ECTunes founders Jesper Rasmussen and Thomas Gadegaard (in car): a business opportunity. (Credit: ECTunes)
Isn't it great that electric cars are virtually silent? You won't even hear them coming! Isn't it terrible that electric cars are virtually silent? You won't even hear them coming!
Your perspective on this may vary. The quietness of EVs has been one of their biggest virtues since the 1910 Detroit Electric was a going concern. But the possibility that they'll sneak up on -- and hit -- pedestrians or blind people has activated some special interest groups and will likely lead to legislation (enshrined in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010) requiring EVs to actually make sounds.
The public loves the idea of personalizing those sounds, which leads inevitably to the idea of ringtones for EVs. But the sounds would actually work best if they were uniform, like the beep-beep backup noise trucks use.
Some coming EVs, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma, will have sounds generated in house (though often using consultants), and they tend to have vaguely techno overtones. Here's a video about the Leaf sound:
It would actually be great if carmakers were to hire composer Brian Eno for this job, because his "Music for Airports" achieves the perfect balance of producing sound that is there but doesn't call too much attention to itself.
Some entrepreneurs are exploring this new space, sensing outsourcing in the offing. And ECTunes is just one of the companies that sees an early business opportunity. Thomas Gadegaard, co-founder and chief marketing officer at ECTunes, has a background in high-end audio, and his partner Jesper Rasmussen in EVs (he worked on the electric Jaguar XF). The company conducted its own survey last year that, the company said, yielded enough encouraging results to proceed (with some help from the Danish government, which is funding "millions of kroner" worth of research on which sounds might be most appropriate).
The survey of more than 400 people in North America and Europe found most people favoring a "traditional engine sound" (almost 50%), V-8 engine sound" (20%) and "Star Wars warp speed engine sound" (my personal choice, but only 11% of respondents' favorite).
Gadegaard said that ECTunes is "working closely with a selection of automakers," and has sold prototypes of its product. The company has test versions of its sounds installed in a Citroen C1 EV, and (at Warwick University in Britain) a Mega Van.
ECTunes has a flexible strategy, and is both pursuing automakers and planning to offer its system as an aftermarket product to be installed by car owners or their garages. Gadegaard declined to provide target pricing for automakers, but he said it "lives up to the automakers' expectations." The aftermarket price will be disclosed next year.
The ECTunes system, and most others so far disclosed, use a control box, with software, digital amplifiers and weather-friendly external speakers. ECTunes' system connects to the car, and reads speed and acceleration, shutting down when the car reaches approximately 20 mph (at which point the tires and wind are making noise of their own).
Opening a business in this space is a gamble in 2010, but a company positioned to get the ear of many OEMs in Europe, Japan and the U.S. could find it lucrative.
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