The absence of sound in electric cars is a problem for the safety of pedestrians, which is why the European Union has required since last July 2019 that all new electric and hybrid cars must make noise even if they go at low speeds. It is what is known as the acoustic warning system (AVAS, for its acronym in English).
But although this system will not be imposed on old electric cars until 2021, many manufacturers are already implementing it in their new electric car models. Companies like Hyundai, Toyota, Mercedes or Tesla already have it in their cars for Europe and brands like BMW or Volkswagen have even teamed up with renowned composers to create this distinctive sound.
This is a compilation of the “voices” of the new electric cars. The sound chosen by each manufacturer to implement it in their vehicles and that pedestrians can alert their presence. A mandatory sound for when they circulate at less than 20 km / h and that the regulations specify that it must be between 56 and 75 decibels.
The amazing Jaguar I-Pace is a 100% electric SUV. And also one of the first electric vehicles that opted for its own acoustic warning system. The British firm’s AVAS cannot be deactivated and has been developed over four years to “be audible and discreet, and not be heard inside the vehicle.”
The sound is emitted from a speaker located behind the front grill and increases in pitch and volume when accelerating, with a ‘fictional’ sound similar to that of a V8. Instead, going backwards is accompanied by an additional tone.
As the company describes: “The initial attempts to create a sound inspired by the spaceships of science fiction films, had to be abandoned after verifying that pedestrians reacted by looking at the sky instead of the road when the vehicle approached” . As part of the rehearsals, the sound of the I-PACE was tested by members of the British association Guide Dogs for the Blind.
The German brand announced the sound that its electric cars will make as the ID.3. To produce it, they have counted on the composer Leslie Mandoki. “The sound of an electric vehicle defines its identity. The sound must be safe and pleasant. It can sound futuristic and it must also impress with its unique character,” said Frank Welsch, director of Volkswagen Passenger Cars.
The melody created by the German-Hungarian composer is very characteristic, with an artificial tone, quite robotic and in a certain way futuristic. Perhaps appropriate for an electric car, but clearly different from the traditional sound that gasoline engines make.
With the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 2020, the Japanese firm debuted its acoustic warning system in its hybrid SUV. A sound that will serve to alert pedestrians of the presence of it, when driving in electric mode at less than 20 km / h or in reverse. A system introduced a year and a half earlier than established, since hybrid vehicles are not required to implement it until July 1, 2021.
As can be heard in Alejandro Pérez’s video (min 4:08), the sound is quite sharp and again far from what we are used to with traditional engines.
Toyota does not stay in its hybrid SUV, as it has also hinted at parallel projects such as Ajax with its The Hy Project. The objective is to take advantage of this artificial warning sound to favor the growth and absorption of nutrients by plants, something that they supposedly achieve, according to the company, when using certain bandwidths and frequency ranges.
With the Audi e-tron, the German firm offers us what they call the Audi-e sound. For their acoustic warning system they have counted on the director and acoustic expert Rudolf Halbmeir, a member of the Audi team who wanted to print the starting personality in this sound. The brand tells us that the Audi e-Tron has a sound system specially developed by Bang & Olufsen and has been tested to work in extreme conditions of temperature and rain.
Mercedes is another company that has already introduced the AVAS system in its electric cars, although it explains that its vehicles sound slightly different for the European Union, Japan or China. From the Mercedes-Benz Technology Center (MTC) in the town of Sindelfingen, the team shows us how an individual sound has been developed for each electric model. A strategy that differentiates them from other brands, which are trying to give all their models the same “voice”.
Another of the manufacturers that has opted to work together with a composer is BMW, who for their future electric vehicles have sought the experience of Hans Zimmer. Through its BMW Vision M Next, the plug-in hybrid prototype that will define the company’s next models, the company showcased the work of the German media composer.
To create the sound in electric cars, Hans Zimmer worked together with Renzo Vitale, acoustic engineer and sound designer of the BMW Group. The goal has been “to recreate the feeling of wonder through sound”. How it sounds? “Acceleration becomes an experience during which the driver moves through a series of sound textures that gradually transform,” explains the composer. Such is the bet, that the manufacturer will create a brand BMW IconicSounds Electric where the sound of its future electrified vehicles will be offered.
Hyundai with its Ioniq also has an AVAS system to alert pedestrians, a sound described “like that of a spaceship” and that is activated while the car is going less than 25 km / h. The sound is also available in the US market, where via a button it can be deactivated. Something that in Europe will be deactivated, as the regulations will force it to have it.
Nissan was one of the first brands to bet on the buzzer. In 2017, the Japanese manufacturer developed its ‘Canto’ technology. The demonstration video shows how ‘Canto’ electric cars emits a sound like a futuristic war submarine. A kind of radar sound that varies its pitch and frequency depending on whether it is accelerating, decelerating or reversing.
As stated by Nissan, ‘Canto’ was developed to improve safety and get us to say “here goes an electric Nissan!” A sound already implemented since 2018 in its electric models such as the Nissan Leaf.
The French manufacturer explains that both the Renault ZOE, Kangoo Z.E and Master Z.E introduce an artificial sound system that emulates the sound of the traditional movement of the engine. In the case of the ZOE, an acoustic alarm has been included since its first version in 2013. Originally it could be deactivated, but from 2021 it must be maintained.
Through tweets from Elon Musk, Tesla announced last October that it would allow the car’s sound to be personalized, modifying the horn to be able to reproduce, for example, the sound of a goat, the blowing of the wind and even emitting more complex sounds like the “cotocloc” from the movie ‘The Knights of the Square Table and their Crazy Followers’, the classic Monty Python.
However, this option will be limited in Europe, as EU regulations require a continuous sound, similar to that of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine and “indicative of the behavior of the vehicle”. In the RyanVision video you can hear the sound of the Tesla Model 3 pedestrian warning, quite similar to that of a plane landing or taking off.
With the Porsche Taycan, the largest sports car manufacturer, it also introduces its own Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS). Porsche engineers have created this warning sound to “be as emotional, sporty and powerful as possible within the framework of the regulations.” A sound that fades from 50 km / h to “blend harmoniously” with Electric Sport Sound (ESS), the sound that the electric motor makes when it goes at high speed.
Additionally, the Porsche Taycan offers the option of paying $500 for the engine sound to be an MP3 file of our choice.
The American manufacturer wants to land on electric cars with its new Mustang Mach-E. And in addition to its 600 kilometers of autonomy or fast charging, it has also added a false engine sound, similar to that of a V8. However, this sound is not specifically an AVAS as it is intended for the general driving experience and not to warn pedestrians.
Where we do find the acoustic warning system in Ford is in the new Ford Explore and Escape 2020. They incorporate the sound ‘O-29’, a melody identifiable by pedestrians and that changes the frequency based on speed. While in the US this sound is not mandatory, Ford has taken advantage of European regulations to introduce its own AVAS and thus take advantage of the commercial pull of this technology.