No Artificial Noises For Electric BMW i3 (Yet)

Follow Antony

BMW i3 Concept

BMW i3 Concept

Enlarge Photo

Put most people behind the wheel of an electric car, and you can guarantee one of the first things they'll talk about is the silence.

Unfortunately, that silence has led some legislators to require EVs to emit a sound in order to warn pedestrians of their presence, stifling one of the genre's virtues.

BMW doesn't want to play ball with its upcoming i3 electric car however, and says it won't fit a noise emitter to the car.

“We don’t think it makes sense to ring a bell outside the car. Can you imagine if you have 30 or 40 of this type of car driving along the road together, what this artificial noise would sound like? This will drive you nuts,” explained BMW's driving dynamics director, Jos van As, in an interview with Drive.

“We think it’s OK for electric cars to make the noise they make. Above a certain speed like 30 to 40km/h, the sound of their tires rolling will be quite loud. Below that speed, most cars are pretty quiet anyway so there is not so much difference with the i3.”

BMW has a point--many modern cars are virtually silent at low speeds anyway, and tire noise is often more audible, particularly with wide modern tires.

Several groups, particularly those assisting the blind, have called for electric cars to generate a noise at lower speeds to alert pedestrians to their presence. Carmakers such as Nissan have held tests to determine the most appropriate noise to generate, but many--BMW included--feel an artificial noise is unnecessary. We even ran a fairly unscientific test ourselves and discovered that noise generators aren't even that effective.

French maker Renault is considering a special, alternative horn tone to be used specifically for pedestrians. Renault calls it the "EV voice", loud enough to get the attention of people around the car without making them leap for cover. The system will first see service in the Twizy electric minicar.

Unfortunately for BMW, it may not get a choice. The European Union is considering a mandatory noise regulation for electric cars, requiring them to emit a sound below 20 miles per hour.

Legislators in other countries are looking into similar plans--including the NHTSA--but nothing is set in stone just yet. If the regulations go ahead though, electric cars may not be quite as silent for much longer...


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (21)
  1. If cars need to make more noise, it should be across all technologies.

    In my experience, a Prius is noisier when decelerating and making a right hand turn (a common pedestrian accident situation) than an M3. The reason is that the Prius regen braking is actually noisy whereas the M3 cuts the fuel to the engine in this condition and its brakes are very quiet.

    If we need noise, then we need it for everything.

  2. Absolutely, all cars irrespective of their propulsion system should be tested and required to make noise at a certain level. And just to be fair, so should motorcycles, bicycles and those crazy urban runners, lets make our streets safe! Can't wait to hear that beautiful orchestral sound garden in urban centers.

  3. John Briggs, good point. By the way, one one of the worst hazards for the blind is drivers that make right turns on red without stopping first.

  4. The loudest part of most cars -- including ICE powered ones -- is their tires. This noisemaker requirement is another bit of FUD, in my opinion.


  5. Here we go again! How do we let those 25 million blind people who is wondering the streets and out in the middle of roads all by themselves know there is a vehicle coming? Have they considered a see-n-eye dog, or a human walking with them? I hope BMW stands up for the seeing and hearing advanced people and fight this stupid regulation. If we must accommodate 10 or 15 blind people, then I want my noise maker to sound like a herd of raging bull elephants. The blind people can also have a computer chip implanted in their eyes that will bring their sight back, even if they were blind at birth.

  6. When I am "wondering(sic) the streets" I usually get out my GPS.

  7. Go ahead, John and make fun of a properly used word. Blind people usually are not out wandering around, they are out wondering around. I stand out on the sidewalk and wonder what in God's name the blind people are wondering about standing out in the road like that. Don't they know there are vehicles out there looking at them and wondering what they are standing there for. I wander around wondering how many blind people have been struck and killed by a vehicle or a bicycle? You know those bicycles are silent too.

  8. James Davis, have you been reading Science Fiction?

  9. In all the years I've been driving I can only remember seeing blind people 2 times walking near a road. Where are these massive amounts blind people, and why have I never heard of one getting hit after wondering into a street? Still I kind of like generated sound, I first experianced it looking at a Fisker Karma, the Karma makes a sound that was made for it it's not a fake engine sound or a horn it's kind of a futuristic electronic running sound. I don't think it's really important for EVs to make more noise but I think they could have a signature sound like the Karma or Audi R8 e-Tron, I think BMW is looking at this the wrong way if they think it needs to ring like a bell.

  10. Enough "wondering" people "wander"

  11. Ok walking then, but I think it's rare that a blind person would suddenly walk into traffic as they more then most other people know that they need to exercise a greater amount of caution around motor vehicles. But most pedestrian accidents involve loud gas or diesel vehicles and people who can see and hear just fine, the accident is usually caused by one or both parties not paying attention. And if your not paying attention it doesn't matter what sound or sounds a car makes.

  12. CDspeed - I think the chap from BMW was using the bell-ringing term figuratively rather than literally. He was using it to describe any unnecessary noise emitted by an EV.

  13. I didn't think he meant a bell, just a ringing like sound. That's why I said they're looking at it the wrong way, it doesn't need to alert people it just needs to be a passive sound that like Fisker, BMW could simply develop a sound that is unique to the i3.

  14. Perhaps, but I think the issue being raised is that even with fairly unobtrusive sounds, a street full of EVs producing different noises would soon get a bit annoying...

  15. First we need a street full of EVs, then we'd know what direction to take with artificial sound.

  16. Maybe the problem isn't that blind people can hear (and therefore dodge) slow moving vehicles it's that drivers are so isolated/distracted/discourteous that they fail to yield to pedestrians. Even when they wonder out on to the road. (Last sentence was solely for John's benefit)

  17. Some hybrids are just as quiet at speed below 25mph. Does the law apply to them as well? Just another way to limite EVs.. I enjoy the quiet from EVs as a bystander... We do NOT need any more of those "Harley" like noise makers...

  18. If there is anything the modern world needs, it is more noise outside and more commercials on radio and t.v. I didn't realize the electrics would have no horns.Probably because the makers were afraid that drivers would sneak up on the blind, and then blast the horn.

  19. Thanks Big Brother, let's cut air pollution and add noise pollution.First off, all cars have noise makers, it's called a horn. If I see someone, biologically blind or cell phone blind, walking into the street I blow my horn, pretty simple. Also at low speeds my normally loud V-8 is quieter than my Insight because I shift into neutral and coast silently to a stop, while like John mentions the regen braking of a hybrid makes its own noise. And if I'm stopped in auto off and someone walks into me shame on them. All I can do on this one is smh.

  20. Before I get hit by someone who likes to nit pick, yes I know the Insight is not an EV, just making a point since the same "silence" applies when I'm coasting to a stop or at a stop and the ICE engine isn't engaged.

  21. A friend pointed out opinions in BMW range on noise:

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.