Car Makers Ponder What To Make Electric Vehicles Sound Like

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In the run-up to the releases of the Volt and the Leaf, there was some talk making the rounds that the designers were having some trouble deciding what noise these new cars should make. After all, they’re naturally almost silent, and this presents a serious risk not just to unwary pedestrians but to also to blind people, wildlife, and of course other cars.

The question is whether you make EVs sound like other cars by simulating engine noise, or do you take this chance to give them an entirely new and perhaps more practical and customizable noise?

Some cars, of course, have a distinctive noise that results naturally from the mechanics of the engine and exhaust. Car designers can make their own noise now, even make your Leaf sound like an old Mustang — but should this noise be regulated, and if so, on what level?

Manufacturers and designers are testing out different sounds, from a UFO noise to the sound of a baseball card flapping against bike spokes, attempting to suss out which exactly produces the most awareness without becoming grating. The BBC has a nice video here with some of the noises being looked at by UK researchers.

They’re even simulating intersections with dozens of such vehicles and seeing how certain sounds would interact. Hey, you don’t roll something out to ten thousand vehicles without doing a little checking around, right?

I’m torn on the subject. Obviously there’s a line that needs to be walked between good taste and safety, but there are lots of unanswered questions as well. What about special sounds for certain types of vehicles, or user-selectable sounds? I want mine to sound like a Transformer transforming, all the time.