At the intersection of cars, tech, and noise

It doesn't take a genius to anticipate conflict

Labor Day 2017 | A media campaign tells us that Nissan is creating a quieter world with its electric cars, even as data on this prediction is inconclusive. Other automakers claim that their EVs are creating quiet, and most automakers advertise quiet interiors, some even while advertising noisy features. As media consumers, we're used to automakers telling us how quiet their cars are, but usually the claims seem plausible.

A recent head-scratcher is Ford's promotion of its "Good Neighbor Mode," a technology that allows Mustang owners to start or drive without the car emitting a loud engine sound, which was added nearly a decade ago when Mustang fans noticed that ICE cars were starting and driving too quietly. What's missing is an explanation for why the added sound wasn't configurable in the first place.

This is the press release, this is the ad, and this is how Ford Social promoted the technology:

"Quiet Exhaust mode and Quiet Start were born out of necessity, one that hit close to home. Former head of Ford vehicle engineering Steve von Foerster had someone call the police on him after he backed a Shelby GT350 Mustang out of his driveway. He didnít get a ticket, but he did get a stroke of genius."

When I wrote this post, I had no idea that added Mustang sound was not configurable. I assumed that it was configurable and that owners must turn on the sound, or the sound must kick in, during highway driving. Silly me! It kicks in when the car starts, even in a shared driveway just feet away from a neighbor's bedroom.

With auto manufacturing, it isn't as if every outcome can be anticipated. Product development can take years and billions of dollars, and sometimes the source of a rattle can only be found by dismantling a competitor's car. Fortunately some outcomes can be predicted without trial and error. Anticipating preventable conflict caused by an added sound effect doesn't require trial and error.

Automotive and tech journalists reported on Good Neighbor Mode technology favorably, with a few minor complaints about having to "schedule" the sound level. None questioned whether or not the technology is truly "born out of necessity" or "a stroke of genius."

I disagree. If you create added sound with the potential to create conflict with a neighbor and fail to make it configurable, and then create another technology years later to schedule the sound level, you're partly fixing a problem that you created - and still leaving a lot to chance.

Whether you're an executive or an intern, one of the most important assets any worker has is the ability to anticipate - and prevent or avoid - conflict. It doesn't take a genius to prevent noise that can create conflict, and it doesn't take a genius to fix a simple problem that was caused by an optional sound effect.

The public is becoming increasingly aware of the toll that noise pollution is taking on people and wildlife. Automakers are in the unique position of having the ability to significantly reduce noise pollution by eliminating preventable, unnecessary sounds, and to avoid creating new sounds with the capacity to create conflict.

It doesn't take a stroke of genius to understand this. A bit of common sense will do.


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May 20, 2014 | Since Silence the Horns took over the advocacy and lobbying function of this effort, I've turned the main page of this site into a blog. So there you have it, and here it is. If you landed here because you were woken up when someone locked their car, or you miss being able to sleep with the windows open, or you're tired of hearing horns honking from a block away every few minutes on your otherwise quiet street, you've reached the right place. You can do something about it. And you can begin now, or you can begin later. This is not a minor annoyance. It's a sleep depriver and an attention stealer and a safety risk in parking lots and it's a misuse of a safety signal. You can start anywhere, but I'd suggest you start here.

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