You’re at a party mingling with strangers who so far have ranged from bankers to accountants. Numbers just don’t excite you, and now you’re looking at your watch trying to figure out if you can bail on this shindig. But then, the host introduces you to Patricia Seashore, and little do you know that the night is about to get a bit more interesting. You see, Patricia has one of those jobs you probably never think about anyone having – she’s the Ford Design & Release Supervisor, and with that comes a vast knowledge of horn technology, including tone and physics.
You see, there’s an art form to horns around the world, and Ford needs to ensure its vehicles’ horns properly reflect usage in each global market. You ask Patricia about this and she tells you that in Europe, vehicles have two horns – one on the steering wheel for traffic and another on the back of the vehicle as an anti-theft device. North America customers use the horn as a greeting and want it to sound friendly, and also to confirm the car has locked and as a vehicle locator in a parking lot. “We’re getting away from using horns strictly as a warning,” Patricia notes. “You’ll hear them, of course, when someone gets cut off, or when something aggressive is happening in traffic. But you hear them, too, when people honk at a neighbor to say ‘hi,’ or when they pull in a driveway to pick someone up.”
As a result, North American customers want a richer tone in their horns. That’s why they are trumpet horns, named for the plastic trumpet on them that attenuates the sound and makes it more melodic. Most of the vehicles have dual, trumpet horns, tuned to frequencies that are not unpleasant, but just slightly discordant. “While we don’t want the sound to be too bristly, we don’t want it to be too pleasant either,” Patricia reveals. “We want it to, you know, grab people’s attention a little.”
Riveted by her revelations, you dig deeper just as a party server brings by a tray of some weird-looking appetizer wrapped in bacon. What about those quick beep-beep horns? you ask. Those are prevalent in South America, where customers want a horn they can honk frequently in short stints. She further tells you that in India, the horns get far heavier use as drivers utilize them to help navigate through congested traffic on less developed roads. “We use a disc horn, which has a longer life, in a vehicle where the horn is part of daily driving,” Patricia says. And do get her started on China; she won’t disappoint, since those customers want both. “Customers drive with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the horn. The horn is huge,” Patricia explains. “They use their horn extensively – but they want it to sound nice. So there we use something we call an electronic trumpet. It’s a technology solution.”
Did you think we were kidding about the correlation between physics and horns? “China has one of the most extreme set of conditions, including cold temperatures and roads at 15,000 feet altitude,” Patricia points out. “So we’re not only looking at customers’ preferences, we must look at the physical environment of where the car is being driven.” That’s because altitude and temperature affect the way sound waves travel.
Later, as you pull away from the curb and the host waves from the porch, you gently tap your horn as a way to say goodbye and thanks, reminded in the moment that Patricia helped make that message loud and clear.