The Tesla Roadster: Opting out of fake noises. (Flickr/e-connected)
I wrote a New York Times story yesterday about the idea of having very quiet plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars emit special sounds to let blind and other pedestrians know that they're approaching. It made the front page, which was gratifying.
As soon as people start talking about issues like this, it unleashes the imagination: Soon carmakers are talking about emulating starships and Blade Runner cars, and consumers want to be able to download their own individual signature sounds. The result, of course, would be cacophony on the roads, which probably wouldn't advance the original aim very much (but would be fun for some and make money for the "car-tone" vendors one imagines springing up.
The automakers are split on this. Fisker and Nissan are working up sounds, working with sound-effects people from the movie industry. But Tesla Motors, whose Roadster is a super-fast EV, is opting out: "We have been monitoring this issue very closely and do not plan to introduce fake noises into our cars at this time," said spokeswoman Rachel Konrad. "In fact, one of the Roadster attributes that customers esteem most is the lack of over-the-top obnoxious noise."
The fact is that EVs and plug-ins are a new paradigm for everybody, and will change society in ways we don't anticipate yet. Just consider the issue of charging battery EVS: It's my opinion that this will create its own momentum. As the cars start appearing, businesses will recognize the competitive advantage of offering fast charging in their parking lots. Nancy Gioia, the new director of global electrification at Ford, agreed with me that businesses might actually offer a 20-minute charge free to their preferred customers. Value added, indeed.
And charging is gaining a life of its own: Better Place, led by the charismatic Shai Agassi, jumped into the fray and soon created a commercial charging industry. Coulomb, ECOtality, Aerovironment and others are in the space now and racing each other to sign up municipalities, states and whole countries.
We'll adapt to quiet cars, to plugging in when we get home, to scheduling a remote charge from our cell phones. We figured out VCRs, right?
The experience of companies like Tesla is giving us a sense of how electric cars will fare in the marketplace. Few predicted that Tesla would succeed in the marketplace (it became profitable in July), that Daimler would buy a 10% share earlier this year for $50 million, or that the feds would give the company a $465 low-interest loan. But all that happened.
EVs are still in the nest; Tesla has sold only 700 cars. Aptera is headed into the marketplace. Bright Automotive is rolling out its plug-in hybrid delivery van. The Fisker Karma goes on sale next year, followed by the Nissan Leaf, the Coda and more. It's real, and it's happening. And it will be OK.
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