Toyota and the Overly-Quiet Car

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the news that Toyota’s hybrid-electric car, the Prius, was in fact too quiet, and plans were announced for it to be installed with a noisemaking device to make it safer around pedestrians. You can hear what this noisemaker sounds like in the video below:

(watch on youtube)

The sound of a car has often contributed to its marketing. Whether loud or quiet, advertisers have always managed to turn noise levels into an advantage. But this new development in overly-quiet, electric-powered cars could lead to something far more targeted, where the sound of the engine could be specifically designed as part of the product, and not just an incidental side-effect.

This could not only lead to better sounding cars, but also to a new avenue of audio branding. Car companies would surely love for everyone to recognise their product on the street without even having to look at it. Maybe sharp-eared mechanics can already distinguish between the sound of a Ford and a Honda, but for the rest of us this distinction is untapped. Then again the possibilities for redesigning engine noise might not be quite this rich, and it might not be possible for each make of car to sound recognisably distinct. But even so, there would seem to be more scope for variety than we currently have, even if this was only used as a subversive way of cultivating brand loyalty – after a few years of driving a certain car it might be harder to trust a different make, with an engine that doesn’t ‘sound right’.

For anyone who thinks I’m breathing too much into this, ok, fair enough, its early days yet. But I’d still recommend you watch Julian Treasure‘s five minute talk on sound in business, even if it doesn’t change your mind its definitely worth a watch:

(watch on youtube)

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About jackwestmore

Jack Westmore writes music for film, television and media, and is currently based in Cardiff in the UK.
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