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November 2022

The sound of silence: seeking the perfect sound for EVs

Enrica Lazzarini

Will electric and hybrid vehicles be the perfect opportunity to reinvent the sound of our cities?
On July 2019 hybrid and electric cars are required to be equipped with the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS), an audible alarm in protection of other road users. There are many standards to be met: the sound described in the EU Regulation n. 1576/2017 must range depending on vehicle speed, so that pedestrians and riders might understand whether the car is slowing down or accelerating depending on the sound produced. Moreover, the regulation defines the loudness of the vehicle and the frequency changes admitted. Starting from 20 km/h the sound level decreases as the tyre noise emission increases, until the audible signal is unnecessary. 

This has become crucial because hybrid and electric engines are extremely silent when compared to combustion engines, especially at a relatively low speed. If, then, the EU defined the acoustic parameters within which car manufacturers must work, we shall still understand which sound such vehicles must produce, given that they will become a significant part of the circulating fleet of our cities. A sound standard has not been stated yet, on the contrary, each car manufacturer is refining their vehicles using a specific sound as their own “signature”, in order to be clearly recognizable and distinct from one another.

The risk for car manufacturers here is to be too much concerned about designing their sound identity, ending up creating a plethora of sounds quite different from one another, thereby causing issues in terms of brand awareness, a not-so-pleasant cacophony of AVAS quite different from each other and, even more dangerous, confusing pedestrians and riders in terms of perception of the risk.
Moving now to the romantic side of such new mobility standards, journalist John Seabrook has recently written about this on the New Yorker: “the electrification of mobility presents humanity with a rare opportunity to reimagine the way cities might sound”, moving from a cacophony to a brand new symphony of the urban landscape, deeply altering the “acoustic texture” that enfolds the city of tomorrow.

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