Embrace the Silence
Car enthusiasts are stumbling at the last hurdle to EV acceptance.
It's time to get over it.
To witness an old Ferrari V12 storm a hill at close range is an experience as sweet of sound as it is of sight. Just hearing one tick-over is childishly exciting, and while the sonorous rasp of a V6 is just a characteristic of its intrinsic imbalance, the resulting noise (perhaps best demonstrated by Alfa’s Busso engine) literally makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. So, when I read Daniel Berman’s post, The Next BMW M Car Will Be Going All-Electric on DRIVETRIBE, I wasn't surprised to see so many of the comments lamenting the silence that will inevitably replace the joyous scream of a straight-six.
From EV1 to Mach-E
When GM’s EV1 and Toyota’s Prius first started wafting around our streets in the late ’90s, there was a lot to hate; these slow, ugly, utilitarian devices were also impractical, thanks to their limited range and a lack of charging stations. Enter Elon Musk, an environmentalist in a car enthusiast's body. Tesla’s are anything but slow; that avenue of hate was gone in 3.1 seconds. As is the ugly issue, the Model S' interior is up there with Porsche and not at all utilitarian. Musk proved that appealing EVs were commercially viable, forcing the industry giants to catch up and invalidating all the rational reasons to hate them. All but two - that is. With range came added weight; a Tesla S battery pack weighs over half a ton. Although the speed at which battery technology is developing suggests this will not remain true for long. Supercapacitors already feature in the latest Teslas and the Toyota Yaris, impacting battery requirements and recharging times. While the evolution of cheap, lightweight ultracapacitors, which have the potential for immense energy storage densities, and can be recharged thousands of times with little or no degradation, are likely to transform EVs in terms of cost, range, and handling.
A Quiet Revolution
As the dawn of the electric vehicle turns into its day, those of us who savor the viscerality of driving are finding it hard to get over the one thing that won’t change, the noise EVs make or lack of it. Straight six, V6, V8, V12, even the humble four, we all have our favorites; to enthusiasts, the audible idiosyncrasies, which characterize each configuration and marque, are an inseparable aspect of their appeal. But for most car owners, driving is a means to an end, and our complaining about the lack of engine sound, as though it were a beloved sonata, is anything but rational. They have a point. Enzo Ferrari, Sir William Lyons, Vincenzo Lancia, automobile pioneers behind some of the most celebrated cars, shared a passion for pushing the boundaries of engineering and aesthetics. The resulting sounds made by their creations were merely a (pleasing) by-product, not an end of itself. The silence of EVs is precisely that, a by-product of advancement. An all-electric M has the potential to be faster, lighter, and more engaging than its predecessors - precisely the things we petrolheads esteem most.
Those of us who love our noisy, smelly, combustion-powered cars will keep and cherish them, but if the next generation of performance EVs lives up to their billing, the time will have come to embrace the silence.