In 2010, Clifford Nass was quoted as making a claim about BMW's GPS systems:

In his book titled “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop” published in 2010, Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, writes that BMW recalled GPS systems after finding out that German drivers would not take directions from a female voice.

HoaxOrFact confirmed this:

This incident happened in late 1990s, when BMW was flooded with calls from German men saying they do not want to take directions from a woman; as a result of which, BMW was forced to recall the female-voiced navigation system on its 5 Series cars.

I find it hard to believe that there would be enough complaints to warrant a 'product recall' simply based on the GPS voice.

The earliest source I can find seems be based on Clifford Nass's claims in 2010. I find it odd that there doesn't seem to be any mention of this incident before then, considering the recall took place in the late 1990s. I would think a product recall would warrant mention around the time it was issued.

  • Not to forget that Clifford Nass died at 55, I got a pdf version of his book, and his claim is unreferenced. – Shougo Makishima Apr 4 '15 at 13:12

The following has been mentioned a paper study (1) published in 2006, four years before Clifford's book was released:

Driver safety and information from afar: An experimental driving simulator study of wireless vs. in-car information services


Cars have changed from pure transportation devices to fully interactive, voice-based systems. While voice interaction in the car has previously required on-board processing, the growing speed and ubiquity of wireless technologies now enable interaction with a distant source. Will the perceived source of the information influence driver safety, responses to the information, and attitudes toward the computer system and car? A between-participants experimental design (N=40) of computer proximity—in-car vs. wireless—using an advanced car simulator, found that people’s driving behavior, verbal responsiveness, and attitudes are affected by computer proximity

Extacted Content:

A combination of real world mishaps and controlled experimental studies has shown that several factors significantly affect driver responses to voice interfaces in cars, including perceived voice gender, emotion, and even age. The BMW 5-series released in Germany included a voice-based navigational system, featuring a computergenerated voice with female characteristics. Although these drivers were well-aware that the voice was computer generated, they reacted with gender stereotyped responses, ultimately rejecting the female voice and demanding a product recall.


BMW switched the female voice to a male voice and re-cast the navigational system voice in the role of a co-pilot.

Finally, you can find the claim in Clifford's book published in 2005:

Wired for speech : how voice activates and advances the human-computer relationship / Clifford Nass and Scott Brave.

And also in this book:

Macneil, R., Cran, W., 2004. Do you speak American? Nan A. Talese.

Both books can be bought from Amazon or Google Books.

1. Driver safety and information from afar: An experimental driving simulator study of wireless vs. in-car information services. Leila Takayama, Clifford Nass. Department of Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. 2006. (Link)

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    I think this is a better source than Nass, and gave it an upvote, but it would be nice to be even more definitive, with a contemporary report, especially directly from BMW. (I looked for a recall notice, and failed to find one, but I wonder if it wasn't really an expensive, official recall, just a new product version.) – Oddthinking Apr 4 '15 at 15:24
  • This paper was published by Nass though, the thing is his claim is very very reputable. Nass consulted on the design of over 250 media products and services for companies including Microsoft, Toyota, Philips, BMW, Hewlett-Packard, AOL, Sony, and Dell. I highly doubt BMW has released any report about this. I think if someone can find a copy of "Do you speak American?" and find the claim there (the paper referenced this book), it would be great (since this book might have references), it wasn't able to find it. – Shougo Makishima Apr 4 '15 at 15:53
  • Oh, same author. Oh well. If they're was a recall it would be known by the BMW owners. – Oddthinking Apr 4 '15 at 16:58
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    When I worked in speech recognition / generation, the story I heard was that this was more notable because Germany was the only country where the preference was toward a male voice. In all other countries, preference was majority toward a female voice whether drivers were male or female. – Sean Duggan Apr 6 '15 at 13:02
  • Interesting how it's considered quite the opposite in case of aircraft, particularly military ones: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitching_Betty – vartec Apr 6 '15 at 23:45

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