What sound identity is appropriate for electric cars?

Published by on 06.27.2018 - 5 min

With the advent of electric cars, the profession of sound designer was created within Groupe Renault. Because designing a sound signature requires expertise and skill. What’s the result? A uniquely distinctive electric car sound which keeps drivers and pedestrians safe while sounding pleasant.

The Renault ZOE sound signature

The Renault ZOE comes with the Z.E. Voice System for which a small speaker is fitted near the engine. This innovative feature emits an expressive, distinctive range of sounds signalling that the vehicle is moving. There are three different sound schemes to choose from – “bold”, “neutral” and “sport” – and the driver can switch between them via the control panel on the dashboard.

This sound design project was overseen by the Renault management team, the Design division and the IRCAM, Research and sound/music coordination institute, so as to create easily audible yet pleasant sounds. The team rose to the challenge by drawing inspiration from sounds that everyone is familiar with, such as those from science fiction films and thrillers (THX 1138Gattaca and The Fifth Element). To do so, the team worked with contemporary composer Andrea Cera to create these complex sounds which can make themselves heard even above the noise of the city.

The Renault ZOE sound environment

Bose speaker in Zoe car

Though the Renault ZOE can make warning sounds aimed at those outside the vehicle, it is still far quieter than a combustion engine car. This is an important detail when it comes to designing the interior sound system. This is why, in 2017, Renault launched the limited edition ZOE Edition One Bose in conjunction with sound specialist Bose. To get the best out of this superior sound quality, six speakers and a bass woofer are fitted in the car’s interior, producing a pure, bass-heavy sound.

European regulations on car horns

Electric cars present this advantage of being quiet, which is nice for both the driver and the residents of towns and cities where noise pollution is a big problem. However, in some circumstances, this lack of noise could also make the vehicle too quiet for pedestrians who may not hear it coming, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Various studies run by the European Commission, including the eVADER (Electric Vehicle Alert for Detection and Emergency Response) project, highlighted the importance of vehicle audio alert systems (VAAS) in reducing the risk of accidents. Accordingly, a directive on VAAS harmonisation across all electric and hybrid vehicles is to come into force in 2019, and will be applicable to all those produced from 2021 onwards.

Renault electric vehicles already meet these future standards. As a pioneer in devising audio alerts for electric cars, Renault has led several working groups on the subject, as part of its membership of the eVADER consortium.