If you asked a group of random people from anywhere in the world to imagine what a car sounds like, most would provide a similar answer – a combination of a gas-powered engine revving up, the rumble of an exhaust and maybe even the rhythmic clicking of a turn signal.
But electric vehicles are built to be much quieter than their internal combustion engine-having counterparts. In fact, they can be almost silent at low speeds and hard to hear from more than a few feet away. While this quietness appeals to many, distinct external sounds are essential to alert pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers on the road to the car’s presence, as well as to signal to the driver the vehicle is functioning properly.
This posed an opportunity for Volkswagen’s design teams to create a signature soundscape for its electric vehicle portfolio, starting with the hatchback ID.3 and now for the ID.4 electric SUV.
“Our whole approach to the ID.4 has been to offer a vehicle for our American customers that delivers the future while making it easy to embrace the EV lifestyle,” said Hein Schafer, senior vice president for Product Marketing and Strategy at Volkswagen of America. “The soundscape adds a personality to the ID.4 and demonstrates the care we put into every detail of our current EV models and those to come.”
The team of Volkswagen Designers and acoustic engineers worked closely together to design a unique electrical sound to match the personality of the ID.4 vehicle and provide cues to its drivers.
“You don’t want it so quiet that you can’t tell whether your car is running,” said Jozef Kabaň, head of design for Volkswagen brand. “Because we’re not dependent on mechanical sounds, we can give electric vehicles a voice that we design ourselves.”
The team’s first objective was to craft a starting sound for the all-electric car. When a driver starts the ID.4, they will be greeted with an acoustic sound combined with a light pulse. Kabaň said this elegant and modern sound signals to drivers, “hello, I’m ready to go.”
“The sound of a vehicle massively influences the way people perceive it — whether they find the vehicle impressive, fast, or personable,” said Indra-Lena Kögler, a media and communications designer who has been with Volkswagen for almost 20 years in different roles in creating user experience (UX).
An Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) was developed to generate additional essential driving sounds. The AVAS in the ID.4 model is audible both inside and outside of the vehicle up to 20 mph; beyond this speed, the vehicle’s rolling resistance makes a prominent driving noise without artificial sounds. Inside the vehicle, different volumes of the sound are clear based on speed and accelerator pedal position.
The team then turned their attention to the car’s turn signal sound. In gas-powered vehicles, the classic ticking must overpower the engine noise, which is why the turn signal is loud and distinct. The Volkswagen designers reinterpreted the turn signal sound on the electric ID.4 vehicles to be more subtle.
Other aspects of the soundscape include digital audio sounds for interior buttons, reversing, and incoming calls. They are the same for all Volkswagen electric vehicles, so people will be able to recognize Volkswagen’s e-mobility push by its sound. Kögler said, it was important that the sound aligns with its character, visual design and features.
“We stay loyal to both the Volkswagen brand and the unique personality of our electrified model range when we design these sounds, just like we would through visual design,” Kabaň added. “Our customers trust their Volkswagens like a friend. You can only achieve that level of emotion through an authentic, coherent sound experience.”