One of the things people who’ve driven electric cars seem to enjoy (including myself) is the complete silence of the electric motor. The only noises you hear while driving an EV are dependent on how fast you’re driving, the kind of tires you have, and the condition of the road. For a commuter, this feature alone can be worth millions in sanity.
But at low speeds while driving around town, EVs represent a bit of a threat to people who aren’t able to pick up on the visual cues of such a silent car — namely the visually impaired, children and the elderly. In an effort to address this problem, Nissan has decided that at speeds under 12 mph, the upcoming LEAF EV will emit a “beautiful and futuristic” noise reminiscent of the sounds that flying cars emit in sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner.
Nissan’s been doing a lot of thinking outside the box recently — and giving their engineers the leeway to explore interesting solutions. In this case, rather than simply imitating the sound that a liquid fuel-powered car makes, Toshiyuki Tabata, an engineer for Nissan, felt that the need to protect the public, coupled with a clean “noise slate,” so to speak, presented an opportunity to be creative. So he began consulting with composers of film scores and came up with the idea to have the car emit a high-pitched whirring sound.
While I totally understand the need to include features like this, it kind of bums me out that the car has to emit a noise to solve the problem. I also worry that if EVs take significant market share, we’ll have every manufacturer’s EVs making their own proprietary noises at low speeds and our cities will turn into an awful cacophony of high-pitched whirring sounds.
If we have to do this, we need to set up standards now and work out how loud and what types of noises can be made. Perhaps we could arrange it so that when multiple EVs are close to each other, the sounds automatically diminish slightly? Anyway, I hope this doesn’t turn into another situation where we don’t act until the issue becomes a real problem — because by the time that happens we may not want to walk around our cities at all.
Image Credit: Nissan