Electric cars hardly make a sound when they whiiiirrrr, rather than roar or rumble, down the road. That is great for minimizing noise pollution, but not so good for pedestrians, especially those who have physical disabilities.
President Obama signed a law that requires car companies, by 2017, to come up with sounds for EVs to ensure pedestrian safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study, and while the agency found little difference in collisions over 35 mph — when wind and tire noise negate the difference in engine noise — at lower speeds, hybrids and electric vehicles are 37 percent more likely to hit walkers and 66 percent more likely to collide with cyclists than traditional gas-powered cars.
So, Audi and other carmakers are working on sound effects, like ringtones, for electric cars to make them sound more like traditional vehicles.
The German automaker, which is bringing out EVs they call e-Tron vehicles, is working on electronic engine roar. It isn't just a matter of recording the sound of an engine like the one in Audi's diesel-powered R8 sports car and blasting it from speakers. That approach doesn't come out right. Instead, when the driver presses the accelerator, the vehicle's sound is generated through a series of electronics that sounds a bit like a nice throaty sports car.
Audi is working on family of sounds for each of its forthcoming electric vehicles to create differentiation.
Click through to check out the sound strategies of other electric vehicles on the market now.
Ford Focus Electric
On sale this year without a sound. In fact, it has been criticized in some circles for being too darn quiet. The company that makes a growly Ford Mustang is working on a strategy to see what is right for consumers tastes and public safety.
Here is one sound the company is considering:
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Toyota is working on a sound for the Prius in the U.S. In Japan, the company developed a sound that may remind people of a flying saucer. The video is in Japanese, but you can certainly hear the sounds of the Japanese Prius:
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The EV is on sale in the U.S. and had a pretty quiet sound, as you will hear here in this ad, but the company is working on a sound strategy before the new U.S. regulation takes effect in 2017:
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Chevrolet has been working on making the Volt extended range EV (it runs about 35 miles on an electric charge before a gas-fed motor kicks in until the driver can recharge). The company built in a "chirp" for drivers to announce/warn pedestrians when they are driving by. This chirp is gentler than a car horn blaring and drivers sound it by pulling on the turn signal much as you would for turning on your high beams:
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