What Tune Is Your Electric Vehicle Playing?

Mark D’Antonio, Zondits Staff, 2/23/2022.

You know that age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest…does it make a sound?” Well, here’s a modern-day sonic question: “Since your EV doesn’t make (much of) a sound, should it?” Most of us think of electric vehicles as virtually silent, but it’s reasonable to ask if electric vehicles (EVs) should make discernable noise for pedestrian safety reasons. It’s also a reasonable question to ask if specific demographics of buyers would more readily adopt them if they had the sound and feel of internal combustion cars. Ford’s iconic Mustang and GM’s renowned Hummer are now available in EV versions, but will they have the appeal without the roar of the old-school engine?

In fact, EV designers are very engaged in developing sound signatures for their vehicles for safety purposes, for the driving experience, and as a branding approach. As noted in an article from Time.com: “Because their motors have few moving parts, electric vehicles (EVs) are shockingly quiet. That might sound like a blessing for city dwellers and others sick of traffic noise, but it can create added risk for drivers (who rely on engine noise to get a sense of their speed) and pedestrians (who listen for oncoming traffic). For automakers, it also compromises decades of marketing based on the alluring rumble of a revving engine, especially in sports cars and trucks.” The article further discusses how automakers “have turned to elite teams of sound designers to create new noises that play from EVs’ internal and external speakers, making them safer and more marketable. With EVs on the cusp of widespread adoption—analysts predict their share of U.S. auto sales will quadruple to 8.5% in the next four years—these specialists are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create the sounds that will dominate 21st century highways and cities, just as the constant drone of internal-combustion engines dominated those of the 20th.”

Related to safety, all new electric and hybrid vehicles that do not reach a minimum required sound level must be equipped with sound alert devices called AVAS (Approaching Vehicle Audible System). To give you an example of an AVAS in action, I was walking in the parking lot of our local supermarket when I heard this somewhat angelic yet unusual sound, not too loud and not too soft, and certainly not a noise I have historically associated with cars. But I had heard the sound several times before and knew (yup, looked it up on the web) that it was a Toyota EV/Hybrid backing up. Clearly an added safety feature of an AVAS system – I located the vehicle and gave it plenty of room.

EV automakers have a blank auditory canvas and are approaching the design of the sonic elements for safety and customer appeal in different ways. As electric vehicles are more widely adopted in the coming years, we will certainly be hearing a different automotive symphony. Hopefully we will like what we hear.

For more, check out these links, including the full Time.com article: