Volvo engineers mull over perfect sound for e-cars

October 21, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Volvo engineers mull over perfect sound for e-cars
The advent of electric cars creates new challenges for automotive designers: While with conventional cars they invested lots of brain energy and expertise on making the cars more silent (with some exceptions in the sports car segment), they now face the situation to make the vehicles noisier - for safety reasons in the first place. But, since there is a unique opportunity to create an entirely new acoustic footprint for the vehicles from scratch, they also want to use this opportunity to establish an "acoustic branding".

Volvo Car Corp. runs one of the industry's most modern acoustic labs for this purpose. "The aim is to fine tune the noise level from the vehicle in order to create a seamless, pleasant sound experience," says Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at the Swedish carmaker. The reason for the efforts is that electric cars typically unfold their horsepowers without much acoustic ado - in fact they are almost completely silent. But this silence is not always desired.

"The combustion engine sound is instinctively connected to our perception of driving a car. It works as an acoustic mat that blankets other sounds. When that mat is lifted off, you suddenly become aware of a number of other sounds," says Martin Spang at Volvo Car Corporation's Sound laboratory.

For instance, in a plug-in hybrid car, which combines conventional diesel power to the front axle with an electric motor driving the rear wheels, sounds such as the splashing of diesel in the fuel tank now penetrate the driver's consciousness when the car runs solely on electric power. There is the same heightened awareness of noise from the road surface, wind, pumps, fans and relays.When the diesel engine cuts in again, however, the car sounds once more like we are used to.

In order to find the right acoustic profile for the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid, Volvo Car Corporation's experts are working on the creation of an ideal, uniform sound in their computers.

The challenge is to adjust all the various noise sources so that the car reproduces a uniform and recognizable sound irrespective of the propulsion mode currently being used. "What's important here is to strike the right balance between traditional and new sources of noise. Some sounds can be isolated and removed. In other cases it is up to our suppliers to develop quieter components together with us. What is more, customers will get used to the fact

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