What should an electric car sound like?

For over a century, the internal combustion engine has powered vehicles with an intricate combination of moving parts and tiny explosions. That combustion process inevitably made noise, and that noise came to define the background soundscape of our roads, cities, and day-to-day life. But as hybrids and EVs have become increasingly mainstream — and more of their near-silent electric motors filled the streets — it’s clear that silent vehicles don’t fit in the ecosystem we’d built around cars.

After efforts spearheaded by associations of the blind and visually impaired, legislation eventually began to require electric vehicles to emit an artificial engine noise from hidden external speakers. These hidden speaker systems, called “Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems” — or AVAS — had to meet certain sonic criteria. But they were also a blank slate for sound designers to decide how the cars of the future should sound.


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