Electric cars are better for the environment and cheaper to run. They’re gaining traction in many countries as governments strive for carbon neutrality. But one thing they don’t have on regular vehicles — that throaty roar that lights up the eyes of gearheads around the world.
Yamaha Motor Co. is working on a solution. Better known for its motorcycles and sharing historic ties with music instrument maker Yamaha Corp., the company is crafting a range of soundscapes to replicate the noise an internal combustion engine car makes upon acceleration.
Engineers at the division, called alive, believe sound is crucial for a driver to get a sense of control and speed. Many people prefer the classic vroom-vroom noise but the sky’s the limit, according to Hideo Fujita, who’s part of the team developing the soundscapes at Yamaha. “Even one that sounds like Star Wars” is possible, he said.
Yamaha is also getting some help from its musical stablemate. It sourced sound chips from the piano maker and worked on tests that treated a car shell more like a musical instrument, looking into what sort of tones reverberate best when a driver stomps on the pedal.
The Japanese company isn’t alone in trying to bring a bit of excitement to the eerily quiet world of electric cars. BMW AG is collaborating with German film-score composer Hans Zimmer to produce sound for the BMW i4, the M version of the BMW i4 and the BMW iX.
However in Yamaha’s home country, where electric cars are still nascent, even sports car aficionados are finding it harder to get their guttural fix. Japan tightened the rules around noises from passenger cars last year, limiting the sound to 70 to 74 decibels, about the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner or television.
Yamaha hasn’t announced when it will start selling the soundscapes but it plans to start small, selling them first to drivers of luxury electric sports cars. One day, as more people switch to EVs, the sound devices could become a regular feature in EVs, Yamaha engineer Sumito Tanaka predicts.
“When it comes to making a soundscape that’s compatible for a car, we have those strengths,” Tanaka said. “No one can beat us.”