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 the Toyota Prius started wafting around our streets in the late ’90s, there was alot to hate. These slow, ugly, utilitarian devices were also impractical, thanks to their limited range and a lack of charging stations. Enter Elon Musk, a purported environmentalist in a car enthusiast's body. Tesla’s are anything but slow, and concerns about their 0-60 acceleration were gone in 3.1 seconds. And neither are they ugly. The Model S' interior is up there with Porsche and not remotely utilitarian. Musk proved that appealing EVs were commercially viable, forcing the industry giants to catch up, invalidating all the rational reasons to hate them. All but two. 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 all the latest Teslas and the Toyota Yaris, reducing battery requirements and recharging times. While the evolution of affordable, lightweight ultracapacitors, which have the potential for immense energy storage densities and can be recharged thousands of times with little or no degradation, promise to transform EVs, improving range and handling. A Quiet Revolution As the electric vehicle revolution gathers pace, those of us for whom driving is a rewarding and visceral experience 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 each have our favorite because, to enthusiasts, the audible idiosyncrasies characterizing each configuration and marque are inseparable aspects of their appeal. But for most car owners, driving is rarely more than 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, and Vincenzo Lancia were automobile pioneers behind many of the most illustrious cars of all time. They 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 a derivative of advancement and, at the urban level, worth celebrating. An all-electric M has the potential to be faster, lighter, and more engaging than its predecessors, precisely the things we petrolheads esteem most. In under two seconds, Tesla claims, its new Model S Plaid will accelerate from 0-60 mph. EVs are already (much) quicker. Just how many times the Paid will let you floor it, before creeping off to the nearest charging station in limp mode, remains to be seen. But for how long? Exponential advances in battery and capacitor technology promise extraordinary power with less weight, the holy grail of performance car design. We, devotees of noisy, smelly, combustion-powered cars, will keep and cherish them. But, if the next generation of sporting EVs lives up to their billing, the time will have come to embrace the silence.