Sound has obviously always been an integral part of the automotive industry, with companies such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been investing in the sound of their vehicles for decades, ensuring they align with their brand. Even the iconic sound of a Ford Mustang engine is specially crafted to signal power and inspire excitement about the car and the brand itself. But the integration of new tech into consumers' daily lives, including their cars, is about to make the importance of sound even more clear to automakers.
The data is clear — as people spent more and more time in their cars each year, their designs have evolved, many feeling more like second homes. Also, by 2028, voice assistants are projected to be in 90 percent of new vehicles sold globally. Consumers increasingly rely on digital products and services, and COVID-19 has only amplified that reliance, perhaps permanently. The consumer expectation of the tech and auto industries are converging. Our research shows that, if automakers want to remain relevant in a technological world where everything — home, office and automobile — is connected and evolving at hyperspeed, they must rethink how they use sound and voice to their advantage. They need to own a consistent branded sonic ecosystem or risk being abandoned, catering to a world that no longer exists.
When I look at the range of modern cars, I see a new baseline — including Bluetooth connectivity, entertainment centers, voice command and AI assistants, location services and Internet access. Most of these technologies have also converged in things like our cellphones, and that holistic, comprehensive design has made them a necessity of life. Automakers must pay attention to these trends and begin to think of the sound and voice of their vehicles as an interconnected brand experience.
Imagine if the industry took full advantage of the new regulatory requirements that mandate all electric vehicles must emit a sound to protect those on the street with visual impairments. It might set a standard of automotive sonic branding that extends beyond the engine, resulting in a unique in-vehicle sensory experience. Ambient lighting, on-display animations, and sounds could be crafted to suit the all-electric environment and differentiate the different driving modes. As the upcoming release of the Mustang Mach-E demonstrates with its custom sound across its various functions and interfaces, the possibilities are exciting and literally endless.
As the automotive industry moves toward electric engines and the integration of voice-activated technology, it has a unique opportunity to take a holistic approach to sound across vehicle touchpoints. Every sound emitted by a car — from an electric engine tone to a seatbelt warning — can be designed as part of a distinct, branded sound palette, where the musical notes and textures are interrelated to make for a more harmonious user experience. Taking cues from the entertainment and game industries, automakers can and should build sound environments for their vehicles that make the journey safer and more enjoyable while remaining deeply connected to a unique and authentic brand experience.