How Your Car Says Hello
Car welcoming systems have come a long way since the voice alerts that Chrysler briefly tried in some 1980s models. Instead of a robotic male voice that sounded like a Speak & Spell as it reminded you that a door was ajar or the lights were left on, today's cars have songs, videos and "welcome mats" of light under the doors to greet drivers.
The swirling leaf animation and melody that plays in a Chevy Volt are welcoming signs that Rachel Kerstetter loves about her car.
"If I happen to have a passenger with me and we're talking when we get in the car, it's not disruptive," says Kerstetter, who works for a public relations firm in Berea, Ohio. "I have been in cars that have very loud 'triumphant' sounding tones when you get in that can disrupt a conversation."
All about that bass
Sounds seem to be the most common ways that cars welcome drivers inside. As part of what Kia calls its Sonic Branding, the 2015 Kia Soul E.V. and Sedona minivan have a five-note sound called "The Rise of Surprise" that plays at startup and when some safety and other features are used.
The Kia sound is supposed to be distinctive like the three-note NBC chimes that the TV network uses to introduce itself. For Kia drivers - or even people who don't own Kias - the company's website offers ringtones of its unique chime in a variety of styles as ringtones: reggae, Irish, bossa nova, modern rock, classic, new age and electronic.
If you want to hear your engine purr as you accelerate, the Ford Feista ST subcompact has what it calls the Sound Symposer to let the driver mix the amount of engine sound fed into the cabin.
The plug-in hybrid coupe Cadillac ELR plays a short welcoming song that includes a jet-plane swoosh sound as part of its Cue driver interface. The ELR's haptic warning system gently nudges the driver in the rear, as do other Cadillacs with Cue.
"Whatever chimes cars play, they can sometimes be a little overwhelming for drivers", says Rick Berry of Findlayautostgeorge.com, a car dealership in St. George, UT.
"They are trying to create a positive emotional experience for consumers but we've found at times they do the opposite," Berry says. "Many of our customers find these chimes annoying and want an easier way to turn them off."
The bat signal
Like Batman responding the Bat Signal in the sky, drivers and passengers of the Range Rover Evoque can view the company logo on the pavement with "welcome mats" of light below the doors to help them see what they're about to step into as they exit.
The Lincoln MKC takes it a few steps further with a feature called Approach Detection. Along with a welcome mat of the brand logo, the headlamps, taillamps and door handles glow with soft lighting that complements the car's exterior color.
What the future holds
How cars welcome or say goodbye in the future is up for debate, but with self-driving cars a possibility, the interiors could be turned into entertainment systems where the movie you were just watching at home is synced and running in your car as soon as you step inside.
Siri and other systems are turning cars into mobile phones, such as through Apple's Carplay or Android's rival system. Your car's computer could know your preferences and have a music setlist ready to play.
A car's welcoming message could become more intelligent in the future, Berry says, such as by "announcing road conditions and local traffic alerts."
That might be a lot more useful that a welcoming song letting you know the engine is on.