Sound choice - what does an electric car sound like?

Ken Gibson

30 Mar 2023

Car firms are turning to Hollywood film composers and pop music producers to turn the sound of silence of an electric car into a hit with buyers. 

They are hiring big names such as Hans Zimmer and top British music producer Patrick Patrikious who has produced stars like Little Mix, Taylor Swift and Britney Spears to create interesting tones and tunes for warning pedestrians that electric cars are approaching. 

Manufacturers believe that buyers of electric cars in the future will be able to personalise the electric motor sound in the same way people can create their own mobile phone ring tone.

Hans Zimmer is moving from movies to EVs

Sound - or the lack of it - from an electric car is a factor drivers have reportedly found strange when making the move to an EV. 

There is also perceived to be potential risk to pedestrians, especially those with reduced sight. Experts believe that compared to petrol and diesel cars, electric models are 37 to 57 percent more likely to cause low speed accidents with pedestrian and cyclists. 

This July, EU law will demand that all new electric cars must be fitted with Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems that emit a continuous noise when moving at 20km per hour (12.4mph) or slower to alert pedestrians.

Which is why by tuning the sound manufacturers see an opportunity to not only make electric cars safer, but also to give the car a true expression of the driver’s personality. 

BMW so far top the car sound charts having hired top Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, whose many hits scores include the music for The Lion King and Interstellar. He will produce the sound track for their electric i4 model that goes on sale later this year. 

Zimmer, who has an apartment with a view of the BMW HQ in Munich, says: “What did the world sound like before the internal combustion engine, silence is an expensive commodity now. But we could (with electric) make the driving experience more beautiful.

“There is no limit to the sounds we could make, without engine sounds overwhelming everything. We could have the same customisation that led people to create their own cell-phone ring tones, and make a car a more true expression of their personality.”

BMW brown electric car The BMW i4 will be the first to feature Zimmer's sounds

And he added: “Sound defines personality and adds emotion and depth, it underlines the soul of anything. Right now we are shaping the sound of the future.” 

Zimmer has concentrated on the start and stop sound from the electric motor featuring mini sound tracks as a good way to start the new sound revolution, and BMW’s Head of MusicProject, Renzo Vitale, added that they have ’numerous ways for more work.’ 

At the other end the price scale, Fiat has created an ‘e-signature’ that samples a chord from Nino Rota’s soundtrack to the Fellini classic, Amarcord. It’s also the only AVAS system that uses a sampled human voice. Finn Rudi Rok was chosen by British composer Nick Wood, who was able to layer Rok’s voice with the Amarcord sample.

You can hear Fiat's effort here:

Ginny Buckley with Fiat 500 electric Fiat 500e samples a human voice. But not Ginny's

Some luxury brands like Bentley and Rolls Royce however believe that the silence of electric actually enhances the ‘serene waft ability’ of their cars, and argue that as their customers have several cars they will also continue to enjoy the traditional sound of V12 and V8 petrol engines. 

The latest brands looking to enhance the electric motor sound to join the electric music charts are Škoda and Lotus with its Enyaq SUV and Evija hypercar models due later this year.

You can here the sound of the Škoda here:

Lotus have hired top British produced Patrick Patrikious, who has enjoyed big hits producing Little Mix and Taylor Swift, to develop a range of unique sounds for its new 2,000bhp electric Evija hypercar.

Skoda Enyaq Has Škoda made a sound choice?

Patrick turned to a famous Lotus of the past, the 60s Type 49 racing car for his inspiration, taking the exhaust note from that car and slowing it down to create a similar sound frequency to the natural driving sound of the electric Evija. 

A spokesman for Lotus, which plans a range of new electric cars, said: ”Injecting personality into EVs by using a renowned music producer like Patrick is one way the company can enhance the appeal to the widest possible customer base. 

“Working with Patrick is a great way to popularise EVs with a new audience.” 

The reality is that the collection of EV noises that manufacturers create for electric cars could well shape the sound of cities in the future, just as traditional petrol/diesel engines have down for years.

Lotus Evija electric driving in London at night Lotus has borrowed Taylor Swift's producer

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