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Buick Not Muted By Horn Ban

Source: CanWest News Service
Date: July 27, 2007

When Shanghai banned drivers from honking their horns starting last month, clever entrepreneurs started selling other noise-making devices for the Chinese city's notoriously expressive motorists.

If horns were prohibited, the retailers reasoned, people would certainly be willing to pay to have themselves heard on the busy streets of China's biggest city.

How heavy do Chinese motorists lean on the horn? Heavy enough that General Motors, now the biggest car company in China, makes them stronger than it does on cars almost anywhere else.

So you might expect GM, executing a corporate turnaround that includes cutting thousands of jobs, to scale back on the heavy-duty steering wheel signals. After all, such a move could save some cash at a time when they're no longer needed, right?

Wrong. GM says it has no plans to change the horns it makes for its Chinese Buick-loving buyers.

"The fact that there will be less horn use within the municipality of Shanghai does not impact our robust horn design for the China market," Henry Wong, GM China spokesman, said by e-mail. "Horn abuse will continue to be prevalent throughout the rest of China."

Wong would not say how much more GM spends per horn on the cars it sells in China. He would only say that GM makes them "more robust" and tests them "more thoroughly during development."

It is difficult to imagine the frequency with which Shanghai drivers blast their horns without hearing it for yourself. Unlike in North America and Europe, where honking is typically used to signal to other drivers that you think they're doing something wrong, in China, honking is frequently signalling that you are about to do something -- right or wrong.

A construction boom and general street noise in the city of 20 million has compounded the problem. As of last year, Shanghai packed in 2,804 people per square kilometre, up from 2,700 two years before, according to news agency Xinhua Online. The population of the downtown area is 10 times that of the suburbs, the agency says. By comparison, New York City's downtown density is 2.4 times that of its suburbs.

Police in Shanghai say the new rules cover any kind of horn blaring, no matter what it sounds like. Drivers who fail to obey the ban face fines of between 50 and 200 yuan (roughly $6 to $28).

Another city where honking is prohibited is Vienna, Austria.