Bentley celebrates the production of its 200.000th car…


The Bentayga Hybrid, destined for a Chinese customer, met the oldest surviving Bentley, EXP 2, and a number of long serving colleagues, as it rolled off the production line at the home of Bentley in Crewe this week.

Things have taken off for the inconic brand over the last 18 years. Thanks to the success of the Continental GT and more recently the Bentayga SUV, daily production has soared. Indeed, over that period, over 75 per cent of 101 years of production has been hand-built at the Crewe factory, more than ever the home of Bentley. Current daily production, 85 cars per day, equals monthly production numbers of two decades ago.

The Bentley Continentals – then and now…

I vividly recall the interview I made at the Frankfurt Motor Show more than a decade ago with Franz-Josef Paefgen, then CEO of Bentley Motors and Bugatti Automobiles, posts he left in 2011.

During his time as the Chief Executive Officer of Bentley Motors Ltd., he was responsible for the Bentley Mulsanne and the Bentley Continental series of cars. From 2003 to 2005, Dr. Paefgen was responsible for the development of the Bugatti Veyron.

Every Bentley is actually a four wheeled chapter in automotive history…

I asked him then whether a hybrid Bentley was not on the cards, as Bentley’s could be considered the pinnacle of engineering and an electrified Bentley would be proper. It clearly was not in the strategy of the VW Group then, as the idea was immediately brushed aside by Mr. Paefgen as unrealistic, customers not wanting this at all…

Well times have changed quite a bit since then, as we now read that Company aims to be end-to-end carbon neutral by 2030 with entire model range switched to battery electric vehicles(!). Bentley will move to full electrification – PHEV or BEV only – by 2026, then switch the entire model range to battery electric vehicles by 2030. The industry-leading Beyond100 Strategy will transform every aspect of the business as Bentley accelerates into its second century of luxury car production.

Six cylinder Bentley engine production in the ’50s in Crewe…

What this means for the retail value and depreciation of the existing and historic Bentley’s remains to be seen…

But back to the production history.

The Continental GT was the first landmark…

In 2003 the introduction of the Continental GT represented a transformative moment for the brand, and this Bentley alone, has represented 80,000 sales of the total of 200,000, and created both a new segment, and a contemporary image foundation for the Bentley business.

The Crewe factory in 1940…

…followed by the Bentayga

The success of the Continental GT has been mirrored by the Bentayga, offering a true Bentley driving experience and unparalleled luxury. Launched in 2015, when it established the luxury SUV sector, the fastest SUV in the world has reached its 25,000 production landmark. It is expected that the Bentayga could surpass total sales of the Continental GT within a decade and become the biggest selling Bentley model in history.

And now in 2021…

Since 2005, the company has also built 40,000 examples of the Flying Spur, the most successful luxury sports saloon in the world.

We show you here some photos, lifting a veil of the very interesting and multifaceted production history of the brand, and then we have told nothing of their sporting achievements…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

BMW iDrive: a stunning presentation, and a bold step towards a safe personal driving experience…

We just witnessed the presentation, and of course we will come back on this with more details, but we can say already that BMW again produced a breakthrough in car to driver communication…

We show you here some screenshots of the presentation, but, as said, there is more to come about this very convincing approach…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

BMW presents on Monday 16 March their 8th Generation of iDrive…

BMW stunned the automotive world 20 years ago with their iDrive BMW opened a new era of in-car operating technology.

Keen to get a grip on the constantly expanding array of functions in vehicle interiors, in 2001 BMW instigated a paradigm shift in the then new BMW 7 Series.

Today, BMW developers and designers focusing on user interaction and user experience have faced up to a new set of challenges. The 8th generation of BMW iDrive brings about another paradigm shift – this time to a new kind of relationship between driver and their vehicle. Needless to say, we are very intrigued and will certainly follow the premiere online!

Indeed, You can follow the world premiere live at www.live.bmwgroup.com, on Monday, 15 March 2021, 15:30 GMT.

You can also follow the @BMWGroup social media channels for the live broadcast.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/bmwgroup/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BMWGroup

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BMWGroup

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/BMWGroupView

We would say, don’t miss it!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

How the Tonale prototype design model was born for the Geneva Salon…two years ago.

Klaus Busse presented the Alfa Romeo Tonale two years ago in Geneva…

Klaus Busse is the talented head of design for Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Chrysler, and he is also quite active on social media. We read today a post from his hand on his Instagram page about the presentation of the Tonale at the Geneva Show two years ago, together with some stunning photos showing how the Tonale was sculpted out of plaster and other materials to become a real looking car, to be shown as a styling model at the salon.

Craftsmen working on the clay model, succeeding into making it a real looking car…

The photos show how elements of the car were formed and made by hand. Some pieces were 3D printed, I believe, but personally I find it truly amazing how these craftsmen put the car together, and finished it to become a design model with gleaming paint and shiny elements, the result being indistinguishable from a “real” car.

I believe, 3D printed elements were used…
Also here 3D printed elements abound…

I found the photos so interesting that I want to show them here to you on these pages.

The steering wheel gets a “real” feel…
Craftsmen sculpting the rear end…

On the fourth of May 2019, I visited the Centro Style in Turin, and met Klaus Busse. You see me standing proudly beside the Tonale prototype, and also in a group photo with Klaus Busse himself on the left.

Sweet memories, and of course your servant would love to witness once how these craftsmen work to create such an unbelievably finished prototype…

Just enjoy the photos with me!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Mercedes moves its E-power competence centre to its home core factory in Untertürkheim…

Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim

German automakers are very serious about it. Getting as competent about E-power technology and drive systems as they are in petrol engined technology. So they are making the essential and necessary structural changes.

Mercedes for instance is transforming its Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems unit and its Stuttgart-Untertürkheim site for an “Electric First” future in the context of its “Ambition 2039” strategy.

Untertürkheim is to become a technology competence centre with a campus focusing clearly on electric drive and battery technology, including the production of lithium-ion cells. The Untertürkheim site has always been an integral part of the Mercedes-Benz powertrain production network – as an innovation centre and as a hub of Mercedes-Benz powertrain expertise.

Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems

A three-digit million euro amount is invested to transform Untertürkheim, the largest site in the company’s global powertrain production network, which will in future be known as the “Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus”.

The site will focus on research, development and production ramp-ups of drive systems.

A new factory for the small-series production of future battery cells, and a dedicated battery safety lab, will complement Mercedes-Benz’s existing research and development activities in the field of battery technology.

eATS test benches at the Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus Untertürkheim

The company strives for a holistic approach which ranges from basic research and development to manufacturing of battery systems. In terms of series production, the site will focus increasingly on electric drive components – battery and electric drive systems, while conventional engine, transmission and component production will gradually be phased out, which will affect employment profiles and scopes.

Vertical integration is essential…

The Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus is a crucial development step regarding the sustainable transformation of the Untertürkheim site. At the same time, this requires substantial adjustments in its production program and processes. In this context, the existing competence centres will be restructured or systematically expanded. The close link of research, development and production at the same location will create important preconditions for synergies and unique know-how,  strengthening the vertical integration in house as a key pillar.

The Mercedes-Benz battery factory in Untertürkheim – plant annex Hedelfingen – will produce battery systems for the Mercedes-EQ model EQS from 2021

Focus on battery technology and electric drive systems.

The bundling and extension of its battery activities is of paramount mportance. Widespread research and development activities are already anchored at the Untertürkheim location, such as the e-technology centre and cell technology centre, where, among other things, prototypes for the electric drive system are built and cell technologies are researched and tested. Additionally, the battery research and development activities currently located at the Nabern part of the plant, including various test benches, are to be relocated on the campus in the future.

Further investments are planned in the significant expansion of the current cell technology centre in order to be able to cover the entire value chain of battery technology. In addition to basic research, pre-development and design of battery cells, a new factory for the small-series production of lithium-ion battery cells is being planned, starting operations in 2023. The sustainability factor, transparent cell development through to recyclability, plays a major role in this. Moreover, a dedicated battery safety lab will complement Mercedes-Benz’s activities.

Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim plant to produce electric powertrain in the future

In the future, the company will cover almost the entire field of battery technology at its Untertürkheim location – right down to battery systems which are manufactured at the site. The battery factory in Brühl nearby will produce batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles from 2022. Starting this year, battery systems for the Mercedes-EQ model EQS – the all-electric member of the S-Class family – will roll off the assembly line at the Hedelfingen part of the plant. The EQS will be manufactured at Factory 56 in Sindelfingen some 20 km away starting in the first half of 2021. The battery system for the EQE will also be produced in Hedelfingen.

In just a few months, battery systems for the Mercedes-Benz EQS – the all-electric member of the next S-Class family – will roll off the assembly line at the Hedelfingen battery factory, which will be manufactured at Factory 56 in Sindelfingen some 20 km away. The battery factory relies on state-of-the-art systems and uses a wide range of Industry 4.0 technologies. The extensive production tests are already in full swing.

The company moreover is setting a clear focus on the development of the highly efficient electric drive system, the intelligent combination of electric motor, battery system, power electronics and software through to series maturity including testing.

The next generation of electric motors are being developed in house and will feature inverter and high voltage technology. The manufacturing and assembly of electric drive systems parts for future vehicle models of the Mercedes-EQ brand will start at the end of 2024 and round off the product portfolio with the battery factories in Hedelfingen and Brühl. The previously planned production volumes of electric drive systems will double.

Flexible powertrain production network…with protected employment.  

With regard to the series production volumes of conventional powertrains at the Untertürkheim location, Mercedes-Benz will even more benefit from the flexibility of its global powertrain production network in the future.

The eATS is the engine unit of electric vehicles. The eATS consists essentially of the three subsystems: an electric motor, its power electronics and the transmission part for power-transmission.

New production volumes are being examined in detail in order to maximize efficiency and profitability. On the employment side, this leads in the medium term to changes in employment profiles, for which the company prepares its employees with targeted qualification measures. The reduction of series production volumes of conventional powertrains will also lead to adjustments of personnel at the Untertürkheim location. The company is preparing for this with various measures and the top priority is to implement structural and personnel measures in a socially acceptable manner with regard to the jobs affected.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

In-car cinema is amongst us: the top all-electric Mercedes EQS gets a unique MBUX Hyperscreen.

Mercedes is making another breakthrough in terms of dashboard infotainment. In 2018 the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) was unveiled in the current A-Class, and there are now more than 1.8 million Mercedes-Benz passenger cars equipped with it on the roads worldwide. A few months ago, the second generation of this learn-capable system debuted in the new S-Class. The next big step now follows in the form of the new EQS and the optionally available MBUX Hyperscreen.

The large, curved screen unit stretches almost the entire width from the left to the right A-pillar. In addition to its sheer size, the high-quality, detail-loving design also provides a “wow” effect. This aesthetic high-tech look is the emotional dimension of the MBUX hyperscreen.

Added to this is artificial intelligence (AI): With software capable of learning, the display and operating concept adapts completely to its user and makes personalized suggestions for numerous infotainment, comfort and vehicle functions.

Thanks to the so-called zero layer, the user does not have to scroll through submenus or give voice commands. The most important applications are always offered in a situational and contextual way at the top level in view. In this way, numerous operating steps are taken away from the EQS driver. And not only him: The MBUX Hyperscreen is also an attentive assistant for the passenger. It receives its own display and operating area.

“The MBUX Hyperscreen is both the brain and nervous system of the car”, says Sajjad Khan (photo here above) , Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG and CTO. “The MBUX Hyperscreen continually gets to know the customer better and delivers a tailored, personalized infotainment and operating offering before the occupant even has to click or scroll anywhere.”

We are of course quite keen to get acquainted with this Hypersreen…hopefully soon!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

BMW turns its electric vision into reality…with the impressive BMW iX

Until now the VISION iNEXT took centre stage when we looked at BMW’s electric vision for the future. With a year still to go before its market launch at the end of 2021, the BMW Group lets us have a first look ahead to the future BMW iX, which is currently still in the series development phase.

The BMW iX is very important: it is the first model based on a new, modular, scalable future toolkit developed by the BMW Group. It embodies a fresh interpretation of design, sustainability, versatility and luxury.

Driving pleasure, versatility and luxury.

The iX is from the outset designed for purely electric mobility, and BMW claims it is redefining the successful Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) concept.

The BMW iX harnesses the latest innovations in the fields of electrification, automated driving and connectivity to deliver a mobility experience which puts people first. Therefore, its design has been developed from the inside out, says BMW.

Sustainability is also important, and we find optimised aerodynamics, intelligent lightweight design and extensive use of natural and recycled materials.

Fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology for a long range…

The fifth generation of BMW eDrive technology consists of two electric motors, state of the art  power electronics, charging technology and a high-voltage battery. It has the zest of a true BMW: some 370 kW/500 hp, enough to power the BMW iX from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 5.0 seconds.

BMW nevertheless targets an electronic power consumption of less than 21 kWh per 100 kilometres (62 miles) in the WLTP test cycle. A gross energy content of more than 100 kWh should enable the latest-generation high voltage battery to record a range of over 600 kilometres in the WLTP cycle.

That equates to more than 300 miles according to the EPA’s FTP-75 test procedure.

DC fast charging: over 120 kilometres (75 miles) of extra range in ten minutes.

The new charging technology of the BMW iX enables DC fast charging at up to 200 kW. In this way, the battery can be charged from 10 to 80 per cent of its full capacity in under 40 minutes.

The friendly cabin is centered on the driver and its passengers…

Added to which, within ten minutes enough energy can be fed into the battery to increase the car’s range by more than 120 kilometres (75 miles). It takes less than eleven hours to charge the high-voltage battery from 0 to 100 per cent at 11 kW from a Wallbox.

More power for automated driving…

The level of computing power has been developed to process 20 times the data volume of previous models. As a result, around double the amount of data from vehicle sensors can be processed than was previously possible.

Bold and impressive styling

The exterior of the BMW iX has the powerful proportions of a large BMW SAV. The BMW iX is comparable with the BMW X5 in length and width, and is almost the same height as the BMW X6 on account of its flowing roofline. The size of its wheels, meanwhile, brings to mind the BMW X7.

At the centre of the front end stands the prominent, vertical kidney grille. Since the electric drive system of the BMW iX requires only a small amount of cooling air, the kidney grille is completely blanked off.

This upright grille has reinvented itself as an innovative and multifunctional high-tech interface for

the advanced driver assistance systems with which the BMW iX paves the way for automated driving.

Human friendly cabin

The architecture of the BMW iX cabin underpins a perfectly clear and straightforward functionality that revolves entirely around the needs and emotions of the driver and occupants.

The displays and controls are all stripped down to the essentials, further reinforcing the impression of an uncluttered cabin offering a place of relaxation. The technology of the BMW iX only becomes visible when it is needed. This makes it intuitive to use rather than seeming overly complex.

The hexagonally shaped steering wheel, a rocker switch for gear selection and the BMW Curved Display – which forms part of the next-generation BMW Operating System – clearly advertise the futuristic form of driving pleasure.

Lightweight design

The body structure, featuring an aluminium spaceframe and innovative Carbon Cage, can claim extremely high torsional stiffness, which in turn enhances agility and maximises occupant protection, while minimising weight.

Fully capitalising on the benefits provided by the all-electric drive system and meticulously implementing proven measures from the past in the front end of the car, the underbody section, the wheels and the rear end gives the BMW iX optimised aerodynamics. This resuls in a drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.25!

We let you look at the photos here…and are anxious to see this new BMW in the flesh!  

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Have a stunning sound experience in your Lexus Convertible…

Generating the right sound is the result of state of the art engineering…

When you step inside the Lexus LC 500 Convertible, we would suggest you lower the roof and blip the throttle. The deep note from its V8 engine tells you immediately that an exhilarating drive is in prospect.

It’s all part of the exceptional sensory quality that Lexus has brought to its first soft-top model: just as much as the styling pleases the eye, the sound of the engine stirs your heart. Generating just the right aural quality was an important goal for the car’s development team, and this required precision engineering to achieve…

Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Inspired by the LFA supercar

Lexus’ focus on the importance of the engine sound can be traced back to the LFA, its ultra-exclusive, hand-built supercar. The specialists who worked on its V10 power unit identified the separate qualities that combine to create the ideal sound “atmosphere.”

In the LC concertible, the power of the V8’s engine note had to be balanced with a level of quietness in the cabin that overturns preconceptions about driving in a convertible – an equation Lexus calls a “harmony of opposites.”

To achieve the maximum effect, the sound of the engine changes in line with the rise and fall in rpm, becoming more powerful and urgent in tune with the driver’s use of the accelerator and the sequence of shifts through the rapid-action 10-speed automatic transmission. The exhaust note, too, heightens the effect. By contrast, in gentle cruising, the sound is subdued, so conversation is easy when the roof is down.

Finding that perfect engine sound

A continuous, pulsating sound is characteristic of a large-capacity, naturally aspirated V8 engine like the five-litre unit which powers The LC 500 Convertible. Lexus has used acoustic technologies to combine this with spectral harmony (perfect sound intervals that are pleasing to the ear), stereophonic sound, to create a depth of sound, and so-called “formants” – qualities that stir the senses and generate a feel-good factor.

Active Noise Control is used to “clean” the sound frequencies experienced in the car. This emits anti-pulse sounds through the audio speakers which counteract any unwelcome low frequency booming sound from the engine and drivetrain.

In the LC Coupe, noise inside the cabin is monitored by a microphone in the roof, but for the Convertible, it had to be relocated inside the driver’s headrest. Being closer to the driver’s ear means it can pick up a wider range of frequencies, but a complex algorithm had to be calculated to make sure it works accurately in any seat position.

The silence of a fixed-head coupé…

Even though the LC Convertible has a soft top, Lexus wanted to secure the same kind of cabin quietness as in the LC Coupe. Acoustic simulations were created to find out where dominant noises were entering the space, so that the amount and location of soundproofing and sound-absorbing material could be calculated.

The storage area behind the rear seats for the folding roof presented a particular challenge, as it was a route for tyre and exhaust noise to enter the cabin. There was not enough room for soundproofing material to be added, so the team looked instead at adapting the trim material itself. By allowing air to pass through the structure and using sound-absorbing material on the reverse, the entire surface of the storage space soaks up noise.

As the area is visible and part of the car’s interior, it also had to look good. Lexus assessed many different materials before choosing one usually used for lining the wings around the wheels. This meets safety standards and, being applied with extra density, has just the right appearance.

We are anxious to enjoy the ride in this formidable Convertible, which will be a feast for eyes and ears…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Fiat launches soon its benchmark for 100 % electric delivery: the E-Ducato…

On June 5th, the “World Environment Day” , Fiat focused the attention of the press on its E-Ducato, which was a year ago presented to us as a prototype. Then we met the dynamic people of Fiat Professional, Mr. Domenico Gostoli and Mme Angelica Carapezza amongst others, and faithful readers remember the reports we made then on our pages. We also refer to the interesting interview we made with Mme Carapezza, where she also  commented on her impressive automotive career so far. You can read it again on our columns. Just look at https://autoprova.be/2019/09/15/women-behind-cars-angelica-carapezza/ and https://autoprova.be/2019/07/01/fiat-professional-surprises-the-commercial-vehicle-world-with-an-all-electric-ducato/

Nothwithstanding Corona times, the development of the new Fiat Professional model has been continued using simulation tools.

The E-Ducato is the result of an extended series of measurements and tests, taking into account all the variables of usage by different types of clients, as well as dynamic, load and environmental aspects.

Developed by professionals with the help of client professionals…

The development of the E-Ducato included over one year of on-road measurements to analyze more than 28,000 connected vehicles. The measurements from a client’s perspective were taken by a dedicated team of professionals on vehicles with combustion engines running more than 50 million kilometers, to take into account all the variables of client usage, dynamics, load, and environmental aspects.

The analyses were focused on mileage, model variability for any kind of mission, fuel expenditure, vehicle usage, and temperature. By adopting this approach, Fiat Professional is able to offer comprehensive electric mobility solutions. With an analysis of energy demand as a starting point, these solutions will not only cover every single task, they will also provide answers ranging from the vehicle to infrastructure, not to mention a whole range of the everyday services increasingly required by a new and emerging mobility.

The result is a van available in all body variants with the same load volume as the conventional Ducato, from 10 m3 to 17 m3, and the best payload on the market, up to 1,950 kg.

In addition to the many body styles and chassis versions, a choice of battery options will also be available for the E-Ducato, with ranges in a typical urban real delivery cycle from 200 to over 330 km at standard environment conditions, depending by battery pack, and a variety of charging configurations. It also comes with high-potential performance: speed limited to 100 km/h for improved energy absorption, maximum output of 90 kW and maximum torque of 280 Nm.

Last but not least, the FCA styling centre has developed a new logo for the 100% electric Ducato.  The logo itself is made up of two distinct elements: a letter “E” in blue – the color traditionally associated with innovation and sustainability, preceded by a “D” for Ducato in brushed silver above.  

Comprehensive training for a new sales process

So the E-Ducato professional experience can begin even before getting on board, Fiat Professional organized training days in February specifically for the sales force, involving 265 sales agents and managers across 124 dealerships in the main markets. Road tests structured as a journey through a city were also run at the Balocco circuit, with emphasis on the new full electric driving modes. An in-depth look was also taken at the new WLTP homologation procedure and its impact on the world of outfitted vehicles. Presentations were given on some of these, from mobile workshops and refrigeration to people carriers: versatility that has always been one of the strengths of the Fiat Professional Ducato.

Virtual training: from developments in training to business development

Given the current cautious social distancing measures, Fiat Professional continued the training in a virtual format: a development in training, just like the E-Ducato represents a development in the business. Each remote session was focused on the product in depth, in preparation for other activities.

The E-Ducato technical specifications and line-up were discussed in detail, with special consideration given to its innovative aspects. All the Virtual Classrooms were met with resounding success and were diligently attended. For example, there have already been 310 participants from Germany, 120 from Poland and 210 from non-EMEA regions, while online training will soon begin in the remaining European markets, including in Spain, France and the UK.

Actual launch expected within a few months…

To continue its journey into the market, the E-Ducato will soon be subjected to extensive specific field testing by partner clients under normal working conditions of usage. On that basis, the E-Ducato is therefore being prepared for its launch on the market, due to take place in the coming months, with the opening of orders in the main European markets as the first stage.

The brand-new electric vehicle will soon join the methane-driven Ducato Natural Power in the offering of alternative propulsion systems, to take on the market challenge.

We are looking forward to the actual launch, stay tuned in these columns!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The silent sound of a car…

We all like the sound of a thoroughbred engine. The characteristic sound of a pur-sang four wheeled beauty. But we also get very nervous about that odd squeaking noise of the passenger seat when its not occupied. Or this annoying rattle somewhere, or the screeching sound of windscreen wipers. So the sound and noises a car makes are so important, determine for us whether we like a car or not.

No small wonder that car manufacturers pay the greatest attention to it. When we received a press message from the Dirk Steyvers, SEAT Press Relations and Content Manager here in Belgium, we took the opportunity to write an article here about it in our columns.  

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

In Chile’s Atacama Desert, NASA carries out tests as it is comparable to the surface of Mars. In Ushuaia,Argentina, the only sounds you can hear are the flapping of penguins’ wings and the ice sheets cracking. They could be the most silent places on the planet, but not quite. The most quiet are anechoic chambers, a curious and descriptive name for a facility where acoustic conditions close to absolute silence are reproduced.

The SEAT Technical Centre in Martorell has one of these chambers, specifically designed to measure the sounds and noises made by a car with the utmost precision and without any interference. This is how it works.

The temple of silence. 

It is designed with a system called “Box in box”, and as the name indicates, it features several layers of concrete and steel that isolate it from the exterior. The inside has cladding material that absorbs 95% of sound waves to prevent echoes and reverberations. In some of these temples of silence people can sometimes hear the blood flowing through their veins or the air circulating in their lungs.

One car, more than one thousand sounds. From the engine or the turning wheels to the door closing, the ventilation system and when a seat reclines. The list of noises made by a car is endless, and they are all analyzed in the chamber. “On one hand, we measure the level of unpleasantness of the noises and check that they are reduced to a minimum; and on the other, we make sure that the noises we do want to hear, the ones that refer to the operation of the vehicle, are perfectly defined. Finally, we work on making them harmonious”, explains Ignacio Zabala, Head of the Acoustics department at SEAT.  

The voice of a car

Engineers and technicians pay close attention to the engine and the exhaust system, as they give a car its voice. Many of the sounds made by a car convey information, such as the unmistakable clicking of the turn signal indicators, which let us know without checking that they are blinking. But not only do the engine and exhaust noises inform us of when to shift gears or the speed of acceleration, they also give an insight into the character of a model. “We all know what the roar of a sporty engine sounds like, and that’s why we verify that it conveys what we want it to in the an-echoic chamber” says Ignacio. 

What does the cold sound like? Inside the room, specialists perform recordings with different highly sensitive microphones. One is bin-aural and features a torso with ear-level microphones to obtain representative recordings of what occupants hear. They place it in different positions to verify that each sound analyzed is heard as it should be from any angle. But they also recreate different conditions, such as temperature, because as Ignacio points out, “a windscreen wiper does not sound the same when it’s hot outside as when the temperature is below zero; the engine when it has just been turned on as when it has been running; or the wheels on different surfaces.”

Hertz, decibels and psycho-acoustics. Engineers and technicians in SEAT’s Acoustics department have several analysis tools at their disposal. The most basic include volume or spectral distribution, to other more technical parameters such as the field of psycho-acoustics, or the subjective perception of sound. “For example, a slight tinkling might make us more nervous and be more unpleasant than a strident sound”, says Ignacio. One of the most important measurements of psycho-acoustics is articulation, which measures the ability of two people maintaining a conversation in a specific setting.

An orchestra on wheels. “It’s no use having a car that is fully insulated from the exterior if the ventilation system sounds too loud. That’s why it’s important to reduce noise and define sounds to achieve a harmonious balance among them” explains Ignacio. He goes on to say that the goal is that the vehicle occupants feel as comfortable as possible, because acoustics “have a direct impact on comfort and are determining factors in the perception of vehicle quality.”

A ranking of silence

1.Anechoic chamber. The Guinness record has been held by the one owned by Microsoft in Washington since 2015, where sound measures -20.16 decibels. The sound made by air molecules bumping off each other measures -24 decibels.

2.Atacama Desert, Chile. The most arid non-polar desert on Earth.

3.Ushuaia, Argentina. The southernmost city in the world.

4.Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, USA. A rocky ecosystem that produces stony silence.

5.The Troll’s Road, Norway. The world’s most sinuous road also stands out for leading to an absolutely quiet place.

Interesting all this, isn’t it? We hope you liked this, we certainly did…

Hans Knol ten Bensel