Cars as Mobiles / by Scott Smith

If you haven't yet had the experience of being crept up on and surprised by a hybrid car, it's increasingly likely to happen, at least for the next few years. Nissan has reportedly announced it is looking into creating a "sound" for future electric cars that would otherwise not make a sufficient sound to warn pedestrians and cyclists of their presence. According to the company, vehicles' tires don't typically make sufficient noise on the road until they reach around 12 miles per hour.

Nissan's reported answer to this problem is elegant: it is developing sounds to replace the silence, and is investigating composing "beautiful and futuristic" tones as an option, according to one of its engineers. Call them ringtones for cars (Sakamoto and Eno, are you listening?).

As we move away from the traditional concept of the gas-powered engine on a steel frame with wheels, vehicles are beginning to converge conceptually with our favorite electronics—they are platforms connected to systems, increasingly shaped by software as much as hardware, black boxes we can fill with new applications and systems. This has happened for some years now aesthetically: how different is a Toyota Scion from an iPod? Both are base functional platforms that can be customized and personalized. Giving a car a custom sound as well as a color makes perfect sense in this light. With systems like Fiat's eco:Drive system already tying the PCs to the car, we aren't very far away from a Fiat, Nissan or VW App Store. A deeper VW-Apple partnership? Maybe.