New growth area in the audio industry: What should electric cars sounds like?

If you’ve been anywhere near a Tesla, a Volt/Bolt, or any of the other electric cars on the road, you’ll know that they’re pretty much silent. You might hear some tire noise and road crunch, but otherwise they make almost zero noise.

The problem with this is that you don’t hear them coming like you do with old dinosaur burners. This is a safety hazard for pedestrians.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration found that hybrid vehicles were so quiet that they were 35% more likely to be involved in a pedestrian accident. Pure electric vehicles were 57% more likely. The victims just didn’t hear the vehicles coming.

What’s the solution? Finding appropriate noises for these cars to make so that we know they’re there. American federal regulators are preparing legislation that would require all hybrids and electric hards to sound like…something below 30 mph.

There’s been a slight change of plans on the way to these new laws. The US is thinking about allowing automakers to come up with a variety of sounds for their vehicles. But what kinds of noises?

This is more difficult that it might seem. The sound a particular vehicle has to be distinctive yet unobtrusive. It also needs to match up with the manufacturer’s brand–and defining that can be extremely weird.

Telsa already lets drivers customize horn and movement sounds. The funniest setting? The clip-clop of coconut shells heard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I did not make that up. It’s called “Patsy Mode.”

Nissan hired a company called Man Made Music to give a little bit of a soundtrack to its battery-powered Leaf. It currently uses a sound it calls “Canto,” a hum that rises in pitch the faster the car goes. They investigated various synthesized sounds mixed with strings and white noise.

GM is working on a series of whirring noises for its Bolt. BMW, Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, Jaguar, Toyota, and other manufacturers are working on their own sounds.

Who knows? Just like you can recognize the blat of a flat-six Porsche, the F-1 scream of a Ferrari 488 or the bumpita-bumpita-bumpita of a Harley, we may soon be able to identify hybrids and electrics by their whines.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “New growth area in the audio industry: What should electric cars sounds like?

  • October 5, 2019 at 11:15 am
    Permalink

    What about making it programmable? Sou d like a TIE Fighter. Or KITT. Or your Prius could sound like a Kenworth.

    Reply

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