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 Alpha’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 on. These slow, ugly, utilitarian devices were also impractical, thanks to their limited range and a lack of recharging stations. Enter Elon Musk, an environmentalist in a car enthusiasts’ body. Tesla’s are anything but slow, that avenue of hate was gone in 1.9 seconds, as is the ugly issue. The Tesla’s interior is up there with Porsche, and not at all utilitarian. Musk proved that appealing EV’s were commercially viable, forcing the industry giants to catch up, and thereby invalidating all the rational reasons to hate on them. All but two, that is. With range came 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 are already having an impact on battery requirements, and feature in new Tesla’s, as well as the Toyota Yaris. 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 EV’s in terms of cost, range, and handling. A Quiet Revolution As the dawn of electric cars turns into day, those of us who savor the visceral experience of driving are finding it hard to get over the one thing that won’t change, the noise they 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 to the majority of car owners, for whom driving is a means to an end, 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, all shared a passion for pushing the boundaries of engineering and aesthetics. The resulting sounds made by their creations was merely a (pleasing) by-product, but not an end of itself. The silence of EV’s 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. When they announced the ban on smoking in pubs, I remember thinking how the atmosphere and experience would be ruined. Turns out it was just different and ultimately better. Those of us who love our noisy, smelly, combustion-powered cars will still have them to cherish, but if the next generation of performance EV’s live up to their billing, the time will have come to embrace the silence.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

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