Many people count the silence of electric cars as one of their biggest benefits, but to some it’s more of a threat than anything else-namely those who have trouble hearing or perhaps aren’t paying as close attention as others. In fact, several groups representing the blind, elderly and children have banded together to introduce legislation that would require alert noises on both hybrids and pure electric cars.
The legislation hasn’t gone into effect yet, but it is working its way through Congress and most manufacturers expect it to eventually require them to include alert noises on any vehicle capable of traveling in "silent" all-electric mode.
As the first two companies to dive into the world of modern plug-in electric drivetrains, Nissan and Chevy have already included some form of these noises on both the Leaf and the Volt. But shirking that trend, when Ford introduces the Focus Electric at the end of this year it won’t come with any pedestrian alert sounds-at least initially.
"We are participating to support the legislation and we plan to introduce alert noises prior to any laws taking effect, but we won’t include any in our first generation," said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s Director of Electrification and Sustainable Mobility Programs, in an interview with AutoTrader.com.
The issue of pedestrian alert sounds is actually quite contentious, with incredibly diverse groups coming out both in support of and against the idea. Acknowledging the controversial nature of the topic, Marakby indicated it is an issue that needs further study and may not be restricted to electric cars.
"If you listen to cars driving down the road, there’s almost no way of knowing what kind of powertrain any of them have based on how quiet they are these days," he said. "There are many cars with combustion engines that are incredibly quiet because manufacturers, Ford included, spend a lot of money to make them that way."
Even so, Marakby isn’t advocating for alert noises on all cars and says that they are well on their way to including sounds in the next generation of Ford plug-in cars.
"We’ve finished a lot of research around what kinds of sounds are the most effective and least intrusive," he said. "In fact, we just finished a survey online with incredible response, and the sound that was far and away the highest rated was the one that sounded most like a combustion engine."
Although the combustion engine noise was the highest rated, Marakby wouldn’t commit to that being the final sound Ford chooses. "We just don’t want to be too hasty because there are a lot of factors that go into it and we also want to balance the sounds so that they are effective but not annoying," he said.