A key appeal of EVs is silence while driving, but BMW does not want drivers to miss out on the ‘emotional appeal of sound'. Enter 21st century sound engineering. BMW's Concept i4 has been given an audio-makeover by Hanz Zimmer, the legendary composer behind the scores of The Lion King, Interstellar and The Dark Knight Trilogy. In collaboration with sound designer Renzo Vitale, Zimmer has created a series of interior sounds – from start-up to shut-down – including acoustic accompaniments to opening a door. They call it IconicSounds. WhichEV listens carefully to the changes in modern motor marketing.
It was more than 25 years ago when Microsoft paid Roxy Music founder Brian Eno $35,000 to create the 3.25 seconds long opening sound for Windows 95. Since then, major companies in every market have been working hard to use music and audio signatures to help evoke an emotional response to inanimate objects.
The VW door closing sound. The roar from a V6 or V8 engine. The rush of air past you in a convertible. The hushed tones from a high quality music system when you're driving along an empty road as the sun sets. It's quite easy to ‘visualise the sound' of those moments in your mind's eye. And that's what BMW is hoping to tap into.
“Renzo and I were inspired to bring together the past and future of BMW with the sound for the BMW Concept i4”, Zimmer said, “We hope the sound we created is classic yet surprising and has a feeling of lightness that is fitting for the BMW brand”.
Drivers will be able switch from standard ‘core’ to more intense ‘sport’ tones as the sound profile is introduced globally as a standard feature for all electric and hybrid BMW models in July 2020.
“The ability to design the sound in our vehicles makes it possible for us to spark positive emotions”, said Vitale.
“The new start/stop sound is intended to instil a sense of excitement at the prospect of electric driving when the customer gets into their vehicle and begins the journey”, he said.
The audio profile adds bells to an already impressive EV. The i4 will be lining up against the Tesla Model 3 in terms of price, power and range – so beefing up the concept’s cutting-edge interior makes sense as it should add to the car's overall appeal. Pitching warm, luxurious and welcoming against clean, quiet and emotionless.
Jens Thiemer, a Senior Vice President at BMW, said, “Sound has always played an important role in the emotionalisation of our vehicles. Now we are taking the joy of sheer driving pleasure to a new level and are particularly pleased to be working with Hans Zimmer to create the new sound world of electric mobility at BMW”.
The standard starting sound is like a spacey version of the THX high-fidelity movie intro, while the sport setting adds a Stranger Things-like level of intensity. BMW say IconicSounds “Will imbue the models with extra emotional depth by connecting the driver with the vehicle’s character on another level”.
This is another example of EV Concepts relying on personification of the product. It seems the EV market will soon be full of drivers and cars sharing different kinds of emotional bonds built through sound-profiles and varyingly spacious interiors.
The real-world manifestation of those bonds? We can all remember being more likely to let a driver out of a side road if they were driving the same car as us. More so if it was the same colour and they shared a glance and a smile. It's about belonging. BMW's marketing gurus want you to feel like your joining an exclusive and desirable team.
It seems that BMW is close to being able to tell fans of the i4 Concept, “Program complete, enter when ready“.