Think Electric Cars Are Too Different for You? Read This.

tesla roadster

The Tesla Roadster: Opting out of fake noises. (Flickr/e-connected)

I wrote a New York Times story yesterday about the idea of having very quiet plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars emit special sounds to let blind and other pedestrians know that they’re approaching. It made the front page, which was gratifying.

As soon as people start talking about issues like this, it unleashes the imagination: Soon carmakers are talking about emulating starships and Blade Runner cars, and consumers want to be able to download their own individual signature sounds. The result, of course, would be cacophony on the roads, which probably wouldn’t advance the original aim very much (but would be fun for some and make money for the “car-tone” vendors one imagines springing up.

The automakers are split on this. Fisker and Nissan are working up sounds, working with sound-effects people from the movie industry. But Tesla Motors, whose Roadster is a super-fast EV, is opting out: “We have been monitoring this issue very closely and do not plan to introduce fake noises into our cars at this time,” said spokeswoman Rachel Konrad. “In fact, one of the Roadster attributes that customers esteem most is the lack of over-the-top obnoxious noise.”

The fact is that EVs and plug-ins are a new paradigm for everybody, and will change society in ways we don’t anticipate yet. Just consider the issue of charging battery EVS: It’s my opinion that this will create its own momentum. As the cars start appearing, businesses will recognize the competitive advantage of offering fast charging in their parking lots. Nancy Gioia, the new director of global electrification at Ford, agreed with me that businesses might actually offer a 20-minute charge free to their preferred customers. Value added, indeed.

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