The system that the cars must be equipped with is called AVAS (Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System). The aim is to prevent accidents with cyclists, pedestrians and the visually impaired. The fake sound should be heard up to a speed of 20 km/h, but also when cars are reversing. From 20 km/h, the noise of the tires increasingly drowns out that of the engine, from 50 km/h, electric cars make just as much noise as cars with a petrol or diesel engine.
Since 1 July 2019, AVAS was already mandatory in the EU for new cars with at least one electric motor that came on the market from that moment on. From 1 July 2021, the noise requirement will apply to all new vehicles with an electric and hybrid drive.
It seems like a simple rule, but there are a lot of exceptions. When the combustion engine in a hybrid car is running, AVAS should not make any noise. In cars that already emit warning sounds when reversing, an additional sound may not be heard either. AVAS should turn on automatically when the car is started, but the car should not make any noise when the car is stationary.
The new law sounds like a mecca for tuners: start your Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf and wake up the neighborhood with a sound indistinguishable from a Porsche 911 GT3. But the EU is putting a stop to that. The artificial noise must be comparable to the noise of an internal combustion engine in the same vehicle class. Cyclists and pedestrians must also be able to hear whether the car is speeding up or slowing down.
Still, car brands are partly allowed to choose how they want such a sound to sound in their electric cars. There is also a lot of research involved. For example, the sound should not be too high, because the elderly can no longer hear it well. At lower tones you then have to mount larger speakers.
BMW takes the sounds of its electric cars very seriously and hired film composer Hans Zimmer (Inception, Dunkirk, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King) to compose the sound of the i4, among other things. The aim is to give even electric cars, which basically all sound the same, their own sound. You will even recognize an electric BMW by its own specific fake sound. Other brands are also working on their own sound.
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