Sounds of Silence

Electric vehicles become noisier to save lives

BMW wants roaring EVs while Mercedes is moving the sounds of an EV state into our psyche

21 December 2020 - 10:31
BMW wants to ensure that its future electric sports car makes a racy and exciting noise despite the lack of a conventional engine.
BMW wants to ensure that its future electric sports car makes a racy and exciting noise despite the lack of a conventional engine.
Image: Supplied

There has been a great improvement on the earlier drawbacks associated with electric vehicles (EVs).

Problems included low driving range, impractically long and slow charging and a lack of a network of high-speed charge points.

However, EVs are becoming more viable as the electric revolution catches on.

Range anxiety has lessened with EVs like the Jaguar I-Pace able to knock on 400km before needing a charge; advancement in battery technology can see up to 80% capacity charging within the hour; and you can now drive a pure EV to Durban or Limpopo and back without charging hassles.

There remain a few quirks to iron out, like the lack of sound which makes the successful integration of EVs into society at large a bit tricky, more so where pedestrians roam free.

Unlike conventional cars where the engine is easily heard, concerns that EVs are too quiet and put pedestrians at risk have resulted in a new EU law passed in 2019 stipulating that all new types of four-wheel electric vehicles must be fitted with a warning sound device known as Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) when reversing or travelling at speeds below 19km/h.

There is real peril I witnessed first-hand when driving the first batch of Toyota Prius hybrids to arrive in SA.

Townships are constantly teeming with pedestrians and the shock that registers among people after an EV creeps up to their heels is an experience that will linger long in their memories.   

Fitting warning sounds to EVs is not entirely new. Some manufacturers, like Honda, pre-empted the move as far back as 2010 and fitted their EVs and Hybrid vehicles with warning toots and bells.

The options are vast and creative.

Other brands have recreated the sound of tyres moving over gravel as an alert sound and  there’s also growing popularity for sounds that mimic conventional engine sounds.

BMW is preparing the future sound of its M Vision Next vehicle electric sports car. The Bavarian brand is synonymous with operatic-sounding high-performance engines and it wants to continue that tradition into the electric age.

In the EU, all electric and hybrid vehicles must be equipped with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS).
In the EU, all electric and hybrid vehicles must be equipped with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS).
Image: Supplied

“We want to get BMW IconicSounds Electric in position for customers who value emotional sound.

"With BMW IconicSounds Electric they will be able to experience the joy of driving with all their senses,” said Jens Thiemer: senior vice president BMW Brand.

Volkswagen has  been working on a signature tune for its I.D. electric cars which it said pedestrians will be able to hear and distinguish as a VW car. Furthermore the brand said it has created bespoke alerts for occupants inside and outside its I.D. EVs.

The I.D.3 hatch already communicates with the driver using headlights by winking at the owner when he or she approaches it with the key in the vicinity.

Premium car doyens Mercedes-Benz have other ideas beyond alerting pedestrians of its future EQ models. The company said it is using the technology to transform the warning sounds into a multi-sensory experience.

Sound experts at Mercedes-Benz are working on different and selectable soundscapes that enable an individual acoustic setup.

Using a vehicle’s speakers, engineers are working to reproduce sounds that can identify the accelerator position, speed or energy recuperation. When a drive mode like Sport is selected, the sounds become more dynamic.

Mercedes is also working on converting the loudspeakers of the AVAS system to give outside feedback for users when the car is unlocked, started  or being connected to a charging plug.

The driver can be given acoustic signals that are specific to any of the activities, for instance that the charging procedure was successful, or indicating the charge state of the battery.


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