Due to how they work, electric cars produce less noise than gasoline-powered cars - especially at low speeds where the noise from wheels is also quite low. As a result, it can be harder for pedestrians and cyclists to hear electric cars driving by - potentially leading to injury or death if (for example) a pedestrian steps out into the road, thinking no car is around.
As a result, various countries have started to introduce legislation which requires “quiet vehicles” - such as hybrid or all-electric cars - to emit a ‘pedestrian warning sound’, also called ‘fake engine noise’. Japan issued such guidelines in January 2010, whilst America’s NHTSA issued a ruling in February 2018 saying that warning sounds will be needed by September 2020. The European Union also have similar rules, possibly requiring such fake noise to be produced as early as 2019.
This sound will tend to be produced when an electric car is travelling below 19 mph (30 kmh). Because the topic of warning noise is so new and is not currently legally enforced anywhere, there is no real international standard regarding how this fake noise should sound. Hence this article will show the various sounds that car manufacturers have chosen to implement in their electric vehicles.
The Jaguar I-Pace, the luxury SUV, has a permanently equipped engine sound (aka it will play in all countries, even without fake noise legislation) which plays below 18 mph:
… we’re not sure about you, but the ‘ramp up’ sound seems akin to an air-raid warning siren to us!
Next up is the 2019 Chevy Volt EV, the American compact EV:
… which to us sounds quite peaceful and serene! Not what you’d expect from a car, but then again, there’s no need for them to sound annoying!
Next we look at the Nissan Leaf, where we unfortunately couldn’t find a great video showing the ‘approaching vehicle sound for pedestrian’ noise (as Nissan calls) it, but this video shows the reverse and approach sounds a little bit:
… the reverse sound is similar to a lorry backing up, whilst going forward there’s a rattling/vibration type sound similar to a gasoline-powered car.
The French car Renault Zoe has a few engine sounds, which they call the ‘ZE Voice’:
… which is tricky to describe, other than to say it sounds similar to standard cars - but more robotic?!
Next is the six year old Fisker Karma, a now defunct luxury car (and company):
… this sounds, to us, like a slightly ‘posher’ - but rougher - version of the Chevy Volt sound?!
We hope you speak Japanese (just kidding), since the Toyota Prius has a pedestrian warning sound - but only in Japan:
… this sounds a little like the I-Pace to us.
Next we look at the Toyota Rav4 XLE hybrid:
… where we agree with the description (“A hard to explain sound”) - it’s different to the other sounds we have heard so far.
The German BMW i3’s fake noise can be heard briefly in this video (also at 3:24-3:26):
… which is a bit of a turbine sound.
Japanese hybrid Honda Accord:
… which is a fairly strange, almost ‘playful’ sound to us?
Finally, the Mitsubishi i-Miev (also called the Peugeot iOn, depending on the market) sounds like:
… has a quiet ringing sound, like a far-away house alarm.
Phew, we hope you’re enjoyed this article. It’s not easy describing most of these sounds, so feel free to let us know if you disagree with how we described any of them! Equally, please let us know if you find a video or audio clip of other hybrid or EV fake noise sounds.