By the time you get around to purchasing an electric car, the New York Times writes, you may be able choose a fake engine sound for it the way you customize your phone with ringtones. Safety experts worry that the nearly silent operation of upcoming cars mean pedestrians won’t hear them sneaking up, so they’re adding artificial engine noises—and some manufacturers are considering letting owners customize the sounds.
A study published last year by the University of California, Riverside and financed by the National Federation of the Blind evaluated the effect of sounds emitted by hybrid and internal-combustion cars traveling at 5 miles per hour.
People listening in a lab could correctly detect a gas-powered car’s approach when it was 28 feet away, but could not hear the arrival of a hybrid operating in silent battery mode until it was only seven feet away.
The ringtone approach is just speculation, something that BMW mentioned to the paper for the article. But the paper also notes that other manufacturers are experimenting with designing engine sounds that no real engine makes today:
Working with Hollywood special-effects wizards, some hybrid auto companies have started tinkering in sound studios, rather than machine shops, to customize engine noises. The Fisker Karma, an $87,900 plug-in hybrid expected to go on sale next year, will emit a sound – pumped out of speakers in the bumpers – that the company founder, Henrik Fisker, describes as “a cross between a starship and a Formula One car.” Nissan is also consulting with the film industry on sounds that could be emitted by its forthcoming Leaf battery-electric vehicle.