We are beginning to get used to it now: Big, powerful cars soundlessly sneaking up on us from behind in the parking garage, or when we are on a bike in the midst of a traffic jam. Or on foot, about to cross the street. The “natural” sound of an EV, a soft humming or whirring is dangerously discrete. No wonder car makers, governments and traffic safety organizations around the world eagerly search for new sound solutions.
“Can the sounds match and enhance a car’s personality?
Creating some noise is easy. Developing a set of functional warning and awareness sounds that do not build up to an unbearable traffic cacophony is more of a challenge. Not mentioning the growing anticipations of the world’s marketing people: Can the sounds match or even enhance a car’s “personality” and contribute to a safer traffic environment? That’s yet another science in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Exactly what kind of sound would you like to replace the traditional masculine vroom of an all-American V8 engine, or maybe the refined, gentlemanly hush of a Bentley Continental? To answer that question, and hopefully ensure pedestrian safety in the process, a veritable army of sound engineers are now being commissioned by car makers and their branding experts.
“Performative art installation”
In an article recently published by Time magazine GM sound engineer commented the “musical” EV sound under development using sampled guitar, piano, and didgeridoo as “organic, yet futuristic”. BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale, electronic music composer and formerly playing in several progressive metal bands, worked with a famous film score composer to develop sounds for the BMW i4 model: “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation.” Hmmmm.
The question is where this evolution is heading. Will it be a creative heaven for musical geniuses? Or a laboratory for optimal, scientifically proven traffic safety solutions? Will car buyers want their own customized lifestyle sounds, or get tired of it all and opt for the most minimalistic, least invasive sound effects?
Look what happened with our mobile phones. The first ringtones were outright boring, then we were invited to create our own unlimited sounds, and now … who cares, right?
New EU regulations
To bring some order into this complex equation a new EU law, the Regulation on the Sound Level of Motor Vehicles was introduced on 1 July 2019. From that date it is a legal requirement for all new electric cars to make a sound at speeds up to 12.4mph, both when they are going forwards and reversing. And all-new all-electric cars have to be fitted with an acoustic vehicle alert system (AVAS) that would warn other road users of their presence.