With an industry-wide shift to electric, sound is becoming increasingly important to the driving experience.
More than any other daily activity, driving demands our attention and focused engagement. As a result, sound plays a critical role in keeping us in sync with our car’s functions, alerting us to activity around us on the road, and guiding us where we need to go. There are a lot of potential moments for sound throughout our ride, and opportunities for automakers to think about sound as a holistic, thoughtfully-designed experience that’s functional, pleasing, and reinforces brand values.
Companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have invested in the physical electric car sound of their vehicles for decades, ensuring they’re well-tuned and aligned to their brand personality. Think of the iconic sound of a Ford Mustang engine — it was engineered to evoke a visceral sonic experience that amplifies the power and excitement of the car and the brand. But the potential impact of sounds emitted from both inside and outside of a vehicle extends far beyond the pleasurable roar of an engine or the satisfying “whumph” of a closing door.
"We should think more broadly about how the future of smart, AI-enabled vehicles will interact with the rest of the smart world around us. If you have a smart home device, why shouldn’t your car have that same kind of interaction with you?" (7)
– Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer, Ford
People are spending so much more time in their cars that it becomes like a second home. And like our homes, where the use of voice assistants is estimated to triple over the next five years,(8) there’s greater expectation that our daily driving experience will adapt accordingly to provide seamless integration with an audio-first, voice-enabled lifestyle.
Vehicles are rapidly becoming an important platform to connect with consumers through audio. In an effort to link home and automobile through connected devices, automakers such as GM, Audi, BMW, and Volkwagen have partnered with Amazon to integrate Alexa voice assistant technology into their vehicles. Many automakers are also now building Google’s Android Auto compatibility into their latest models, bringing Google Assistant technology into the daily commute. By 2028, voice assistants are projected to be in 90% of new vehicles sold globally. (11)
Looking into the future, driverless vehicles will enter roadways with a different form-factor and user experience than ever before. Without the conventional physical interfaces, cues, or even responsibilities we currently have as drivers, sound and voice will play a key role in shaping our rides, allowing passengers to control their experience through voice command and alerting both passengers and pedestrians about any action or change taking place on the road.
But alerting pedestrians through sound is no longer a future goal. Since 2020, all electric vehicles and hybrids in the US and EU are required to emit a sound. (12, 13) These regulations, rolled out in response to the relative silence of electric engines, present a major opportunity for automakers to design an identifiable brand sound, while also introducing an effective and harmonious sound palette into the environment rather than just more noise pollution. Mobility is being redefined, and sound and voice are instrumental in reshaping our automotive experience.
Written by Paul Amitai, Executive Strategy Director
Published June 2020
(1) "Share of new cars with a voice recognition system in 2012 and 2019," Statista, 2019.
(2) "Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report," Voicebot, 2018.
(3) "Automotive Artificial Intelligence Revenue to Reach $14 Billion by 2025," Tractica, 2017.
(4) "Special report: The rise of the in-car digital assistant," Navigant Research, 2019.
(5) "In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report," Voicebot, 2019.
(6) "In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report," Voicebot, 2019.
(7) "Ford CTO Ken Washington on self-driving cars, 'creepy' AI and hovercrafts," Recode Decode (Apr 17, 2019).
(8) "Daily Ride Index," Ketchum, 2019.
(9) "Digital Voice Assistants," Juniper Research, 2019.
(10) "The Smart Audio Report," NPR & Edison Research, 2019.
(11) "The Future Of The In-Vehicle Experience," CB Insights, 2019.
(12) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2018.
(13) European Commission, 2017.
(14) "Daily Ride Index," Ketchum, 2019.
(15) "In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report," Voicebot, 2019.
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