Lotus working on making Hybrids noisier. It's a joke, right?

British automaker Lotus is reportedly planning artificial engine noise in otherwise quiet hybrids, to protect pedestrians and cyclists from their own inattentiveness. Watch this video describing the "Lotus safe and sound hybrid," apparently made by Lotus itself, and see if you can honestly say it's not an elaborate and subtle parody. While similar proposals here in the U.S. just suggest the strategic preemption of obvious lawsuits, there's something delicious in seeing the Brits at it. As an emigre myself, I can well imagine the cognitive dissonance over this back in my homeland, forced to choose between the token environmentalism of quiet cars and the national love for nannying one another over any phantom risk imaginable. The end result will be tiny 800cc euromobiles riced up to sound like F1 cars, just you wait. Lotus Adds Fake Engine Noise To Make Hybrids Sound Like Cars [TechDirt]

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37 Responses to Lotus working on making Hybrids noisier. It's a joke, right?

  1. nic says:

    Lotus are slow to the game. The Nichols Electronics company has been making devices that make a vehicle audible when in motion since 1957.


    The latest Digital II plays The Entertainer, Turkey in the Straw, Little Brown Jug, Sailing Sailing, Camptown Races, Redwing, Brahm’s Lullaby, and La Cucaracha, although in England, Greensleeves is much more appropriate.


    To avoid adding noise pollution to urban environments, perhaps cars with sound levels below a certain minimum should have optical transducers on them sending out continuous signals. Individuals requiring warning of vehicles (children, the elderly, the visually impaired) could carry a small receiver to alert them with an audible tone indicating the direction, distance and speed of the vehicle. And the rest of can enjoy the quiet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just came back from the American Congress of the Blind convention a few weeks ago, and this was a genuine issue for the attendees.

    I have no problem with adding some sound to the hybrid car I hope to get, if it means that blind pedestrians (and sighted ones, for that matter) will be a bit safer. Nobody (with any sense) is demanding that hybrid cars be fitted with an ear-splitting level of noise in order to make them audible to pedestrians. I’m sure that a happy medium can be reached, so that pedestrians can hear the cars without annoying the people who live near busy streets with excessively loud traffic noise.

    Speaking as a person who lives on a state highway, I’d rather have a hybrid car with a noise generator going by my house than some of the geniuses who blast their car stereos loudly enough to drown out a jet engine.

  4. The Lizardman says:

    Having owned and logged a lot of miles on an electric scooter (emax) I found that compared with being in a car and on a more traditional scooter or motorcycle that riding the electric resulted in much more use of the horn and/or yelling at people (pedestrians and motorists) who did not hear me and thus did not notice me.

    There is some truth to ‘loud pipes save lives’

  5. SamF says:

    #16 Yeah, that would be pretty cool. Hmmm….I may have to run out and patent something real quick so I can make a bajillion dollars once someone else actually does the work of creating the product.

    Although the first time someone drives through New York with the sound of an accelerating 747 blaring from their car, there’d be a new law faster than you could say “nine eleven”.

    And #17, that would be a cool idea. Except that it’d probably be easier for the government to mandate noise levels than it would be to mandate that all blind people get signal receivers. Plus, what happens if one goes bad or something. Although I guess if a car is artificially generating noise, that noise source could go bad, too.

  6. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    Maybe one can customize his/her own car sound, like “Brrrummm, brrrummm” and the Flintstones’ screeching feet sound for brakes!

  7. technogeek says:

    Oh, just stick a playing card in the wheel spokes and be done with it…

    Seriously, I have heard this voiced as a safety issue. Everyone has been trained to use our ears as well as eyes to detect traffic, sometimes more than others, and when running with the engine off the hybrids do raise the question of whether a careless individual will miss them. I’m not surprised to see a car company consider addressing that, to protect themselves against lawsuit if nothing else.

    On the other hand, this makes me think more police vehicles ought to be hybrids with a switch to turn off the noise sources and run pure-electric for a mile or two. Make “silent approach” to an in-progress crime that much more silent…

  8. BrokenRobot says:

    I’m not saying this ain’t nannyism – but as a cyclist used to riding in heavy traffic, I can attest that hybrids are disconcertingly quiet and therefore surprising. Reliance on hearing to know when cars are approaching from behind is probably a lot more common than you know.

  9. dw_funk says:

    As soon as I saw this, I imagined myself having something useful to say! I heard that NPR program when it was broadcast! But then it was already posted. Drats. One thing I remember from that program, however, was that the direction of the noise was of importance to researchers; rather than the engine noise being projected in all directions, as with a normal car, the sound would be projected only in useful directions. Not up at your windows, but only forward and to the sides to a certain extent. You wouldn’t hear a hybrid except for when that sound would be useful.

    So the noise pollution (something I don’t worry about, living in rural Indiana) problems could be mitigated somewhat by focusing the sound. I think the whole “ringtones” for cars thing should be kept quiet, because god knows that there is a marketing department who thinks that’s a GREAT idea. Can you imagine the cacophony of millions of Hybrids all playing different sounds and songs? More importantly, having a standard sound means that it’s identifiable. Is that approaching Kelly Clarkson song a tween with her first cellphone or a teen with their new hybrid?

    And #17, wouldn’t that be significantly more difficult? Rather than a relatively simple fix (installing directional speakers), you’d need to correct two different things (installing transmitters on cars and receivers on people), which means that there are additional points of failure. Also, how would the watches let the blind person know that they were malfunctioning?

  10. BrokenRobot says:

    Technogeek –

    Along similar lines, Shimano makes a line of silent hubs for bicycle wheels which eliminate the quiet clicking rear wheels usually make – and it sells them as “police issue” for sneaking.

  11. icky2000 says:

    The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has asked auto makers to set a minimum sound standard for hybrids. It may sound like nannyism for some of us but close your eyes when you walk across the street today and I think you’ll find the idea of a perfectly quiet car pretty terrifying.

  12. retchdog says:

    OK, I think I’ve got it. Work with me here.

    All we need to do is take the sniper-billboard-from-hell technology, mount it in the car, and have it beam engine sounds to 1) anyone within 10′, and blind people within line-of-sight with distance correction of volume for cueing. It can detect blind people by cane or dog; we’ll accept some false positives for sighted dog-owners since they deal with noise anyway.

    Win-win! Eventually, the system can evolve to something more effective and aesthetic than “traditional” engine sounds.

  13. SamF says:

    Not a joke. And I thought I read about someone else doing this before Lotus, but am too lazy to look up the reference.

    However, I would like to offer them a suggestion: If you are going to add artificial sounds to a quiet car, why just go with plain old engine nose?

    How about the Batmobile (the turbines from the 60’s series).

    Or maybe an F16, or even an old turboprop airplane.

    Or the sound of the Mach 5. Or hell, even have it play the theme song to Speed Racer.

    Or the sound of two coconuts bashing together.

    Ooh! Or that sound that Jim Carrey makes in Dumb and Dumber.

    Oh wait! I’ve got it! I want the sound of a Tie Fighter. That’s it. That’s the one I want. Do that one.

  14. Cowicide says:

    To be completely safe they’ve decided to have it play the same sound of this car’s siren while moving.


  15. Bugs says:

    The “Benny Hill” theme tune. Oh yes.

    Much, much cooler than this system, though, is this one: Link [Newscientist.com]

    “A car radio that plays the throaty sound of the classic car of your choice in synch with your driving could make any rusting old hatchback sound like a Ferrari, or even a Harley-Davidson, its inventors claim.”

    It’s a system which plugs into your car’s speedometer and stereo to play synthesised engine noise to make it sound like you’re driving a bigger, better car. Isn’t that awesome? I want one that plugs into my cycle computer and iPod that makes me think I’m driving a tank.

    (No, I’m not actually stupid to use an ipod while cycling)

  16. Garr says:

    You guys obviously don’t live near a heavily frequented street, else you’d not be voicing those fantasies so loud. I live directly above one of Munich’s busier junctions, and I can hardly stand leaving a window open for all the noise, even when it means melting in your room during summers more sweltering days (for you Americans, we Germans don’t believe much in air conditioners ;)).

    That said, my experience tells me that the sound of the car’s tyres overwhelm the noise made by the engine at speeds higher than 20 km/h (except for the odd Lambo or Ferrari, who’s driver’s nuts only swell to their standard size when they can be sure their car produces an at least 120 dB SPL rumble)

  17. RedShirt77 says:

    I hate that they are putting in speakers and the sound of real engine.

    How about a humm? changes pitch by speed. Like ever sci-fi future car ever imagined

    and have it switch off above a certain speed.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’ve seen in several shows and articles that the noise of the tires outweighs the noise of the engine in modern cars. Even in the video in this post you can barely hear the motor sounds over the tire noise. Is this really as much of a concern as they’re making it out to be? I could understand it on smaller vehicles like motorbikes, but on a full sized car?

  19. RedShirt77 says:

    Can’t they just put cards in their spokes like everybody else

  20. muteboy says:

    #5 – you can have whatever you like. Just look in the back pages for the big gawdy cellphone ringtone ads, and look at the new section at the bottom for “cartones”. Lambo, 2CV, PBY Catalina, V1, you name it, you can have it.

    TIE Fighter would be my choice too. Or an Imperial Shuttle. Or Sebulba’s podracer.

  21. technogeek says:

    #3 (BrokenRobot)… Yes, I’ve notice the silent police bicycles, though even an ordinary bicycle may be silent enough not to be noticed in city traffic. (He says, after having been knocked down by a speeding bicycle messenger… who took off at doublespeed after hitting me, of course.)

  22. Bloodboiler says:

    If they get really creative with noise engineering, they could develop a car noise that is useful for nearby pedestrians while being close to inaudible inside buildings.

  23. Nyargh says:

    Yeah, since I got my posterior cranial ocular implants I find my need for aural sensing totally obsolete!

    What’s next, requiring some sort of flashing light to indicate upcoming changes in direction for the precognitively impaired?

    Nanny state, indeed!

  24. Nyargh says:

    Yeah, since I got my posterior cranial ocular implants I find my need for aural sensing totally obsolete!

    What’s next, requiring some sort of flashing light to indicate upcoming changes in direction for the precognitively impaired?

    Nanny state, indeed!

  25. thecheat says:

    uh, duh… here’s the obvious choice:

  26. bwdiederich says:

    Just reiterating the comment above, this is an incredibly serious concern for the blind. There was a great NPR story on this last year.


    I’m a huge fan of reducing noise pollution, but I think there’s a happy medium and I’m happy car manufacturers are looking into it.

  27. w000t says:

    As others have mentioned, this tends to be largely an issue for the blind. But cars will continue to get quieter as the internal combustion engine is replaced by more efficient technology. It seems excessive to add noise to accommodate a small segment of the population. A better, low-tech solution:

    Texture road surfaces in pedestrian areas to increase tire noise.

    Obviously, the texture should be subtle enough to minimally impact ride comfort and tire wear but enough to produce noise outside the vehicle. Seems pretty achievable and could be rolled out with priority given to urban areas and areas already marked with caution signage.

  28. Bookyloo says:

    Harper’s magazine recently reprinted some parody song lyrics from a magazine for the blind: a song about having to dive out of the way of a hybrid car because you didn’t hear it coming (to be sung to the tune of “surrey with the fringe on top”. It was actually very funny.) Sounds like a pretty common and scary occurrence for the blind.

    I like the idea of texturing the road. But that doesn’t help if, say, you don’t hear your neighbor backing out of the garage.

  29. The Lizardman says:

    I was just reminded by someone when telling them about this that some electric motorcycles have already incoporated this (going back a couple years) using the standard pipe sound but at a controlled constant level (no revving up to increase volume)

  30. Timefishblue says:

    Would SOMEONE think of the blind/deaf????

  31. Anonymous says:

    anyone who thinks this is silly has not almost been run down by an electric car. whenever one is mentioned in conversation i recall crossing a brooklyn street at night and fortunately looking down to see the headlights on my legs as this silent car barreled down on me. in an urban environment the normal background noise is much louder than any noise the cars naturally make. with enough hipsters speeding around in silent cars people are gonna die.

  32. hep cat says:

    I can see just fine , and I’ve been surprised a couple times by the new silent NYC cabs pulling away from the curb.

    As for sound effects , in art school I knew a guy that used a cassette player playing a sound effect of “locked brakes, tire squeal, and crash” hooked up instead of a horn. As the saying goes , shit happened.

    Lotus is probably doing this on account of building the Tesla , but they do a lot of engineering work for other automakers too.

  33. kaahmfish says:

    Unfortunately I think that we can’t have silent cars. I know two blind people and both have actually gone to Washington D.C. to plead with Congress to institute mandatory noise levels of cars. One has a dog (so he can actually avoid cars) but the other has minimal (as in VERY minimal) eye use and can detect shapes so a dog is unnecessary. He must rely on the sound of a car to avoid it. As much as I would like a silent highway system (just imagine!), I think that a semi-silent highway would be better than what it is now.

  34. DewiMorgan says:

    I think there has to be a better option. If a small subclass of the population is unable to hear the cars, then target that subclass, not the entire population.

    For example, in banks, you don’t have the cashiers talking to customers through bullhorns, just because some of them may be hard of hearing.

    Noise pollution would only get worse once peopel started downloading car-tones.

    A mandatory minimal sound level is silly, and even cars with regular engines are silent when coasting downhill. Instead, mandate that *all* vehicles broadcast their presence in some manner. a faulty beacon would be an offense just like any other.

    This system could also be used to by cars detect other vehicles for automatic distance-maintenance, and crash prevention. Another step towards the car that drives itself.

  35. DMcK says:

    All I need to know about what cars should sound like in the future I learned from the Jetsons.

  36. DragonVPM says:

    @ 5 & 9, Oh dear… now set that up to be velocity dependent (an accelerating locomotive, complete with train whistle as you set off, the slow old west clip clop of horses hooves as you meander through a parking lot) or divorce it completely from “engine/transportation noise” (kids could race around playing their favorite songs as their “engine noise”).

    I could see having fun with it, but if people’s reactions to cell phone ring tones are any indication, I could see people getting homicidal through the din of competing sound files played during rush hour traffic.

  37. Chevan says:

    #5 – “And I thought I read about someone else doing this before Lotus, but am too lazy to look up the reference.”

    You might be thinking of the companies who put speakers in for gear change sound for cars with continuously variable transmissions.

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