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...