There’s something primal about the roar of a big V-8, and even the sound of a turbocharged V-6 can send the adrenaline flowing. But it’s difficult to get excited about the whine of an electric motor, even if it’s powering a high-performance sports car.
So, to pump a little more passion out of its new ZZ sports car, small Japanese start-up GLM Co. turned to Roland Corp., a company best known for electronic keyboard and other sound synthesizers used by such musical legends as Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Page and George Duke. While the ZZ won’t have any exhaust, Roland will allow a driver to customize a “one-of-a-kind” simulated exhaust note.
Roland synthesizer technology, explains a news release, “will be used to create ingenious neo-futuristic sounds that will give sports car enthusiasts the experience of driving a space ship on the road.”
Drivers won’t have to learn how to use a keyboard. The Roland SuperNatural synthesizer system will be linked to the various vehicle controls and sensors so the ZZ will sound something like a conventional vehicle, the artificial exhaust note rising and falling as the vehicle accelerates and decelerates.
But a motorist will be able to adjust the sound from something akin to a conventionally powered sports car or, with a turn of the knob, something closer to what the flying car from the old cartoon series, The Jetsons, used to sound like.
GLM is a spin-off venture started by Japan’s Kyoto University and the ZZ is its first product. Other battery carmakers have toyed with similar ideas. An early prototype of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive could be programmed to sound like a high-performance V-8 or a spaceship.
(For more on how automakers are tweaking the sound of their cars, Click Here.)
New federal regulations will, in fact, require carmakers to create artificial noise when their battery vehicles are operating at low speeds in order to alert pedestrians. The battery-cars are otherwise too quiet for many people to hear as they approach.
That could become an increasingly common problem in the years ahead. Daimler, for example, plans to have at least 10 plug-in hybrids on the road by 2017, along with some pure battery-electric models and even a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle or two.
(New Mazda Miata’s exhaust note adds to the thrill. Click Here for a review.)
Industry studies have long shown that the sound of a hard-charging engine can be as satisfying to a driver as the actual feel of neck-snapping acceleration. So, over the last decade, carmakers have been putting more effort into satisfying the need for the sound of speed.
One reason is the shift away from big V-8s, with their muscular exhaust note, to smaller-displacement, high-tech powertrains, such as the twin-turbocharged V-6 used in the latest BMW M3. The problem is that such powertrain packages often produce whirs, gurgles and whines that aren’t as satisfying as a classic V-8’s roar, so manufacturers may cancel out unwanted sounds and amplify the notes that a driver is likely to appreciate.
In some cases, manufacturers are using active noise cancellation – much like the technology found in the headphones airline passengers have grown fond of – to put the focus on the most pleasing engine noises. That’s the approach BMW took with the M3. But with the bigger M5, it went even further. The maker actually created an artificial digital sound map that “delivers an accurate reproduction of the engine’s sound through the car’s audio system.” In other words, much of what passengers hear is actually simulated.
Not every manufacturer is using digital enhancement. The 2016 Mazda Miata uses a small pipe to direct some noise from its little four-cylinder engine into the passenger compartment. The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro and Jaguar F-Type models, meanwhile, have special valves in the exhaust system that effectively bypass the muffler under hard acceleration, boosting sound levels.
But the new GLM ZZ sports car suggests that in the future, motorists will have an even wider range of options, from the sound of a conventional sports car to something right out of a sci-fi movie, to choose from.
(Americans are driving more than ever. Click Here for the story.)