Missed Opportunities

2016 Chevy Volt design team: Dare greatly? Not so fast!

When we started looking into horn-based lock alert noise, a former car alarm installer said, "If they wanted to, automakers could turn this around in a year."

As we soon learned, implementation of changes happens slowly if at all. Some automakers eliminated horn-based lock alerts over the course of a few years with or without a redesign. With some cars, like the Nissan Rogue, the car itself was created with the quieter electronic tone.

It was disappointing to learn that no GM cars had transitioned away from the horn sound. A combination of relentless optimism along with magical thinking fueled by this post had us half expecting to find out that a Cadillac model would be the first (of many!) to transition, but it was not to be. But there was some good news about a GM car.

The 2016 Volt is blessedly missing two major horn-based alerts that owners and reviewers alike have complained about for years: honking that was used as feedback during the battery charging experience and honking that was used with the pedestrian alert. They. Are. GONE.

Unfortunately, the Volt continues to use a horn honk as lock feedback, even as other automakers continue to transition away from horn-based lock feedback. And the 2017 Bolt, which could have gotten its start in life with quieter feedback or silence, uses horn honking for lock alert.

Honk to confirm that doors are locked?
A soul at odds with a silly lock alert noise

Another disappointment was that no FCA cars have transitioned away from horn use with lock feedback.

Just as GM Authority describes a quieter sound for Cadillac as more fitting, a quieter sound or no sound (as with Land Rover) seems fitting with Jeep. With its spirit of rebellion and association with rugged terrain and natural settings, it is especially incongruous to hear a horn honk when this vehicle is standing still.

Volt engineers based many of the changes on feedback from Volt owners, including requests for more quiet and less noise. It is understandable that lock feedback would be overlooked, since the horn sound on the second press of the key fob is technically optional. By comparison, owners were forced to create horn noise with the pedestrian alert and with electric charge feedback honking. Why would an owner complain about an optional feature?

It isn't enough to use focus groups to capture data about features that need to change - especially when those features create noise. If common sense ("horn sounds wake people up and confuse passing drivers") fails to surface and the law (non-emergency horn honking is illegal in many states and municipalities) doesn't impress, engineers should consider the feedback of everyone who shares space with cars. A more robust sample for a focus group could be recruited by knocking on the bedroom windows that overlook residential parking lots. Better still - use common sense.

More than ever before, soundscapes are being considered in every stage of architectural planning, and consideration of soundscapes is being integrated within the study of built environments. As the body of work linking noise exposure to health effects grows, scholarship on benefits of quiet are gaining ground. Eventually engineers and other creators will incorporate soundscape and acoustical considerations into planning as never before. To ignore soundscape science is to risk being left behind.

When a product is engineered, it should be created to emit the least amount of noise possible. When a car shares space with other cars, or exists in proximity to homes, this must be considered. In terms of health, sleep is our most precious asset. Sufficient quiet to support good sleep should not be an amenity. It should be available to all, rich and poor alike. Creating a product with the capacity to hinder good sleep and to diminish quiet enjoyment of one's home is a decision. You will allow this to happen, or you will stop it from happening. An opportunity was there for a moment, a choice, and then it was lost.

Further Reading

Chevy Volt wins 2016 Green Car of the Year
2016 Chevy Volt First Drive
Revolution Two: The 2016 Chevy Volt Proves There Are Second Acts in Automotive Lives
2016 Volt arrives with 50-mile EV range, 41 mpg
Volt early history
Volt early history

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