- think McDonald's "ba da ba ba ba," and Geico's trademark Gecko voice (which is really a Cockney accent coming from a lizard). But it's also at work when you hear a Harley Davidson drive by, or a bowl of Rice Krispies snap, crackle and pop. When it comes to cars, sound plays a huge part in the choices people make. The way a car door sounds when it closes, and the engine sounds when you're driving, can make or break a sale, according to sound marketing expert and president of Katz Marketing Solutions, Bob McCurdy. "A second or two of sound can communicate a grand message and can bring to the surface a tremendous amount of emotion," he says.
You might think that you're immune to such marketing tricks. "Don't kid yourself," McCurdy says. While you might not be aware of how sound influences you, everyone takes the sound of a car into account when they decide to buy. "You don't want it to sound like it's wimpy, you want it to sound like it has getup and go," he says, "so when I step on the gas I can get out of a dangerous situation or I can merge a little bit safer. Even if it's psychological, that's enough to make a difference."
Now, it's nearly impossible to quantify just how much this new feature will increase the value of the Ford Focus. The effect is likely to be indirect, says James Kellaris, a professor in the department of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. "Consumers may not rush out to buy specifically to acquire this feature," he says. "The sound feature, however, may increase liking, which precedes and determines purchasing."
While Ford is trying to make its Focus sound like it has a little more oomf, other car companies are tackling sound for a different reason. In hybrid cars, for example, buyers often don't know when the car is turned on or off. Frankie James, the Managing Director at the Advanced Technology Department of General Motors helped design the sounds for their hybrid cars, such as the Volt. They designed sound cues for when the car was on or off.
Integrating sound into vehicles is tricky business. Some companies have been blasted on the Internet for creating "fake sounding" engine roars. McCurdy doesn't think the authenticity of the sound really matters. "I don't think you or I are going to be an expert enough in engines that we'll be able to know the difference," he says. Neither does Kellaris. "People will not process the sound consciously, critically. It will just be there, telling them: all is well." But James says that sound can be tricky, and doing it badly is worse than not doing it at all. "It's always the case that you don't notice when it's right and you do notice when it's wrong," she says.
And while the engine might sound mightier than it actually is, it's not about portraying what the car can actually do -- it's about playing to people's psychology. "Perception is reality in consumer marketing. People do not perceive the world as it is; rather, they perceive it how they perceive it," says Kellaris. If they perceive a powerful engine, they think they've got one, even if it's just a Sound Symposer playing them what they want to hear.
Image: Ford's 2013 Focus. (Ford)
Nov 1, 2012
I think the idea matches this other one: Having your house full of vases filled with artificial flowers and embalmed birds with crystal eyes perched on dead and varnished branches in the living room. Silence is gold. Silence is luxury, like cut flowers. Specially nowadays. Who would be as psychotic as to want to be drowned in motor noise?? I understand that motorcyclists belong in that category, but inside a car, I would think you want as much silence as possible, either to listen to your own thoughts, your traveling companion conversation, music or podcast voices --debates, theater, lectures, etc.-- but if somebody came out with artificial sound... maybe they know that there's always somebody out there to buy it.
any body saw movie "The Dilemma" whyle the movie plot is not about cars specifically the main charactes are working on making the new eco-friendly (electric) Dodge Charger prototype, sound and perform just like the classic 1968 Dodge Charger. while the actual driving performance are good, they are having problem replicating the engine sound that would not blow the accoustic electronics...
I once read a sci fi story about a future in which the general IQ had become so low that people were their own worst enemies. The cars in this future had two features to make it SEEM as if they were going very fast: an amplified engine roar, and fans that blew air back into the driver's face, imitating a ferocious slip-stream. Since people THOUGHT they were going dangerously fast already, though they weren't even out of the parking lot, they did not have any temptation to increase their speed. They would "roar" down the road at twenty miles an hour, and then have to recover from the adrenaline rush of it. This is kind of the FAUX Noise approach to road safety. So now we are half way there. All that's left now is to install the fans...
This engine/exhaust noise gimmick better have an "off switch" or I'll be shopping a different manufacturer! They could save a wasted marketer's salary with a layoff of the moron that dreamed that up.
Hey, it's only to impress the women, anyway. Vroom, vroom, I'm Da Man! Me have heap big car! Just paint a big dick on the front.
I think wanting to hear the engine noise is childish! We have spent a long time working on automotive technology to improve effeciency and eliminate road & engine noise. Better to put efficiency gauges in cars so drivers can see the adverse impact of jackrabbit starts and slamming on the breaks can have on one's gas mileage.
It is funny how having a sound effects perception of things. When movies changed from silent films to those with a sound track; a lot of the actors could not make the transistion. In the silent films, people imaged how the actors sound but when they heard the real voices there was a dissonance with what the audience imagined and the real voices. Another example goes back to keypunch keyboards. IBM used a relay to make the key click feedback that helped people know when the key action worked. That relay was adjustable so that the keyboard would "feel" faster or slower. The movement of the key was the same distance but if the relay was adjusted too close then it felt like you barely touch the keys and if adjusted too far then it was as bad as typing on a manual typewriter. Myself, I think I would rather make the motor noises with my mouth than to have a fake engine sound that makes me think I have more power in the engine; at least I can indulge my fantasy instead of dealing with someone else's fantasy of a powerful motor.
A long time ago when cars had audio signatures and you could recognize a car coming down the street, and guys were very happy. These days, an inundation of insipid, automated rolling platform help people get from point A to point B sans excitement. Now all the sudden, car makers after spending gazillions on automating cars to the point of blandness want their insipid rides to once again reclaim their auditory character. I say thank you! But then again, I still drive two old Alfa Romeos because they not only feel good but look good and sound amazing. And I still enjoy electric cars, their power and quietness too :) What we want is choice, not what carmakers feel we want...
Yes, engine sound is a factor for auto manufacturers and designers of exhaust systems. However, there is a big difference between tuning the engines sound with exhaust pipes, and playing a recording. Perception is an important feedback to a driver on a busy road at moderate to high speed. To introduce an artificial sound of the engines performance would be detrimental to driver's reaction and response in critical driving situations. Yes, marketers are correct. Perception is everything. Law enforcement also considers perception as very important and it's why citations are issued and arrests made when it's distorted by text messaging, and DUI. An auto manufacturer considering the introduction of this kind of marketing needs to stop giving relevance to stupid marketing ideas thrown out at cocktail parties, and reconsider what it is they're building and providing their customers. It will also save them embarrassing reviews from motor enthusiast magazines, and potentially even dumber law suits.
This is the most asinine thing I have ever heard. If you want engine noise decrease the sound deadening between the driver and engine. Don't spend money to isolate sound, only to reinject it!!! Detroit, focus on reducing fuel consumption and leave the sound effects to Hollywood!! Now on to more pressing issue.
Since it is a turbo diesel - I love the sound it makes as it kicks in at a mere 1500 RPM - a nice whooshing growl and a steady push in the back.
As far as I remember, the first car to pump sound into the cockpit was a Mustang a few years ago. It wasn't artificial sound, but a tube that amplified the actual sound. It was done because of customer complaints about the lack of engine sound! The engine in my Chevy HHR sounds absolutely awful. It makes a groaning sound that isn't pleasant at all. I wouldn't mind an artificial sound of some sort.
Why would I want engine noise interfering with the quiet sections of my music? They'd better have a way to turn this off, or people will sue for hearing and/or psychological damage.
Is put the beepers on the bumpers when they're backing out. I was almost hit 3 times this week, just walking through parking lots.
A good mechanic can still tell an engine is off by the sound. But with a masking engine-noise loudspeaker giving off healthy-engine sounds, his ability is diminished. Of course, this just results in a neglected repair and another auto purchase, so the industry shouldn't mind ;')
...to be able to dial up and down the engine noise as preferred. Sometimes I want my radio on; sometimes I want to hear the car. But pedestrians (and people who live near roadways) need not be bothered, either.
There are actually some luxury cars that use the audio system to cancel out sounds coming from outside the cockpit, including both road and engine noise. I agree that an option to turn off the fake engine noise would be good. But this is actually driven by customer opinion.